Atavistic Unheard Music UMS ALP 247 CD

From an older generation of German jazzmen than then-tyro firebrands like Peter Brötzmann and Peter Kowald, in the mid-1960s reedist Gerd Dudek along with other key members of trumpeter Manfred Schoof’s hard bop quintet joined in exploring Free Jazz.

Yet this FMP Archive Edition reissue from 1977 was the first session made under the saxophonist’s own name. Listening to how Dudek — born in 1928 — runs the changes along with his two, since deceased sidemen — Finnish drummer Edward Vesala and German bassist Buschi Niebergall —you see why his highest profile came as a member of ex-Schoof pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra.

To put it bluntly, Dudek was a consummate freebop sideman rather than a soloist or a bandleader. Aptly compared to American hard bop tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan — maybe Hank Mobley would be a better match — he proves here that he can excite an audience during a live date. But as respectably as the three play, there’s a certain distance from the kind of rapturous spontaneity that someone like Brötzmann has, and a tenacious attachment to their sources that more accomplished stylists lack keeps the trio out of the front ranks.

Frankly, the eye-opener here is Vesala (1945-1999). Looking in the booklet picture like a member of Supertramp with his past-the-shoulder hair, beard and round glasses he sounds more like Elvin Jones reacting to Dudek’s John Coltrane. Later he would go on to record sessions for ECM featuring horn sections and guitars, but his powerful, stripped-down rhythm easily motives all six selections. Niebergall participated in the classic scream-fest MACHINE GUN, but his simple accompaniment here merely allows the soloists to have their say.

Unfortunately, despite splitting his solos among many reeds, Dudek’s lead lines are mostly derivative. On soprano it often seems as if he’s about to work up to a version of “My Favorite Things” for a Coltrane tribute. On flute his pinched flightiness could be a cross between Paul Horn recording at the pyramids and Charles Lloyd at the Monterey Jazz Festival. At various time he’ll blow complementary lines with the flute and the harsher, grainier shenai, often vocalizing at the same time. But the effect only reminds you of how many others have attempted the style since Rahsaan Roland Kirk pioneered it at the beginning of the 1960s. Dudek’s double-tongued New Thing shrieks on tenor are zestful, but by 1977, even Brötzmann and Pharoah Sanders were tempering outbursts like that with other — more individual — soloing.

There are many things to like on OPEN, from Dudek’s silvery flute gusts to Niebergall studied ponticello accompaniment to Vesala’s workouts on snares and toms, but others have done that as well. The disc may appeal to collectors and those who want yet another shot of German Free Jazz, somewhat tempered by age. Alternately, if resolute players like Jordan and Mobley who try harder even though they never reach first rank are you thing, then there are many moments to savor here.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. H.S. 2. Kugel 3. Mira 4. Manchmal 5. Open 6. Chain

Personnel: Gerd Dudek (soprano and tenor saxophones, flute and shenai); Buschi Niebergall (bass); Edward Vesala (drums)