Scardanelli’s Jazz Motley
[January 2001. Originally appeared in La Folia 3:2.]
When I received the between the lines publicity packet, Franz Koglmann’s name caught my eye. The Frankfurt-based label’s artistic director is the instrumentalist-composer whose music I grew to admire via a succession of hatART CDs — ten in all, if one includes O Moon My Pin-Up, an “Ezra-Pound Cantata” never released independent of the book about Koglmann similarly titled and published by Wespennest (Vienna, 1998).
I’ve eight between the lines releases, several of which I’ll cover now:
btl 001, Franz Koglmann Make Believe, Six Musical Scenes Based on Jean Cocteau’s Novel “Les enfants terribles.”
btl 002, MICHEL WINTSCH & ROAD MOVIE, Featuring Gerry Hemingway.
btl 003, MICHAEL MOORE MONITOR, with Tristan Honsinger and Cor Fuhler.
btl 004, ENRICO RAVA / RAN BLAKE DUO EN NOIR.
btl 005, OSKAR AICHINGER ELEMENTS OF POETRY.
btl 006, FRANZ KOGLMANN AN AFFAIR WITH STRAUSS.
btl 007, TONY COE / ROGER KELLAWAY BRITISH-AMERICAN BLUE.
btl 008, JOHN LINDBERG ENSEMBLE A TREE FROM TONALITY, with Wadada
Leo Smith, Larry Ochs and Andrew Cyrille.
Let’s remain with Koglmann. I prefer Make Believe to An Affair with Strauss purely as a matter of taste. I wouldn’t dream of declaring one superior to the other in any set of particulars. The musicianship in either is of an extraordinary quality, with coherence — a unanimity of purpose among distinctive individualists — a feature by now familiar to Koglmann’s fans. My difficulty with An Affair with Strauss is the program’s laid-back posture: blusey-cool in Koglmann’s signature-melancholy manner, even though three of the disc’s seven offerings are credited to Tony Coe (“Dear Little Pipistrelle” and the “Good Night Vienna” arrangement) and Burkhard Stangl (“Sauve qui peut [Vienne]”). The Monoblue Quartet consists of Coe, clarinet, tenor saxophone, and one vocal; Koglmann, trumpet, flugelhorn; Stangl, guitar; and Peter Herbert, bass. The title alludes to Koglmann’s part in a Strauss Junior anniversary celebration, explained in his note.
In Make Believe, Six Musical Scenes Based on Jean Cocteau’s Novel “Les Enfants Terribles” (Koglmann, trumpet, flugelhorn; Coe, clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone; Tom Varner, horn; Brad Shepik, guitar; and Peter Herbert, bass), we occupy a sphere for which Koglmann’s contributions are justly celebrated: a unique emulsion of American jazz elements within a classically-directed European sensibility. That Koglkmann manages this journey without bogging down in an exhausted terrain remains that wonder peculiar to his art, and I do apply the term with care — art, I mean, and since we’re about it, wonder. The program opens eponymously with Jerome Kern’s “Make Believe” extruded through a maze of waggish, surperbly wrought turns — a dazzling curtain-raiser. The remainder of the program is unalloyed Koglmann, with its long, languid moments. Again, one cannot say enough for the quality of the musicianship: when the music’s brisk, it’s as if one watches a crack drill team each member of which is engaged in his own quite mad thing, which just happens to integrate perfectly with everything else that’s going on: a group craziness achieving sublimity. The program’s beclouded numbers impart in their Impressionist way states of passivity and semi-consciousness. Make Believe stands among Koglmann’s best and most characterisitic efforts, and his quintet is quite the perfect means of achievement. Again, Tom Varner’s horn trespasses on a trombone’s territory. Brad Shepik’s guitar, in execution of a Koglmann characteristic, does its often anarchic, grungy thing brilliantly well. The recording itself is a jewel: highest marks to engineer Gordon Frederich in Frankfurt’s Hazelwood Studio. I’m proud of myself for not having quoted from Peter Niklas Wilson’s excellent notes, though I’d certainly have profited from doing so.
Oskar Aichinger’s Elements of Poetry (Aichinger, piano; Achim Tang, bass; Paul Skrepak Jun, drums) begins with a deception: the first number, “Poemia trois,” sounds like supper-club music of a very high order. But wait! The second number, “Refugium,” stands by virtue of its placement as an immediate contradiction of a presumed sensibility. As happens with jazz musicians who share aspects of expressiveness similar to those of classical’s avant-garde, their programs engage in displays of assorted chops: We can do this and we can do that too, all very well, as you shall soon hear. Let’s remain with very well. This is a trio of virtuosi who engage in wonderfully inventive stuff, much of it impinging on lustrous noise. Another first-rate recording, beautifully transparent at an intimate distance, for which credit Engineer Josef Novotny, locale Vienna.
With emphasis remaining on top-flight ensemble and inventiveness, and of course good sound, we come to Michael Moore’s Monitor, with cellist Tristan Honsinger, and Cor Fuhler, the young Turk of this trio, on piano, Hammond organ, and keyolin, his invention: strings stretched over a keyboard, for more about which, see Kevin Whitehead’s excellent notes. Monitor is a must-have release. The Bard remarked the vague barrier separating screwballs from poets. Unpoetic screwballs are a bore. Inspired lunacy, now that’s something else. I find it difficult to characterize Monitor as other than an excursion into dry, interactive wit and the sort of ensemble thinking that might prompt a jazz traditionalist to take out a contract on these three — just the kind of thing this listener relishes: that which makes an interest in new music more than worth the many, inevitable let-downs one’s curiosity entails. (Let’s agree to rename free jazz free music, since free jazz, like the term modern, suggests enclosure in the past.) Remainingwith vague barriers, what one hears as dry wit often segues into fragmented yet attached abstraction, as in the program’s title piece, concept-wise a trio collaboration. The pace is swift, the colors extraordinary; coherence, most assuredly there, takes some effort to detect. Or one remains at the sparkling surface. Perfection!
Remaining still with Michael Moore, Werner X. Uehlinger’s Hat Hut Records, a.k.a. hatART, has issued its second Clusone 3 CD: An Hour With… (Michael Moore, alto saxophone, clarinet and melodica; Ernst Reijseger, cello; Han Bennink, drums), hatOLOGY 554. An Hour With and its hatART predecessor, Rara Avis, hatOLOGY 523, I count among the most enjoyable in my collection. Since both releases bear a familial resemblance — they might as well be twins — let’s consider them as such. The theme is avian, to which the earlier-bird Rara Avis hews more closely, including purely delightful turns on the ubiquitous Andean tune, “El Condor Pasa,” and the equally ubiquitous West Indian “Yellow Bird.” A charmingly molested “Turkey in the Straw” is An Hour With ’s grin-inducing equivalent.
Moore, Reijseger and Bennink are among the finest players on the European scene. (Moore, an expat American, resides in Amsterdam, where jazz has acquired a distinctive and vital identity.) Excepting Bennink, whose posture of choice appears to be madcap, Moore and Reijseger have shown themselves on recording to shine in a range of styles and moods. As the Clusone 3, wit, whimsy and inventiveness predominate, judiciously spiced with knee-slapping yucks and foot-tapping rhythms. A truly remarkable and remarkably creative ensemble sensibility elevates these proceedings from top-drawer entertaining to top-drawer astonishing, which is not to suggest (as I’m afraid I’ve done) that sunny good humor dominates every number. Not so. Yet on the whole, this is some of the cheeriest, least pretentious music I’ve ever heard, a good deal of it paraphrasing standards — “When the Red, Red Robbin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbin’ Along,” “Baltimore Oriole,” Saint Saëns’ “The Swan,” etc. (Rara Avis); Irving Berlin’s “I Am an Indian Too” and “My Bird of Paradise,” etc. (An Hour With ), interspersed with trio-collaborations and a few compositions by Moore alone. While much of this sounds improvisational at its brilliant best, one hesiates to quantify the premeditation that’s gone into these numbers. Let’s let it go with, really, who cares? It’s the outcome that counts.
If I’ve encourated you to acquire one or both of these hatART CDs or, even better, further investigate, you must not be put off, for one example of several apparent duplications, by the appearance of a number entitled “Pipistrello,” which occupies An Hour With and another release entitled Clusone 3 [Ramboy 01]. These occur throughout the trio’s discography and are, in fact, fresh turns. A truly superb Clusone 3 collection, Love Henry [Grammavision GCD 79517], engages, as is the trio’s habit, in several standards, including “White Christmas” and “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor” side by side. The segue from the inventive and rather irreverant “White Christmas” into the likewise sentimentally uplifting “Give Me Your Tired ” can only be described as brilliant sleight-of-hand. We are perhaps invited to interpret the contiguity as political satire, though, in all honesty, this is the least protestful music in the world.
Both hatARTs are magnificently recorded. The listener as enamored of these two hatOLOGY CDs as I will surely want to acquire Love Henry, I Am an Indian (Too), Grammavision GCD 79505, and the eponymously titled Clusone 3. As some sort of marketing anomaly, the same I Am an Indian (Too) can also be had on Ramboy 05. Ramboy, which I believe is Michael Moore’s label, is distributed worldwide by B.V.Haast and in the US by NorthCountry.
Pianist Georg Graewe, long an imposing figure on the improvisational side of cutting-edge jazz, has his own label, Random Acoustics (some of which Steve Koenig has covered in these pages). A just-arrived packet offers
RA 023, Battuto / John Corbett, guitar; Mats Gustaffson, tenor saxophone,
fluteophone, flute, flageolet; Terri Kapsalis, violin; Fred Lonberg-Holm,
RA 025, Tuba Libre / Giancarlo Schiaffini, tuba.
RA 026, Stelen / FourinOne / Johannes Bauer, trombone; Luc Houtkamp, alto
and tenor saxophones; Dieter Manderscheid, bass; Martin Blume,
RA 027, Feldstärken / Thomas Lehn, analogue synthesizer.
The quartet that calls itself FOURinONE consipres in Stelen in the creation of a monster of a remarkably commanding presence. That the bassist, Dieter Manderscheid, can compete with two flaming brasses and stampeding drums in the opening number, “Enchantment” — a most decptive title — serves as a testimonial to one shining talent’s strength, endurance and ripe imagination. The quartet’s name nicely characterizes a four-in-one sensibility. What I hear FOURinONE doing invites comparison with Corbett / Gustafsson / Kapsalis / Lonberg-Holm’s Battuto. If we put our sights on “noise” music, Battuto achieves a genuine feeling randomness — free music at its least assertive, because so much of their program operates close to silence, rather like poetic mice at play. Stelen is without question the more brutalist of the two.
Back before I discovered the joys of lassitude, I helped run a downtown Manhattan art gallery with a cellar we cleared of debris and converted to a performance space accessed by a spiral stair — with its old stone walls and arches, a wonderful setting for a series of jazz recitals I and the two principals, a saxophonist and drummer, agreed to advertise as Thunder & Lightning Concerts, with, as it happens, absolute accuracy. Oh, what crazy verve! FOURinONE reminds me of the time in as artful a fashion as anything I’ve heard on recording. Intemperate, yes, mad, no doubt, but subtle too, and that’s the difference. The sedate moments shine every bit as brightly as do the stampedes. These gents make music at an extraordinarily high level of competence and inspiration. Stelen has already fallen into a curious category: a cherished CD I know I will not play often. To listen attentively — one has no choice — requires so much energy!