Thursday, May 28, 2009

kowald's vision of (globe) unity

november 1975 saw the globe unity orchestra celebrate its ten-year anniversary by convening for several recording sessions in baden-baden; the guests included our man anthony braxton (of course!). the sessions of the 25th and 26th provided interpretations of material by monk, evan parker and the orchestra's regular leader, alexander von schlippenbach. the 27th yielded a side-long piece by bassist peter kowald (here wielding his less familiar brass bass, the tuba). the piece, entitled "jahrmarkt", seems to conjure up the sounds of a wild funfair (*1), with many sideshows taking place, sometimes simultaneously; the following june saw kowald repeat the effect by taking his recording equipment round the real thing, a multiple musical event in wuppertal, different groupings of musicians all playing at once. understandably, the two pieces were later merged for an album on po torch: the music (and scans) can currently be found here (*). ["local fair", the 1976 event which comprises the album's second side, did not feature braxton (who was almost certainly in europe at the time; he appeared at moers two days later, and may well have been there the previous day also); for that reason, among others, i'm going to concentrate mainly on the studio piece.]

i'll say right away that my overall impression of "jahrmarkt" is that it is rather confused in its conception, if not in its execution; the playing (from an all-star big band) is wonderful throughout, and frequently quite astonishing: that trombone trio, for a start! but after a couple of careful listens, i'm not convinced that the composition succeeds in being anything more coherent than a collection of marvellous moments. [the same is true, only more so, for "local fair", on which kowald rather generously gives himself a composer credit simply for walking around with a mic, picking up the different groupings according to whim or design, i can't say - but although it may have made glorious sense to him at the time, i don't really see how this piece qualifies as a composition as such..!]

"jahrmarkt" begins at high intensity, with peter brötzmann, evan parker and michel pilz all much in evidence (these three players, listed on the sleeve as kicking off proceedings, are the clearest voices at the start, though i reckon i hear more like five different reed instruments in this opening section). brötz in particular opens up at full throttle, forcing the breath through his tormented reed and really leaning hard on the ensuing attack (in the manner for which he's long since become notorious!). pilz adds colour and texture, parker joining brötzmann in shredding the air around the listening ear. after a little while, trombones and bass enter, then drums, the reed section still attacking hard. gradually other groupings enter the fray, and the dense sound which results is (to me) more reminiscent of ascension than it is machine gun (though the latter remains an obvious ancestor). both the excitement and the confusion of these opening minutes encapsulate the piece as a whole, i think: individual players contribute amazing sounds, yet the clash of these sounds seems not merely dense, but often cluttered.

the written parts of the score are pretty open, by the sound of it (and also judging from the diagrams reproduced on the sleeve). some simple thematic elements are clearly prescribed, but much of the organisation is deliberately loose with plenty of leeway for personal expression (this of course being a feature of the guo generally). schlippenbach on this occasion is heard mainly (entirely? *2) on accordion, and the latter's first appearance cues up a ragged rendition of "straight no chaser" from one section of the band (others still playing more freely, in a different part of the studio); braxton's own first clearly-identifiable entry (from 7.55) precedes several different quotes from "ornithology" (a standard which braxton himself had taken to the cleaners the previous year). a little later, we hear "donna lee" (again associated with b., among many other interpreters!) - but to what effect? what design is revealed in these collisions of sound? yes, kowald rather successfully mimics the effect of wandering around a noisy fair or festival, so that collectively the album showcases two different spins on the same basic idea - but i'm still not persuaded that "jahrmarkt" itself really holds together that well.

the second section is apparently spliced in from a different "take" (insofar as one can use that term for such a piecemeal contruction): the accordion occupies a more central place in the stereo image, but it still seems to me to have a somewhat questionable role here! from 14.50, with some horns stringing out slow lines and others playing very fast, the soundscape becomes very dense again; but in the midst of this cacophony, braxton's alto solo has begun, and by 15.20, his is suddenly the only voice we hear. the next minute sees him use that space to run through a whole cluster of his core solo vocabularies for the alto sax, cramming in many of his trademark tricks - but, again, other than honouring the orchestra's special guest, what purpose is served by this miniature treat? in any case, solo magnificence is the order of the day from now until the end, the closing section very much dominated by two successive trombone masterclasses, first rutherford's, then mangelsdorff's. (if nothing else, this reminds me that already in 1975 - the year before george lewis hit the scene - there were at least three trombone virtuosi at work in creative music circles! some of the technical facility and breath control demonstrated in these closing minutes is staggering.) the ending of the piece, when it comes, seems decidedly anti-climactic, as if the close arrives for no other reason than time limitations imposed by the vinyl medium.

* * *

- thanks to lucky and especially to reservatory for posting (and reposting!) the rip and the scans... despite my own reservations about the composition(s), i did enjoy listening to this album and its many individual moments of brilliance...

* comments

* - addendum 17/5/11 -  there is no longer an entry for this album, as such, on restructures: only the piece on side one of the album features b. of course, and this is now to be found on cd here


centrifuge said...

1 - (fun)fair being the english equivalent of "jahrmarkt", so i'm told.

2. if there's any piano on this first piece, i didn't notice it. perhaps buried in the mix somewhere... the accordion on the other hand stands out clearly enough, but i for one would rather hear schlippenbach on piano..!

- this post comes by way of an "interlude"... part two of dortmund is still cooking away (sigh)... please bear with me, it will arrive in due course ;-)

1009 said...

Haven't given this much of a read yet, but thanks for the tip on Lucky's blog! Somehow the new one passed me by & I am now eagerly gobbling up some ICP.

Actually picked up the Jahrmarkt from another forum (likely pilched from Lucky I imagine), where AB wasn't listed on the credits. I put it on & when it got to his solo I'm all "hello!? That's AB fo sho." Go look it up & sure enough there's the man.

So I'll get to yr write-up later. FWIW I liked the album quite a bit upon a cursory listen.

centrifuge said...

yep, no danger of mistaking that solo for anyone else, is there..!