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W latach 1968-73 niemiecki kolektyw Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe z Herbertem Joosem na flugelhornie, Wilfriedem Eichhornem na saksofonach, flecie i klarnecie basowym, Helmuthem Zimmerem za fortepianem, Klausem Bühlerem na kontrabasie, Rudim Theilmannem za perkusją, i Wolfgangiem Czelustą na puzonie, a po odejściu z zespołu Klausa Bühlera przemianowany na Four Men Only, na europejskiej scenie muzyki improwizowanej był jednym z jej liderów.
NoBusiness Records zebrało właśnie rozrzucone nagrania obu zespołów i wydało w kolekcjonerskim, limitowym nakładzie.
Europejska, a szczególnie niemiecka scena jazzowa końca lat 60. obok angielskiej była niezwykle twórcza. Każdy fan muzyki improwizowanej zna nazwiska i dorobek Petera Brötzmanna, Petera Kowalda, Alexandra von Schlippenbacha i Alberta Mangelsdorffa. Jednak poza nimi istniały znakomite, dzisiaj zapomniane zespoły, których nazwiska znane są tylko ekspertom. Jednym z takich zespołów jest właśnie Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe!
Muzyka pomieszczona na trzech płytach jest oszałamiająca. Bez wątpienia słychać tutaj pokrewieństwo z nagraniami Art Ensemble of Chicago czy też Joe McPhee, z tego samego okresu. Cwałująca perkusja, pisk instrumentów dętych i monumentalne akordy fortepianu wgryzają się w umysł słuchacza. Utwory takie jak „Lonely Time”, „The Devil Is Green, Blue, Yellow” i „The Sun Is Coming Over” mogą być wizytówką porywającego, korzennego jazzu.
Martin Schray w pięciogwiazdkowej recenzji na freejazzblog typuje to wydawnictwo, jako Reedycja Roku 2020!
Tak pisze o płytach "Zwarte, wielokolorowe struktury dźwiękowe służą, jako folia do narastającej improwizacji... Tutaj brzmią tak, jakby próbowali połączyć ze sobą gęstość dźwięku berlińskiej FMP i otwarte tekstury monachijskiego ECM-u".
Oba zespoły nie miały szczęścia do publikacji płytowych, nie udało im się podpisać kontraktu z wydawcą płytowym, dlatego też wydawali płyty samodzielnie, po latach osiągają one zawrotne ceny. Wydana właśnie antologia zawiera wszystkie opublikowane nagrania plus dwa dotąd nigdy niepublikowane, oba zarejestrowane na żywo podczas koncertu w Hanowerze.
MJQK (Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe) to kamień milowy w historii światowej muzyki improwizowanej!
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The European and especially the German jazz scene at the end of the 1960s was extremely creative. Everybody who’s interested in this music knows Peter Brötzmann, Peter Kowald, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Albert Mangelsdorff. However, there were exquisite bands whose names are known only to absolute experts and who have otherwise been almost completely forgotten. One of these bands is the Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe.
The MJQK was founded in 1965 and consisted of Herbert Joos (flugelhorn, trumpet, mellotron), Wilfried Eichhorn (tenor and soprano saxophone, flute and bass clarinet), Helmut Zimmer (piano), Klaus Bühler (bass), and Rudolf Theilmann (drums) and released two LPs: Trees (1968) and Position 2000 (1970). Somewhat later Bühler left the band. The famous German concert impresario Fritz Rau, who - like Theilmann - came from the small town of Pforzheim, said to the drummer: “Your bass player quit? Then you are four men only“. That was the name for the new band and the quartet released two more albums: Volume One (1972) and Eight Science Fiction Stories (1973). On the last album they were joined by trombonist Wolfgang Czelusta, a versatile frontiersman, who was also at home in new music.
When the MJQK was ultimately formed in 1965, they first played hardbop, which was popular at the time. Their specialty was that they used excessive and free introductions for their compositions. Almost naturally, this led to an increasing turn towards free jazz. However, the pieces were never completely improvised, instead they grew around composed material. The majority of the pieces of the MJQK consist of ramified themes, some of them notated, others free, both interpenetrating. At the same time their music revealed formal development processes. Here one could always see how clearly the music was influenced by the Afro-American role models of the time (Coleman, Coltrane, Taylor), even if the band always enriched its compositions with very own ideas.
Solos and collectives are often separated from each other by interludes, varying both rhythms and individual structural units. This is especially true for the band’s first album Trees, on which the references to US-American free jazz are most obvious.
The title track features exactly these extremely extended introductions, the beginning is highly compressed and reminds us of Cecil Taylor's Unit or the first Globe Unity recording. Especially Helmut Zimmer shines with wild runs and powerful clusters. The solos are interrupted by the heads of the brass, which structure the material. At the end of the piece, the band returns to the energy cluster of the beginning. Another example is “Lonely Time“, where an energetic tenor saxophone solo accompanied by a free pulse rhythm crystallizes into a straight five-meter beat, which then leads seamlessly into a rhythmically bound piano improvisation over regularly changing modal levels. Another structuring technique are the contrasts they use both as to sounds and structure. In “Change of Beauty“, for example, a dense power-play of piano, bass and drums is abruptly broken off, only for a restrained, melodically and lyrically played tenor saxophone to emerge, which then leads organically into the final theme, which is played in unison.
On the second album, Position 2000, the group emancipates itself more strongly from its role models and puts the work with timbre in the foreground. In the title track of the album, the MJQK makes use of overdubbing and multi-play techniques (something that was met with criticism in the purist jazz scene of the time), which enabled the overlapping of different creative means to establish a multi-coloured and complex structure of dense percussion, wind accents and free improvisation. A perfect example of this is “The Sun Is Coming Over“. The programmatic idea behind the piece aims at a playing process comparable to the course of the sun from an earthly point of view, or - as the increased number of subtitles in the score suggest - the sequence of “Birth - Life - Death“, “Beginning - End“ or “Twilight“, as Ekkehard Jost once noted. The musical realisation of this actually quite trivial program takes place in an exciting, throughout pulse-free process of increase and reduction of great atmospheric density. The continuous build-up and reduction of dynamics and energy is contrasted with a gradual change of instruments, in the course of which very unusual tonal constellations are created. At the beginning of the piece the permissive colours of gongs, bass marimba, sharp flute sounds and the piano’s interior, which is worked on with mallets, determine the atmosphere. It’s like an Asian ceremony to welcome the day. In the culmination phase, combinations of soprano saxophone with flugelhorn, soprano saxophone with bamboo flute and finally two flutes with vocalisms by bassist Klaus Bühler determine the action. The end of the composition is then initiated by the coupling of mellophone and bass clarinet.
When Bühler left the quintet in 1971, Four Men Only continued to work in a similar musical way. Suite-like playing processes (also recognizable by the choice of the titles, which often refer to nature) with a formally and in its expressive content strictly differentiated material are main characteristics of Volume One. In general, a certain closeness to the Art Ensemble of Chicago is quite evident, both bands share a distinct sense for fine tonal shades and contrasts. Overdubbing and multi-play are employed even more often, which has the effect that you seem to listen to a large ensemble. The pre-production of wind and percussion backgrounds are especially effective in the first part of “Countdown/Excess“, when the solos of bass clarinet and flugelhorn are supported by a recorder choir. Tight, multi-coloured sound structures serve as a foil for improvisational unfolding, at the same time they even create a certain funkiness, although the bass is missing. Here, they sound as if they try to bring the density of the FMP sound and the open textures of ECM together. Eight Science Fiction Stories is then even more clearly designed as a suite than Volume One and the band seems to switch between different styles, which makes them sound like a forerunner of today's multi-stylistic bands. Also, they make more use of repetitions and they borrow compositional techniques from new classical music - possibly due to Wolfgang Czelusta’s influence. The head theme of the suite (“Departure“), performed in a polyphonic wind section, appears again and again in slight variations in the further course. The piece also has a certain cinematic quality (mainly in the parts without percussion) and is interrupted by harsh piano chords, flute trills, and percussive rustling. “Dead Season“ lives from long, sweeping notes, trombone bubbles, short, whip-like notes and Jost’s trumpet, which is often reminiscent of Miles Davis in the Sketches of Spain phase. “The Beauty Without A Face“ juxtaposes this trumpet with monotonous piano sounds reminding me of a Morse code. The influence of jazz tends to fade into the background in these recordings, although “Lucifer Is Marching In“ sounds like an extremely dark version of Miles Davis’s "Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud“. All in all, the MJQK and Four Men Only were unique for European standards at their time.
There might be some speculations why especially the MJQK was not given the recognition it deserved and why they are not named in a row with the bands of Gunter Hampel, Manfred Schoof or Joachim Kühn. One reason for this might be the relatively unoriginal band name. However, the amateur status attributed to them was a far greater obstacle to greater recognition. It has always been a dubious aspect that any jazz musician who does not exclusively live from his music is almost automatically equated with poorly qualified dilettantes, who dismiss their job and are therefore not really to be taken seriously. From today’s point of view, in which hardly anybody in the free jazz scene can live just from their musician’s existence, this is all the more absurd.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to understand why no label was interested in recordings, so that the band had to release their albums themselves (as a result you’ve had to pay a fortune for the original albums). Listening to their music today there was hardly any other group that was able to make such good and intelligent use of the freedom of the then still new jazz. On the other hand, the band received sensational reviews in German and European magazines, which makes it even more incomprehensible that success and popularity remained so limited.
Like with so many of their re-issues, NoBusiness has succeeded in highlighting an almost forgotten chapter of European free jazz, something they also managed with their release of the two albums by Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden. The icing on the cake on Complete Recordings is the presentation of two formerly unreleased pieces by the MJQK, both are from a concert in Hannover. They prove what a sensational live band they must have been.
Definitely the re-issue of the year (yes, in spite of the wonderful Rashied Ali/Frank Lowe duo).
Annotation 1: A lot of information for this review is taken from Ekkehard Jost’s Europas Jazz, who has noticed the importance of this band already in the 1980s (unfortunately the great book is only available in German).
Annotation 2: Special kudos goes to Ernst Nebhuth, who initiated the whole project and who stayed on the ball for many years. He never stopped working both NoBusiness’s Danas Mikailionis and the musicians to make this project possible. He’s also the co-producer and compiled the very good liner notes including great pictures from live performances of the band. So, thank you, Ernst and Danas!
By Martin Schray
Free Form / Free Jazz
O trompetista germânico Herbert Joos (1940-2019) é o nome de peso desta importante ediçao. Complete Recordings reúne, em quatro CDs, discos de duas bandas intrinsecamente ligadas ao nome de Joos nas décadas de 60 e 70: o Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe, que criou no fim dos anos 60 ao lado de Wilfried Eichhorn (sax, clarinete baixo), Helmuth Zimmer (piano), Klaus Bühler (baixo) e Rudi Theilmann (bateria), e o Four Men Only, um desdobramento do grupo após a saída de Bühler. Este lançamento reúne os dois discos do Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe, "Tress" (68) e "Position 2000" (70), e dois do Four Men Only, "Vol. I" (72) e "Eight Science Fiction Stories" (73). O trabalho de ambos os projetos está mais associado a uma seara free jazzística que propriamente ao free impro europeu que atingia seu ápice exatamente na época registrada nos discos. As peças, mesmo em suas linhas mais energy, sao construídas, no geral, seguindo um rumo, uma rota na qual nao sao raros o desenvolvimento de temas, em um processo no qual elementos composicionais perceptíveis dividem espaço com improvisos por vezes bastante ariscos. A música, de um álbum a outro, tem uma forte conexao, o que faz com que a decisao de editá-la toda junta seja bastante acertada também do ponto de vista estético. Com exceçao de Joos, um pouco mais conhecido (apesar de bem menos que outros de seus contemporâneos e conterrâneos), os outros músicos aqui presentes deixaram raros registros e dificilmente sao lembrados afora esses trabalhos. A ediçao deste Complete Recordings, em limitadas 500 cópias, é uma excelente notícia para os fas de free jazz, já que esses títulos estavam fora de catálogo há muito. Infelizmente só veio a luz agora, após a morte de Joos, ocorrida em dezembro passado.
by Fabricio Vieira
New York City Jazz Record
NoBusiness has been unusually creative in finding hidden facets of early free jazz. This three-CD set presents the Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe (MJQK) and its successive identities, Four Men Only and, when it became a quintet, Four Men Only + 1. It’s an unusual and largely lost episode in the music’s history. The band launched as the Jazz Prophets in 1964 with pianist Helmuth Zimmer, trumpeter Herbert Joos and reedplayer Wilfried Eichhorn. In 1965 they added drummer Rudi Theilmann and bassist Klaus Bühler, becoming MJQK. The band released four LPs during their history: Trees (1968), Position 2000 (1970), then, as Four Men Only, Volume One (1972) and added + 1 for Eight Science Fiction Stories (1973). All that material is here, with two 1971 live tracks. By 1968, free jazz and improvised music ranged from American models (Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Giuffre, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Sun Ra) to the emerging Europeans: from AMM and Spontaneous Music Ensemble to Giorgio Gaslini, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Peter Brötzmann. MJQK sounds like none of these. With roots in hardbop, MJQK took another path. Trees includes Eichhorn’s brief “Schnee Verbrennt” and its tropical rain-forest vibe, with a piping flute central, tropical bird brass and random drum rolls, while Zimmer’s “Lonely Time” is marked by unaccompanied solos. With Joos’ “The Devil Is Green, Blue, Yellow” the band style begins to emerge. There are strings of composed motifs, short and long, fast and slow, a brassy fanfare, then a short dirge. It’s rooted in a kind of drama and the band is very good at it. A likely influence is the Blue Note school of liberated hardbop, when Freddie Hubbard in particular and many more were stretching the label’s idiom, but MJQK pushes that envelope further. “Change of Beauty” intersperses slow, reflective solos (bass and soprano) and rapid group improvisations in which the power and invention come to the fore, with Joos and Eichhorn (on soprano) cascading over the rhythm section’s tumult. The CD is filled out by a live performance at Funkhaus Hannover in 1971. With a string of lengthy solos, from bass to trumpet, again using some of the same internal tempo contrasts, it demonstrates a band that’s lively, interactive and able to realize a collective vision. The second CD, Position 2000, has Eichhorn adding a dramatic bass clarinet to his arsenal and the rest of the band all playing percussion at times, including xylophone. There’s an emphasis on power and drama, but it comes from the presence of flute and bass clarinet and later unison brass parts, as the band adds multi-tracking to its effects. Ernst Nebhuth notes in his liner essay that “this led to scathing reviews in the press about ‘leaving the trail of real/pure’ Jazz”, but he justifies it with the claim that this lets the band “produce their own backgrounds and horn sections”, though this often occurs when the other musicians are silent. The music’s identity changes dramatically. Joos, later a member of the Vienna Art Orchestra, stretches his trumpet range with other horns, flugelhorn and mellophone. One photo has him playing a piccolo trumpet. Orchestral color will trump collective expression. Only Side A of the first LP has music composed by anyone else. Often the band seems to prefer unaccompanied or lightly accompanied solos. Bühler, a creative bassist, departs and isn’t replaced. Overdubbing becomes the music’s most distinctive facet. Four Men Only’s first suite has a saxophone duet with only one saxophonist, a multi-tracked, largely composed brass “solo”, another background provided by multiple trumpets. Meanwhile, the record concludes with some brilliant percussive piano to end “Excess”. The group’s final LP, Eight Science Fiction Stories, adds trombonist Wolfgang Czelusta, apt support to Joos’ mellophone on the LP’s second suite. It’s the first, though, that demonstrates the sheer range and oddity of the band’s directions. Much of it is dominated by an overdubbed trumpet riff repeated for some six minutes under a Joos solo, which, together suggests a one-man Don Ellis Orchestra. At the limits of its split personality, the next segment has Eichhorn improvising himself into a modest but thoughtful facsimile of Sun Ra’s saxophone section.
by Stuart Broomer