January 22, 2009
Unflinchingly and cheekily adopting a collection of German “regional songs” and a couple of unexpected additions as a soundtrack, the members of Heimat Lieder boldly articulate an alternate narrative for Teutonic Euro Improv.
At the same time while this collection of uncomplicated waltzes, beer-hall ditties, bellicose marches and half-remembered folk songs demonstrates that brass band literature and rural ballads shaped Germany’s free players as much as overseas influences, the CD is also memorable because the playing isn’t doctrinaire in any way. Rather than aim for musical verisimilitude, the players operate in a climate of gentle parody, expanding the quirkiness of these “home songs”, while emphasizing their connection to the shifting world of free improvisation.
Evidence for this is provided by Hans Reichel whose unique bowed and strummed daxophon ejaculations alternately growl or warble in places where a vocalist sporting a Tyrolean-hat and lederhosen would be featured. Adding to the air of imaginary folklore are the portamento runs and bellow-pumping of accordionist Ute Völker, usually found in the company of experimenters such as violinist Gunda Gottschalk and bassist Peter Jacquemyn. Additionally, two other participants – trumpeter Manfred Schoof and trombonist Conrad Bauer – are old enough to recall German jazz’s pre-history in the west (Schoof) and the east (Bauer) and were among the then-divided country’s first free improvisers.
Spelling Schoof on half the tracks in the lead trumpet role, with showy triplets and half-valve effects, is a player who shares his initials but is almost a half-century younger. Köln-based Matthias Schriefl, who works with groups as different as Shreefpunk and the European Jazz Ensemble, likely wasn’t born when the CD’s tunes were seriously performed in their original form, but he acquits himself admirably here; as does steady-toned bassist Christian Raymond.
However the project’s chief instigators are journeyman players, neither tyros nor first generation experimenters. Tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Wolfgang Schmidtke, who teaches music in Köln, has worked with players as different as rock drummer Ginger Baker and jazz bassist John Lindberg; while drummer Peter Weiss co-leads groups with Wolfgang Engstfeld and has gigged with players as disparate as avant-gardists, bassists Peter Kowald and trumpeter Itaru Oki and mainstream American saxophonists Hal Singer and James Moody,
The last two might be a little bewildered by much of the CD’s material, but would certainly have perked up as the seven transform the Bonanza TV show theme into a buffo version of omph-pah-pah music. Introduced by contrapuntal accordion slides and bass clarinet undulations, Schriefl is soon clambering up the scale with double-tongued grace notes as cymbals slap along with a shuffle rhythm from the drums and the accordion interjects polyphonic tones. As the trumpet blasts get progressively more piercing Reichel’s daxophon whinnies in response.
Humor is a little less broad elsewhere, though obvious enough to confirm that the majority of times the massed horns go off-key is deliberate. This approach does mean that warhorses such as “Alte Kamraden” and “Land Der Dunklen Wälder” are rejuvenated however.
The later contrasts smooth tenor saxophone lines which lean towards 1950s pop-jazz with double-timed warbling daxophon riff and portamento accordion pumps that suggest a sing-along. While Völker’s bulging key sluices create a pulse that could encourage groups of Oktoberfest drunks to sway down the street, Schoof begins trumpeting what could be “It’s Now or Never” in an exaggerated rendition filled with blustery grace notes, sliding tremolo and vibrated asides. Following pig-squealing and bird-whistling from Reichel’s instrument, the piece wraps up with marching pulses from trombone and accordion.
Weiss comes to the fore on “Alte Kamraden”, as his drags, rolls and ratamacues enliven the standard rhythmic line. Aided by Raymond’s walking bass, he still prevents the hoary melody from being submerged, as the trumpeter pops out spittle-encrusted notes while Bauer unleashes long-lined growls and chromatic, gutbucket slurs. Barely staggering to the finale with fanfares and quacks, a coda showcases the brass lugubriously tonguing a smarmy version of the theme.
It isn’t clear for how long this band of “old comrades” has worked together, but on evidence of their stirring and amusing work here, the sequel threatened by Schmidtke in the booklet notes, should be encouraged.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. So Ein Tag 2. Alte Kamraden 3. Land Der Dunklen Wälder 4. Hänschen Klein 5. Der Mond Ist Aufgegangen 6. Bonanza 7. In Einen Küchlen Grunde 8. Dallas 9. So Ein Tag (Reprise)
Personnel: Manfred Schoof* or Matthias Schriefl** (trumpet); Conrad Bauer (trombone); Wolfgang Schmidtke (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Hans Reichel (daxophon); Ute Völker (accordion); Christian Raymond (bass) and Peter Weiss (drums)