Jazz may be marginalized but, despite that unfortunate reality, it's still nearly impossible to keep up with the multitude of artists deserving attentioneven when one of them is German saxophonist Heinz Sauer, a fixture on the German scene for over half a century. ECM fans may know his work on George Adams' Sound Suggestions
(1979) and the Jazzensemble des Hessischen Rundfunks collection, Atmospheric Conditions Permitting
(1995), on which many of the same players showing up on Sauer's 75th birthday collection, The Journey
, also appear. Few German jazz musicians have achieved trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff and bassist Eberhard Weber's level of international recognition but, based on this forty-three year-spanning compilation, it's high time they did.
The warm-toned Sauer defies easy categorization. He brings visceral energy to that most cherished of chestnuts, Thelonious Monk's "Round About Midnight" (heard here in a 1978 duet with longtime pianist Bob Degen), and even greater extremes to the modal workout, "Now Jazz Ramwong," as a member of the late Mangelsdorff's 1964 quintet. The free-bop of Sauer's "Nachtwort," a 1970 Mangelsdorff quartet track, may only last two minutes, but Sauer's in tandem solo with the trombonist provides more meat than on tunes far greater in length
Sauer is, however, capable of deeper lyricism and, for an artist in his seventies at the time of his duet recording of Prince's enduring "Nothing Compares 2 U" with pianist Michael Wollny; it's a refreshing rarity to hear his interest in more contemporary pop material. This track from the sublime Certain Beauty (ACT, 2006)which includes an unbound cross-section of material from Billy Strayhorn to Esbjörn Svensson Trio (est), Gershwin and Björksimply attests to the fact that, for the broad-minded musician, good music is good music, no matter what the source. And while Sauer's playing on the previously unreleased closer, "Variations on Redford," another duet with Wollny, is even more spare and melodic, there's always an adventurous, avant-tinged undercurrent that distances him from the mainstream.
Sauer contributes over half the material; more than just an expressive and imaginative player, he's a fine writer too, with the dark-hued "Küsse die Hand, Madame" and centrist "The Narrator," from his trio disc Exchange (ffm, 1996), providing two fine examples.
The Journey's fifteen tracksfrom the 1964 Mangelsdorff track and Sauer's hard-swinging "Sagma," from a 1980 NDR Bigband date, to an elegant quartet take on Strayhorn's classic "Lush Life" from the same year and the brief, Weather Report-ish "Winterballade," with Sauer also playing synthesizerprovide an eye and ear-opening window into the music of an artist who, thankfully, is still with us to enjoy the accolades that will hopefully come his way from this release. With seven live and unreleased tracks, it's a treasure trove for Sauer fans and a terrific introduction for those new to this outstanding saxophonist's large body of work.
Now Jazz; Nachwort; Blues Booth; Round About Midnight; Sagma; Lush Life; Blues, Eternal Turn On; Darauf der Schnee danach; Chelsea Bridge; Winterballade; K
Heinz Sauer: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone (1), synthesizer (10) ; Albert Mangelsdorff: trombone (1-3, 7, 10); G