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Ulrich Gumpert / Gunther Baby Sommer: Das Donnernde Leben

Nic Jones By

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The members of this duo are both stalwarts of the European free improvisation scene, and their track records speak for themselves. Das Donnernde Leben, however, is a pretty unrewarding addition to their respective discographies, largely because the music seems to have been captured in the preliminary stages of its evolution, as if a matter of hours passing might have made all the difference.

The opening "Locker vom Hocker" is a case in point; it soundtracks two musicians seemingly intent on making music for the sake of it rather than trying to maximize the moment. Over the course of eight minutes, the music takes on a number of facets, each of them subject only to the whim of one or the other of the players.

Things don't improve on "Ermutigung," where a slightly portentous air permeates the proceedings to such a degree that the brevity of the piece is a blessing. What really clinches it—and not in a good way—is the politeness of the reading, especially as it comes from two players capable of reaching far more profound accommodations with the silence.

In view of that, "Free For Two" might just be so much hokum, or perhaps the kind of thing to be found in an unusually hip piano lounge. Either way the conventions of the piece cannot be ignored for all of Sommer's aptitude for inserting some kind of drive.

The fire this duo might promise on paper is ignited—albeit briefly—on "Soldat, Soldat," before an unsurprisingly martial air prevails. What is unquestionably surprising, however, is the very lack of surprise—even in the duo's relatively free, and indeed relatively brief dialogue. It tantalizes, only to pass with unnecessary haste.

"Von C bis C" isn't more of the same in any overt sense, but what the two pieces share is an all too earthbound sense, and the feeling of two musicians marking time—but without stating it—until inspiration comes to the fore again. Sommer busies himself sufficiently to suggest that the piece might have benefited considerably from far lengthier exposition, but it's hard to get past the impression of noodling.

Things come together effectively enough on "Inside Out Shout," but this might have happened to far more trenchant effect if one or the other of the duo had asserted himself. As it is, the music is pervaded by a variety of torpor, as if both men were pacing themselves for more demanding, perhaps less contrived settings.

Track Listing: Locker vom Hocker; Von C bis C; Blues für P. K.; Ermutigung; Free For Two; Inside Outside Shout (Sommer); Funk For Two; Kami-Fusen; Soldat, Soldat; Free Of All; Das kann doch nicht alles gewesen sein.

Personnel: Ulrich Gumpert: piano; Günter Baby Sommer: drums, percussion.

Title: Das Donnernde Leben | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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