Wadada Leo Smith/Günter Baby Sommer

Wisdom in Time
Intakt CD 128


2 Trios & 2 Babies


Nicknamed “Baby” by an early reviewer, who likened his playing to that of traditional New Orleans drummer Baby Dodds, East German percussionist Günter “Baby” Sommer shares his namesake’s instrumental inventiveness. But as these sessions prove, he isn’t limited by anyone’s definition of jazz or improvised music.

Interestingly enough, the CDs are almost the converse of one another – Wisdom in Time is reductive, while 2 Trios & 2 Babies is augmentative. Both those adjectives relate to the personnel rather than the music however. The first features Dresden-based Sommer improvising alongside sympathetic American trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. The reductive part comes about because the two were initially part of a trio with the late bassist Peter Kowald, memorialized on the track “Brass-Star Hemispheres”.

Oddly titled, the second CD finds Sommer and/or his protégé, fellow percussionist Christian Lillinger, in different combinations with the members of two drummer-less trios. M9 consists of trumpeter Matthias Mainz, cellist Matthias Lorenz and bassist Michael Haves; the GSN trio is tenor saxophonist Fabian Niermann, pianist Oliver Schwerdt and Konrad Grüneberg on bass. Leipzig-based Lillinger and Sommer not only amplify the others’ work with their rhythmic talents, but have a one track face-off, descriptively titled “2 Babies”.

Since, at points both bassists the cellist and the pianist play percussively, with all the mixing-and-matching going on, it often seems as if you need a scorecard to figure out who exactly is playing what with whom.

That isn’t the case on “2 Babies”. With hand drumming techniques crossing with bass and snare drum patterns, the percussionists play off one another, using rolls and ruffs that are paced allegro, adagio and andante. Added into the mix are resonating wooden pops that could come from a djembe, bell pealing, maraca-like shakes and a jew’s harp twang. When Sommer displays his reverberating rolls and backbeat, Lillinger counters with rim shots and concussive thumps; and so it goes round-and-round. Eventually the piece ends distinctively as the older “Baby” sounds his police whistle.

This whistle is also unexpectedly brought into play midway through “Geformter Dampf”, when Sommer suddenly brings the GSN trio improvisation to a halt when he has to tie his shoelaces. Earlier, among his snaps, ruffs and bounces, Niermann’s honking and growling tenor saxophone runs and Schwerdt’s metronomic piano patterning, the band steams ahead with a fiery approximation of pianist Cecil Taylor’s combos that featured free-form drummer Sunny Murray. Gathering his forces after another Reveille-like whistle blast returns his percussion to the fray, the drummer uses a series of rolling slaps and snap to herd the others’ ragged inventions into shape.

Proving that the twenty-something Lillinger, who has also worked with such respected figures as pianist Joachim Kühn and reedist Urs Leimgruber, has learned his lessons well, “Wie du willst…” is another percussion tour-de-force.

Played with the GSN three, Lillinger makes common cause with the pianist. Wooden pitter-patter, bass pedal pounding and more restrained timbres that sound as if a swizzle stick is striking a glass test tube, meld with Schwerdt’s portamento coloration and internal piano string snapping, stretching and stroking. If saxophonist Niermann’s tone is more moderato and segmented than elsewhere, the piece is still advanced with percussion slaps, pops and tingles. Meantime, the pianist speeds up his part to such an extent that at one point he seems to be playing a staccatissimo version of “Chopsticks”. Before the reedist’s summation – which also seems to be a reed-biting variation of “Taps” – bassist Grüneberg is heard briefly and faintly.

Grüneberg’s touch is tougher elsewhere, as is that of Haves, since on a tune like “2 Trios”, it’s up to them to provide the rhythmic impetus when the two percussionists lay out. Considering trumpeter Matthias Mainz, who has also worked with tubaist Carl Ludwig Hübsch, usually prefers whispy, lyrical serpentine lines and cellist Lorenz sul ponticello sawing, only the two basses and Schwerdt’s struck-and-stopped string set keep the diffuse themes from vanishing beneath squeaking textures.

Percussive scrapes and rumbles, brassy wah-wahs and double tongued reeds, spiccato sweeps and piano glissandi characterize the almost 10-minute finale, as all eight players collaborate in a dissonant free-for-all that positions the drummers on either side of the trios and squeezes contrapuntal inventions out of each group. Unrolling with quivering intensity, the clipping clapping and rumbling are goosed still further by Schwerdt’s kinetic key fanning and chording. Widening and narrowing sibilant reed slurs and blunt rim shots bump and ricochet against one another until the percussionists nerve beat action signal the climax.

On its own the GSN Trio constructs an enigmatic coda that’s all vocalized brass retches, timbre evacuation from deep in the piano’s bowls and pressured obbligatos from the saxophonist. A conclusive dagger-like col legno thrust from a suddenly emboldened Grüneberg brings these expansive interactions to a satisfactory close.

Divide the octet by four and you have the duo that manipulates the nine instant compositions on Wisdom in Time. An understated outing compared to other CD, none of the tracks reach the unfettered exuberance exhibited on 2 Trios & 2 Babies. Yet with Smith’s trumpet and flugelhorn lines multiplied through the use of electronics and Sommer rappelling swiftly through nearly every item in his percussion kit a variety of tones and textures are available. Also, as the title posits, the 64-year-old drummer and the 66-year-old brassman pace the program here to express the accumulated wisdom that comes with time.

For instance, “Woodland Trail to the Giants” gets its initial resonance from rhythmic textures that could arise from melodic pressure on a steel drum. As Smith extends his contribution from deep-inside-the-bell wah-wahs that almost sound synthesized to heraldic growls and slurs, Sommer counters with strokes that could arise from a stitched together mutation of a drum pad and a darbuka.

“Gassire’s Lute” on the other hand melds near Afro-Cuban, bongo-like bounces with a shower of muted grace notes from the flugelhorn. Making the most of a triggered delay available from electronics, Smith’s output slides between open-horn and muted passages. Creating two definite personas, there are points where both are audible simultaneously. Not wishing to upset the mood, Sommer links finger-tip patting and ratamacues to Smith’s growling rubato passages. He then rebounds into connective harmonies as the trumpet seems to be searching for lost notes within his instrument’s lead pipe.

Then there’s the nearly 7½-minute “A Silent Letter to Someone”. Mystically Asiatic, Smith confines himself to altissimo-pitched chromatic note expansion and echoplex-style plunger tones. Meanwhile Sommer busies himself with simple gong-like reverberations and temple bell-like concussions. Nearly timbral twins, each man’s chromatic interplay fades simultaneously.

Fittingly, however, the two musicians most categorically define themselves as a duo with the Kowald threnody, “Bass-Star Hemisphere”. As Sommer, adagio and meditative, pops and thwacks different parts of his kit, vibrating timbres predominate. Chimes resonate and the ride cymbal shrieks as a drum stick is dragged across its surface. Similarly, Smith, whose electronics are used elsewhere to project raw power, constricts his tone. Abstract and melancholy, it almost appears as if the notes are being scraped from the inside of the capillary section a moment before they head towards the mouthpiece. Just when you think the mood can’t darken any further, the pace slows to funereal and the horn man actually sounds as if he’s playing “Taps”.

While the sense of loss may be palpable, the two prove their resolution-partnership with a climatic ending that melds the metallic timbres of the blowing trumpet with metallic striations from the cymbals.

Saddled with an unfortunate nickname at his age, each CD here showcases a different “Baby” Sommer who is long past the tyro stage. And these CDs also prove that in his maturity, this “Baby” plays well with others.

— Ken Waxman


Track Listing: Wisdom: 1. A Sonic Voice Enclosed in the Wind 2. Tarantella Ruticana 3. Pure Stillness 4. Gassire’s Lute 5. Woodland Trail to the Giants 6. Brass-Star Hemispheres (dedicated to P.K.) 7. Rain Cycles 8. Old Time Roll – New Times Goal 9. A Silent Letter to Someone

Personnel: Wisdom: Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet, flugelhorn and electronics) and Günter “Baby” Sommer (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: 1. Babies: Soujhmar 2. Wie du willst… 3. Mood-schliche on Pancake 4. Chamber chair discussion again 5. Geformter Dampf 6. 2 Trios 7. 7 Wooing Away 8. 2 Babies 9. Dingaling Intermint 10. Konrads Ausprag 11. 2 Trios & 2 Babies 12. Kardiff Canar

Personnel: Babies: Matthias Mainz (trumpet); Fabian Niermann (tenor saxophone); Oliver Schwerdt (piano and percussion); Matthias Lorenz (cello); Michael Haves and Konrad Grüneberg (bass) and Christian Lillinger and Günter Baby Sommer (drums and percussion)