Soko Steidle

Maximale Langweile
Jazz Werkstatt JW 102

Aggressively arranged and often brushing against atonality, the eight tracks on Maximale Langweile clearly prove that a coterie of committed improvisers can generate all the excitement needed for high-class Free Jazz. That`s because this quartet of Berlin’s top Jazzers is nearly inexhaustible in their playing and arranging ideas.

Named for drummer Oliver Steidle, who plays in a variety of other ensembles including Der Rote Bereich with bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall – also featured here – and pianist Aki Takase’s trio with Jan Roder, who is Soko Steidle’s bassist, the group by design or osmosis is as dependent on Steidle’s percussion skills as any edition of Art Blakey’s Messengers. At the same time with the bass clarinet of Mahall, who is also part of Die Enttäuschung; and the alto saxophone of Henrik Walsdorff, who powers a good many bands himself, it’s as if Soko Steidle has two versions of Eric Dolphy on board using one of the late American’s paramount instruments. Neither man is in any way a Dolphy-clone. But the contrapuntal harmonies they achieve boost the significant texture mixing to a higher plane.

The skills of Roder, also featured in Die Enttäuschung, shouldn’t be downplayed either. Except for the odd col legno foray, he’s content to hug the background. There his percussive pacing helps glue reed explosions onto the musical body politic, especially when Steidle frequently shuns time-keeping for individual sound motions.

“Schweizer Delikatessen” for example, is based on a series of andante stops at the beginning and end from Roder that are subtly blended with intense, but economical timbres from Mahall, preceding his shift to chalumeau smears. Walsdorff’s diaphragm vibratos attempt to harmonize with the other reedist, only later to join him in double counterpoint encompassing open-ended runs and high-pitched squeaks. Each complements the others’ textures in a twinning of chiming tone extensions and tongue stops, as Steidle limpidly cuffs small cymbals and pops drum tops.

Rim shot shuffles and side rubs from the drummer plus sul tasto and col legno strokes from the bassist serve as the nucleus for “Jenseits Der Besitzstandswahrung”. Although Mahall and Walsdorff begin by spewing wounded animal-like squeals through their horns, the groupthink among the four is so profound that within a few measures, the tune evolves to quadruple counterpoint. Tom-tom bounces and cymbal clattering then open up the final variants with the alto saxophonist following a circuitous and high-pitched path and the bass clarinetist masticating guttural tones.

Still, the demonstrated echoes and original use of Soko Steidle’s influences is distinctively demonstrated on the penultimate “Die Tödliche Doris”, a salute to the 1980s Berlin-based performance art and music group. As Steidle ranges over his kit rattling drum rims and other hardware, the reeds peep in lockstep as if they are replicating Mingus’ “Bird Calls”, elasticizing the theme. Roder’s harmonious strokes suggest a more restrained interface, an idea reinforced when Walsdorff appears to slip a quote from “’Round Midnight” into the proceedings. Ratcheting top-of-snare friction and nerve beats from the drummer roughen the performance, as does Roder’s circular bowing. The piece ends in a flurry of contrapuntal reed lines, the altoist’s mostly contralto, and Mahall’s chalumeau.

One English translation of “maximale langeweile” gives it as “maximum boredom”. If there ever was something which was actually the opposite of what it is called, then it’s this CD.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Maximale Langweile 2. Ragga Muffin 3. Full Heinz 4. Schweizer Delikatessen 5. Jenseits Der Besitzstandswahrung 6. Kalle Radschinsky’s Dilemma 7. Die Tödliche Doris 8. Da Ist Doch So Trommel - Din

Personnel: Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet); Henrik Walsdorff (alto sax); Jan Roder (bass) and Oliver Steidle (drums)