The following four reviews look at 2002 releases presented by Atavistic Records' Unheard Music Series imprint, curated by Chicago-based producer, presenter and critic John Corbett. The imprint's stated goal is to reissue important, long out-of-print items that originally appeared on LP or never at all, lying really only within the reach of the most rabid (or wealthy) fans. Two noteworthy releases originally from the German FMP label and two other rarities are considered here. They span the range from solo, duo, and trio to sextet and beyond.
In this collection:
First up is FMP's very first release, trumpeter Manfred Schoof's European Echoes. In June of 1969 Schoof convened some of the leading lights of the emerging European free music scene for this radio project, heard here in its entirety. What is striking is the density of the instrumentation (consisting of three trumpets, three saxophonists, three pianists, three bassists, two drummers and trombonist Paul Rutherford), the elasticity of the written/improvised passages, and the remarkable solo talents of these improvisers.
The piece begins with the relentless tom and cymbal interplay of Han Bennink and Pierre Favre, who lay a foundation for bassists Arjen Gorter, Peter Kowald and Buschi Niebergall, as guitarist Derek Bailey's savage left-field notions comprise the first solo spot. Bailey's cascades eventually become part of the fabric of the furious rhythmic drive which, after brief written ensemble parts, allows Evan Parker, on soprano, to provide glimpses of his future, trademark style. Paul Rutherford's individualistic sound emerges next, with judicious multiphonic use – and as one might expect, Peter Brotzmann's solo spot sears forth like a fighter jet screaming across the horizon. Riding the Brotzmann-induced zeal, Rava is the first of the trumpets to take a solo, as Bennink and the rhythm section propel the proceedings forward. At the conclusion of "Part One," the pianists (Schlippenbach, Van Hove and Schweizer) go it alone and engage in a curious and intense interplay.
At this point, it is worth mentioning that both sections of the piece are woven together seamlessly, and thus, after the pianos, Favre and Bennink are free to take their rollicking, crackling drumplay to gale force levels without interruption. The bassists have their turn next, bouncing around like lottery balls waiting for selection. Gerd Dudek adds a forthright solo before trumpeters Hugh Steinmetz and the leader add their parting remarks. As for the sound quality, it is certainly muddy at times, but perhaps one could view that as being part of the thick stew that makes up this work. Some also might complain that at 30:51, the record is a tad brief, but I found that the short running time allowed for a deeper consumption of its unrelenting intensity. This is mandatory listening, folks.
Following on the heels of European Echoes, Balls was FMP's second release and is one of the great documents of Brotzmann's core late-sixties/early-seventies trio with pianist Fred Van Hove and drummer Han Bennink. At the time of the recording, the trio had been playing together for some time, including forming the core for a number of other recordings (including both the groundbreaking Machine Gun and Nipples offerings). Originally recorded on one August day in 1970, the record has been out of print for some time and Atavistic sweetens the deal by including two new unreleased tracks from the era ("Untitled 1" and "Untitled 2").
Given the participants and its subtitle, "Free Action!," one's expectation may be that the program is 55 minutes of bombast and torrential intensity. Sure, the sonic blasts are here, with Brotzmann's take no prisoners approach leading the group to meet his challenge. However, what also makes this release so enticing is the album's "quieter" moments, particularly when Van Hove and Bennink engage in their active discourse. Van Hove is a diverse player, as his lickety-split calisthenics merge effortlessly with the influences of jazz and classical music.
The title track is perhaps the best indicator of what this record is all about. It opens with Bennink and Van Hove's scraping abstractions, which cease upon Brotzmann's entrance. Eventually Bennink, on the shell, and Brotzmann, on tenor, duel for a few moments, each dancing around like two birds in flight (the shell/sax combo appears again on "Filet Americain"). Van Hove and Bennink offer their thoughts, as their duets consist of mining more spacious notions, with Van Hove's dancing or skittish piano and Bennink's "everything including the kitchen sink" approach adding to the sense of engagement.
Such swirling, varied statements set the tone for the remainder, not that the program is predictable by any means, rather, these energetic surges and tension building keep one's interest at a high level. For those hearing this for the first time, you might find yourself amazed at the versatility as well as physical prowess of this group. Catching these iconoclasts early in their career is surely a treat and of course, for those that already embrace these musicians and their art, the music is pure joy.
Fred Van Hove also is considered on The Complete Vogel Recordings, which comprises three "rare as hen's teeth" Van Hove records recorded between 1972 and 1974 (note: this material is so rare that the CD set is dubbed from an LP that sounds a bit rough at times). Specifically, the collection consists of two solo piano performances (Fred Van Hove and Live At The University), a duet LP with saxophonist Cel Overberghe (Een Tweede Vogel) and a 7 inch single on the MU label.
First off, it is an educational experience to consider Van Hove's artistry at the early stage of his long (and continuing) career. A variety of stylistic influences are present, but make no mistake, this is European free improvisation through and through. His range is well represented on the self-titled record, as the first three tracks touch on the dynamic elements of Van Hove's stylistic palette. Van Hove explores dazzling dissonance on "Suite 1.2.3/1," Monkian boogie woogie on "Guustjes Rock" and on "Bouven Alle Verdenking Verheven (alfons)," he tackles both harmonic sensibilities, as well as challenging, athletic flourishes. "Better Grounds" also offers a startling contrast, as Van Hove explores controlled melodicism.
Passing over the duet recordings with Overberghe for the moment, Live At The University captures Van Hove in a live setting that commences with the brief, scurrying arpeggios of "Intrede," and the ominous chord clusters of "Sprookje." Van Hove's technique is on display constantly, but there is no better example of his dexterity than "Compositie Met Toonladders." Van Hove has a little fun too, with the thirty-second accordion piece, "Pauze Met Accordeon," the startling stride-like musings of "Muziek Bij Stomme Film" and the off-kilter vocalizing on "Woordenschat." For those seeking prepared piano, "Pling Pong" answers the question of what would a tray of ping pong balls sound like inside a piano (eerie, if you ask me).
Fellow countryman, tenor saxophonist Overberge joins Van Hove on the remainder of the set. The interactions range from experiments with a variety of sounds (like a church bell on "Wie Heeft Dat Vogeltje" or a busy urban street, replete with a jackhammer on "Ons Lisjsternestje") to unfettered sax-piano duets. A more or less typical duet starts the proceedings off on "Wie Heeft Dat Vogeltje," followed closely by the overdubbed glory on the Overberge feature, "Beter Tien Vogels In De Lucht," with Overberge channeling Spiritual Unity by playing tenor, bass and drums via overdubbed magic. "D'Er Was Een Vogeltje" captures the interaction of Overberghe's rough tonality and the rubbery inside the piano work of Van Hove.
Perhaps the most satisfying interaction involves Van Hove taking a turn at the spiraling, circus-inspired organ on "Alle Eendjes" with Van Hove's experiment adding a new dimension to this interchange. The last two tracks, from the single, consist of a humorous send-up ("Kreem Galas") and interactive tightrope walking ("Bas La Police"). Overall, it is an intriguing program and indeed a worthwhile glimpse of Van Hove during his initial stages.
Finally, Music From Tomorrow's World is unlike any of the others here, as the material is previously unissued. The first half of the disc, Live At The Wonder Inn, begins with three Ra compositions, the first two featuring the lovely flutes of Marshall Allen and George Hudson (uncredited) over a tranquil, forward moving groove. As one might expect, John Gilmore is present and his fans should be thrilled with his engaging solo on "Space Aura" and his bop-inspired lines of the fast-paced chestnut, "How High The Moon." The band lends its group vocal talents to the Gershwin's "'S Wonderful" and "It Ain't Necessarily So," both featuring, yes, more Gilmore flights. While the sextet sounds a bit ragged at times and one audience member near the recording microphone feels the need to have a running commentary with anyone who will listen, it is a vivid document of the era.
The Majestic Hall Session, the second half of the disc, is even more obscure. Apparently culled from a rehearsal tape, the focus here is on Ra originals, particularly four unknown ("Majestic 1-4") as well as his octet arrangements. While John Gilmore leads the way here, the highlight is the presence of baritone saxophonist Ronald Wilson, who contributes both excellent solo statements and solid ensemble work. The beautiful ballad "Majestic 1," for instance, provides Wilson with plenty of room for his melodicism. The third track, "Possession," follows a similar stylistic approach and features a gorgeous Gilmore solo, while Wilson adds striking originality to both "Tapestry From An Asteroid" and the swinging "Majestic 2."
Perhaps the strongest track of the session is the tightly arranged "Majestic 4," featuring the solo voices of cornetist Phil Cohran, Gilmore and Wilson, as well as the energetically propulsive drumming of Robert Barry. As a parting note, the potential listener should know that the entire disc has pretty awful sound. However, once one's ears adjust, the magnificent performances make up for the lapse in fidelity.