Pago Libre Sextet

Platz DADA!
Christoph Merian Verlag 312

Superior entertainment, Platz DADA is a notable departure for members of the trans-European Pago Libre (PL) quartet. With PL known in the past for its instrumental prowess mixed with humor, in many ways this CD is closer to the performance at an intellectual cabaret show.

As the title indicates, the book for this musical mostly comes from the fanciful prose-poetry work of three unconventional, early 20th Century literati: two German Dadaists, Hans Arp (1887-1966), co-founder of the movement at Zürich’s Cabaret Voltaire in 1916; artist, graphic designer and typographer Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), who created his own version of Dadaism, called Merz – the middle of “Com-MERZ-Bank”; and Russian Daniil Charms (1905-1942), an anti-rational versifier, Futurist and children’s books author, who starved to death in a Soviet psychiatric ward.

To shore up the theatrical versifying and singing needed in this project, PL’s band members – violinist Tscho Theissing and bassist Georg Breinschmid from Vienna; French hornist Arkady Shilkloper from Moscow and Irish-Swiss pianist John Wolf Brennan, who lives in Weggis – augmented the group instrumentally and vocally. Added is the percussion and live electronics of Montpellier-based Patrice Héral, who has played with improvisers as different as saxophonist Max Nagl and guitarist Nguyên Lê. Vocal and text adaptation skill is provided by Agnes Heginger from Vienna, who also works as a duo with Breinschmid and in other groups where she mixes spontaneous compositions and pop songs.

Although the texts are mostly in German – a couple of Schwitters’ English poems, written during his Second World War United Kingdom residency are also included –you don’t have to understand the language to enjoy the program. Since the three versifiers were in the main sound poets, knowledge of German is as unneeded as knowledge of French is demanded to appreciate musique concrete.

Take “Etanosuu Eutonars”, five-inter-related tracks which use the sounds implicit in Schwitters’ Ursonate as the basis for a combination of Heginger’s doing her bit as a jazz thrush and the males harmonizing the poet’s tongue-twisting mechanized-infleunced sounds as percussive as parlando. Or consider the quasi-waltz made out of Arp’s “Die gestiefelten Sterne”, where human sneezes, note clusters, slide-whistle peeps and drum paradiddles extend Heginger’s recitation, and the phrase “patum patum”, become a connective leitmotif. Ponder the Roma-style fiddling, slap bass, two-beat drumming and pseudo ragtime pianism that enlivens Schwitters’ “Schnauze Puppe!” The finale comes complete with “shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits” ending. Then there’s the male-female dialogue on Charms’ “Das fröhliche Greislein”. Unrolling on top of Theissing’s legato rendition of Bach’s “Prelude in E minor”, it contains more emphasized “ho ho ho”s than an office Christmas party, more “goo-goo”s than an infant’s primer and includes the words “Bach, Bach“ which in Russian translate as “boom, boom”.

Then there’s “¿Nana”, one of the few tracks with English lyrics. Considering that word construction still follows Schwitters’ Dadaist principles, its appeal results as much from instrumental sophistication as the vocalist’s impersonation of a beatnik poet or scat singer. Running underneath throughout are double-timed, syncopated piano chords, staccato strokes from the violin, Héral’s backbeat rolls and Shilkloper on flugelhorn, evoking the proper Cool Jazz soundtrack.

Also memorable are the 16 inter-related tracks with the mouthful of phasing: “Etanosuu Eutonars Paraphrantassoziariationen über Themen von Kurt Schwitters”, based on Schwitters’ “Ursonatre” sound poem cycle, which the Dadaist initially performed throughout Europe in the 1920s. With spatial intimations of musique concrète, high frequency kinetic piano cadences from Brennan, Breinschmid’s walking bass and cacophonous, staccato or legato interjections from the other players – not to mention Heginger’s diva-like lyric soprano exaggeration – the nonsense syllables gain new resonatonce. With Heginger sometimes coming across like bopping Annie Ross backed by a quintet of rhyming Slim Galliards, the performance wouldn’t be out of place in a jazz club – or a rap concert.

What else can be said about an hour plus program, which includes a fanciful outburst from Lenin – answring his phone with “da da” “yes-yes” – he lived across from Cabaret Voltaire and frequently complained about the artists’ “noise”; and alternately restrained and hysterical scatting plus concretizing that references, jazz, so-called classical, cabaret and pop musics?

Perhaps that the CD is sonically sophisticated enough to appeal in equal measure to the hard-core improvised music fan and the sincere student of early 20th Century avant-garde poetry. Heck, fans of a classy cabaret show with prickly word play and memorable music will be just as electrified.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Frühstück bei Waldimir Iljitsch 2. Dadábylon 3. platzDADA! 4. SinnDong 5. Sankt Ziegenzack Sankt Fassanbass 6. Die gestiefelten Sterne 7. te gri ro ro 8. Uhrmusik: Sekundenzeiger 9. Weltwunder 10.Wolkenpumpentango 11. Schnautze, Puppe! (12 - 6) Etanosuu Eutonars Paraphrantassoziariationen über Themen von Kurt Schwitters 12. Largo 13. Rakete 14. Durchführung 15. Tillll, Jüü-Kaa? What a beauty 16. Schwitters gruuuft 17. Die Welt 18. ¿Nana? 19. Ich bin ein Schwein 20. trains.plains 21. Das fröhliche Greislein 22. Drone Dance 23. A klanes Brabitschek 24. Schnickschnack

Personnel: Arkady Shilkloper (French horn, flugelhorn, alphorn and voice); Tscho Theissing (violin and voice); John Wolf Brennan (piano, melodica and voice); Georg Breinschmid (bass and voice); Patrice Héral (percussion, live electronics and voice) and Agnes Heginger (voice)