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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Oliver Schwerdt, Barry Guy, Baby Sommer – One For My Baby, And One More For The Bass (Euphorium, 2020) ****

The name “Baby Sommer” first drew me to this album. For those unfamiliar with his work, he is a singularly resourceful drummer, who often seems more focused on producing waves of percussive sound than on any resulting rhythms themselves, on the changes and detours rather than simply striking and riding a groove. Then I noticed bassist Barry Guy was featured, as well. Sommer and Guy? Yes, please. Oliver Schwerdt was the new element for me (and the youngin’ of the bunch) on One For My Baby, And One More For The Bass, a titual nod to the senior members of this trio.

'One for My Baby' is a real pleasure to experience. One hears glimpses the “serious” classically-oriented avant-garde, especially in some of Schwerdt’s quieter and more restrained passages. Most of the album, however, is a twisted romp through the myriad corridors of the current European improv scene that Guy and Sommer have played such an important role in shaping over the decades. Schwerdt’s piano swings between delicate, fractured neoclassical passages (approaching Schlippenbach territory) to muckier inside work (evocative of Jacques Demierre) to slanted strides almost seamlessly. Indeed, it is remarkable how the pieces run the gamut of the contemporary avant-garde from strange balladry (and these are all titled after ballads) to choppy non-idiomatic sound-making to more (free)bop lines so convincingly. Barry Guy, as usual, is inspired and deploys his arsenal of off-balance grooves, brittle arco and pizzicato (especially in a wonderfully extended passage halfway through 'On The Road Again') and heavy strumming. Sommer, for his part, is as curious and freewheeling as ever. At its most exuberant, 'One For My Baby' conveys great joy in the musical journey, bells, whistles, odd-ball objects, and all. At its slowest, it approaches well-wrought new music and soundscaping, focused as much on creating distinctive hews and textures as on more traditional interplay and free improv melodicism.

If someone asked what free jazz or the avant-garde sounded like today, not in its extended technique and minimalist and maximalist fringes, but in its unstable center, I would point them to One for My Baby. It is just one of those albums. Not conventional, but also not extreme. It includes familiar elements, but nevertheless continues to probe these elements, perform them with vigor, and arrange them in exciting ways.

Now for the novelty of the album itself. It includes two discs, one mixed by Robert Amarell and one by Gilbert Eiche. One can hear the differences in the fullness of the Amarell versions and the woodier, acoustic-forward sound of the Eiche version. I am not sure whether this is a big selling point in the end. That said, it is something I have not encountered before and, for those with the attention, makes for an interesting comparative listen.


Colin Green said...

Nice review, Nick. I think you’ve got the topography right.

Captain Hate said...

Peter Brötzmann is 80 years young today.

Captain Hate said...

Sorry for the distraction. Excellent review. I think I like the Eiche mix better but that might be because I was already familiar with the pieces. Further listening will resolve that but it's a most unusual way to present music.