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Saturday, May 4, 2024

Oliver Schwerdt, Baby Sommer, Barry Guy - Fucking Ballads (Euphorium, 2024)

By Martin Schray

German pianist Oliver Schwerdt likes to bring together musicians who have never played together before. This usually works across generations, as with the New Old Luten Quintet or Big Bad Brötzmann. The trio with free jazz veterans Barry Guy and Günter “Baby“ Sommer works in a similar way, because although the German drummer and the British bassist have played alongside almost all the great free jazz musicians in the last 50 years, they had never performed together until this trio’s first appearance in 2018. This gig is documented on One For My Baby And One More For The Bass. Fucking Ballads is now part two of this great constellation and even surpasses the debut.

Oliver Schwert is certainly influenced by Cecil Taylor - above all by his percussiveness - but one can also hear the more melodious style of Alexander von Schlippenbach or Paul Bley in his playing. He manages to combine these philosophies in such a way that a unique sound emerges. In this trio, his energetic approach meets Günter “Baby“ Sommer, whose idea has always attached great importance to the melodic lines and harmonic structures of drumming. Sommer’s sounds need space and time to unfold - and that’s exactly what he gets here. The speed of the runs and the fine vibrations of the sounds are not in opposition to each other, but come together in a free interplay of forces. Barry Guy is the sealant between Schwerdt’s cascades and Sommer’s percussive extravagances, especially when the drummer adds instruments like xylophone, siren, shawm, harmonica etc. to his arsenal. Guy literally smears the surfaces with bowed passages or emphasizes the mutual attacks of his brothers in arms with plucked runs.

Sommer and Guy are definitely intent on drive, on rhythmic continuity, and repeatedly bring their own statements into the improvisation. Schwerdt counters their groove and at the same time provides impulses in the form of rhythmic patterns, clusters or runs that seem to have been pulled out of thin air. His performance is of great, impulsive power, a cornucopia of ideas, a constant stream of consciousness and energy. This is a radical attack, powerful and complex at the same time. Intensity and escalation are central characteristics of this recording in general. At the beginning of “Fucking Ballads“, the first track, Schwerdt throws eruptive salvos into the mix, which are met by torrential bass runs, which Sommer processes into marches, grooves and shuffles. The music dives down - only to rise up again. The tone sequences clump together like atoms, only to be pushed apart again by the ideas that follow. The whole thing is a forward-flowing river, whose course sometimes narrows, sometimes increases in tempo and strength, only to dry up gently in the end.

However, the quiet and delicate passages are also highlights, for example when Sommer plays an old folk song on the harmonica, which Guy accompanies very sensitively on the bowed bass. These parts are found more frequently in the second track, “In the Vein of Beauty“. Schwerdt often demonstrates excellent timing here by stepping back and letting the two old men do their thing, as in the last two minutes of the set, for example. He knows he can rely on them.

Fucking Ballads is another great release in the very good Euphorium catalogue. Very recommended.

Fucking Ballads is available as a download and as a CD.

You can listen to it and buy it here