David Murray

Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club
Jazzwerkstatt JW 073

Peitzer Grand

Mit Vieren

Jazzwerkstatt JW 077

Thirty-odd years make a big difference in the improvised music scene, both in Europe and North America. In fact, one wonders if any of the participants on these two fine live CDs – not to mention the associated audience members – could have imagined the altered musical and political landscape of the future.

In that timeframe, as is proven by many of the tracks on Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club, it was the so-called avant-gardists in New York who were celebrating jazz’s past while contemporary players stuck to Bop and Fusion sounds. Meanwhile, as Mit Vieren demonstrates, the gap between East and West Germany was still a formidable chasm. That era’s version of political correctness made it necessary for even advanced German jazz combos to include foreign musicians among the players to ensure no band consisted of only participants from both sides of the Wall.

Luckily the two foreigners participating in this session that took place in the small East German town of Peitz were anything but tokens. Italian multi-reedist Gianluigi Trovesi, future stalwart of the Italian Instabile Orchestra, had already immersed himself in many forms of music from Folkloric to Swing. American bassist Barre Phillips, beginning his long residence in Europe, had already played with Jimmy Giuffre and George Russell. As for the locals, trumpeter Manfred Schoof had been the leader on European Echoes, the first trans-Continental improv disc, more than a decade previously and would continue experimenting as part of the Globe Unity Orchestra. Also, despite his Dresden-base, drummer Günter “Baby” Sommer had already been associated with American trumpeter Leo Smith and Wuppertal bassist Peter Kowald.

This mixed Italian-American-East and West German quartet has been extant for two years at this point and its members comfort with one another is obvious during this 39-minute set. No matter how staccato or multiphonic the exposition gets, there is enough connectivity among the four to keep the narrative chugging along. As each man solos and then steps back into the ensemble it’s obvious that jazz’s traditional strictures are still being adhered to 1981.

Schoof, the most mainstream member of the combo, for example, more-often-than-not carries the melody. Throughout, however, he also introduces interludes of discursive flutter tonguing and spidery brass blats beside his open-horn lyricism. Frequently in contrapuntal sympathy with the trumpeter, usually played forte and presto, Trovesi uses each one of his horn s for different theme variation. On alto his slurps, bites and shrilling meet clattering rim shots and rolls from Sommer. With his bass clarinet, snorting chalumeau riffs, it contrasts with Schoof’s straight-ahead harmonies. Additionally, as his clarinet’s silvery trills alternate between quietude and screams, these sliding glissandi regularly meet Phillips’ scrubbing and stops.

Swaying and stroking his strings with sul ponticello friction, the bassist harmonizes his quivers to processional stretches in order to harmonize with the others. Although Sommer uses un-lathed cymbal rebounds as quirky interruption to the theme, he too honors the track’s creative shape and in the final stretch breaks the time down into smaller units as Trovesi – back on alto – stridently prods Schoof into double counterpoint from the highest reaches of both horns. Backed by timed plucks and thumps from Phillips and flams, drags and pops from Sommer, the conclusion involves swift vibrations from the saxophonist and super fast tremolos from Schoof.

Fewer extended techniques were in use at the 1977’s loft session in Manhattan. Recorded four years earlier than Mit Vieren, Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club also features new compositions, four of which were written by Murray; the other two by his California cohort Butch Morris. Although Murray was also the most recent New Yorker at the time, none of the band members were locals. A once and future member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, trumpeter Lester Bowie had previously lived in St. Louis and Chicago. Chicagoans, bassist Fred Hopkins had been part of the co-operative band Air, and drummer Phillip Wilson had played with everyone from Anthony Braxton to the Butterfield Blues Band.

Probably the most characteristic track is the saxophonist’s composition “Bechet’s Bounce”. The performance could fool any Dixielander into thinking it was the product of Classic Jazz. It also confirms that long before the Marsalis’ neo-cons appropriated Jazz history for themselves, so-called avant-garde players were preserving the tradition. Here Hopkins slaps his bass à la Pops Foster, Wilson’s snapping backbeat channel’s Zutty Singleton and Bowie’s open-horned lead is as rough and jungle-like as anything recorded by Rex Stewart or Cootie Williams. All around Bowie’s exciting double-and-triple tonguing, tremolo flourishes and whinnying, Murray weaves high-pitched soprano saxophone vibrations. Performed in broken octaves, the theme is recapped before the turnaround, while the finale involves an old-time rim shot from the drummer.

Also notable is the Morris-composed ode to Walter Norris, the pianist who first recorded with Ornette Coleman, and another musician missing from the official jazz canon. Related to “Lonely Woman”, “For Walter Norris” evolves in double counterpoint as the closely pitched horns modulate atop Hopkins’ adagio bowed bass line. Bowie’s hand-muted solo at mid-point drips with tenderness, until the mood is breached by Murray’s rough-hewn split tones. This jagged-smooth dichotomy is maintained throughout with even Bowie’s smears and growls staying moderato and connective without too much effort. Murray’s agitato and altissimo squeals may be discursive, but they’re usually seconded by Hopkins’ strums and Wilson’s drags and ruffs.

Throughout the CD – initially released as an LP on the India Navigation label – each player bends, extends and distends notes, note clusters and measures. The end result is simultaneously modern and traditional; hard-core jazz and first-class improvised music. Benefiting from more distance and an additional four years of experimentation, the European quartet does the same on its CD.

Both are worth investigating.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. Nevada’s Theme 2. Bechet’s Bounce 3. Obe 4. Let The Music Take You 5. For Walter Norris 6. Santa Barbara & Crenshaw Follies

Personnel: Live: Lester Bowie (trumpet); David Murray (soprano and tenor saxophones); Fred Hopkins (bass) and Phillip Wilson (drums)

Track Listing: Mit: 1. Ein Set

Personnel: Mit: Manfred Schoof (trumpet); Gianluigi Trovesi (alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet); Barre Phillips (bass) and Günter “Baby” Sommer (drums)