When we talk about rhythm in jazz (even in free jazz), we refer to the basic element of this music. When rhythmic moments in a piece are said to reveal something essential, it always implies that something original is exposed. It’s often said of the style-defining moments in music that they are breathless, that all movement in them is stretched to a kind of standstill on the one hand, and to breaking point on the other. What blows our minds, e.g. in the experience of musical happiness, often occurs very silently or uncompromisingly intense. Yet, often the subtle moments in particular are easily overheard, be it because the roar of the other instruments is too loud, the communication noise too dominant, the irradiation of the other acoustic sources too determining, if not even violent (which can be very fascinating, just think of the large formations and the intensity mentioned above). Drummers are often responsible for this intensity, however the best of them stand out for their restraint and subtlety. Without any doubt it’s obvious that if you want to absorb sound in free jazz in its full dimension, you have to experience the drums as something essential, perceive them as real substance and not just as a dull clock. Outstanding drumming is clarity, it’s colourful, it’s pulsating, even if it is freed from time playing, it’s the foundation on which all creative work of value grows. Paul Lovens has embodied all this for me since I first saw him.
Lovens, who has been living in Nickelsdorf in Austria for quite some time, has always been close to the members of the Berlin improv scene. One day, two protagonists of that scene, Australian bassist Clayton Thomas* and German saxophonist Ignaz Schick met for an acoustic session, which went very well from the beginning. They both decided that they wanted to expand their new-born duo to a trio, which meant that they needed a drummer. The story goes that several suggestions from Thomas were immediately declined by Schick, who had the perfect idea: Paul Lovens. The result is Meeting the Past, an album that presents two live concerts which took place in 2010. And Lovens adds precisely what Thomas and Schick needed: his higher-pitched snare drum, the millions of little click sounds he’s famous for, hummingbird-like whirring, the hissing of ultra-precise cymbals - in short: the subtlety of rhythm.
Meeting the Past is a programmatic title in a certain respect because especially saxophone and bass always fall back on the jazz tradition. Schick does this mostly with bebop melodies, Thomas and Lovens with swinging bass or drums. But mainly Lovens prevents a drifting off into too cheesy realms, when he steers the improvisation back to freer paths. A good example of this is “First Meeting (Set 1)“. A very calm, ballad-like parts seems to dissolve into free hardbop, Thomas’s walking bass grounds the improvisation, Schick plays melodies that you can almost whistle along. But Lovens, who’s definitely up for such fun parts, always captures both of them. Still, the music is at its best when almost all harmonic and rhythmic restrictions are abandoned. Then Schick’s runs sound like arabesque melodies floating over debris avalanches. Another highlight is “Third Meeting (Set 2)“ with its merciless, relentlessly forward-driving, swinging passages, which are repeatedly interspersed with brutal drum intermezzi. This is Lovens at his best.
The label decided to present the entire concert also including the audience reactions and musician comments between the tracks in order to give us in an authentic impression of the atmosphere.
*Clayton Thomas left Berlin in 2015 and lives in Australia again.
Meeting the Past is available as a download only. You can listen to it and buy it here:
Great review, Martin! I've been intermittently visiting Schick's Zarek and it's a rich vein; this is definitely one of the standouts. I know you love your drummers, but "[drumming]’s the foundation on which all creative work of value grows" might be a bit bold
I know that's a bit steep, Keith, you're right about that, but I thought I might risk it ;-)
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