You Are So Me
Konnex KCD 5267


Modern Primitive

Evil Rabbit Records ERR 18

Working the sometimes arid boundary between Rock and Jazz is obviously a concept which fascinates reedist Jan Klare. However with the intersection point often the spot where showiness and bombast bury genuine improvisation, it’s a hit-and-miss proposition. This is forcefully demonstrated on these small-group CDs featuring the Münster-based saxophonist, clarinetist and flutist, best-known for his leadership of the massive German Jazz-Rock ensemble The Dorf.

Klare, who over the years has worked in theatre, dance and electronic music projects as well as with the likes of bassist Wilbert de Joode, is fully immersed in the punkier and speedier side of fusion with the You Are So Me trio, which has worked in this formation since 2005. Drummer Simon Camatta, a regular The Dorf member bears down excessively on his drum set on the CD’s 11 tracks, while Oliver Siegel, who is also a producer and who mixed the session, extrudes his synthesizer licks throughout. His playing bulldozes extravagant phrasing that resemble flashy R&B organ tremolo half the time and gaudy Rock lead guitar licks the other half. Klare himself blasts, cries and snorts from his horns on this collection of originals which he mostly composed.

A little more than half the length of You Are So Me, but almost twice as worthy, is Modern Primitive. The supposition may be that the CD, which is made up of nine group compositions played by a quartet, is of higher quality because the other players are from the Jazz-Improv field. German bassist Meinrad Kneer moves between Berlin and Amsterdam and among improvised, ethnic and contemporary music. Co-founder of the Evil Rabbit label, he plays in bands like the Ab Baars Quartet and the Joost Buis Tentet. Meantime Boston area guitarist Jeff Platz leads his own band when not in Europe with groups such as Modern Primitive. The most experienced member of the group is drummer Bill Elgart, an American expatriate based since the 1970s in Ulm, Germany. His associations over the years include pianist Paul Bley, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and bassist Ed Schuller. He, reedist Baars and Kneer also work as a trio.

A colorist who expresses himself with pops, cracks and smacks, Elgart would appear to be the Dr. Jekyll to Camatta’s Mr. Hyde on the other CD. Camatta cleaves heavily to a repeated backbeat and pushes nearly every tune with staccatissimo rhythms. On the weaker cuts the ghosts of Keith Emerson, Sandy Nelson and Nino Tempo seem to hover; fine companions for Rock, but not Jazz. Better are tracks such as “Es” and “Het”. The latter brings up images of a fat man falling down the stairs, as the players spin out of a combination of calliope-styled organ glissandi, a clattering sand dance from the drummer and extended baritone sax slurs from Klare. The former, a power-ballad, manages to mix John Bonham-styled backbeats with popping snorts and squeals from the saxophonist and Siegel doing double duty creating skittering keyboard washes and a melody line that could have come from a guitar. Even “A” seems faintly derivative with a melody redolent of “Spill the Wine”, Siegel’s organ work more reminiscent of Earl Grant than Jimmy Smith and the accompaniment divided between repetitive drum beats and harsh reed bites.

When the trio asserts itself with original configurations the result is more interesting. “Tā” for instance matches almost mechanized backbeat shuffles and ruffs from Camatta with constant, colorful pumps from the synthesizer surmounted by slippery slurs from the reed which sound like they were processed through a Varitone. “O” harmonizes alternate snorting or screaming baritone sax licks with jagged organ-like chords, until the percussionist’s backbeat demands faux-Orientalism from the keyboardist.

Seemingly a more profound effort is Modern Primitive and not just because of Elgart’s relative restraint. Kneer’s bass work provides the right mix of descriptive picks, distinctive arco sawing and rumbling; Platz’s slurred fingering and tonal distortion breaks up the thematic material; and Klare makes more use of his clarinet and flute. For instance on “Impish Episode” thin clarinet vibrations almost mirror guitar plucks until Klare introduces narrow tongue flutters and split tone trills as Platz claw-hammers his strokes downward. The drummer contributes cymbal slaps and rim shots while Kneer strokes his bass strings steadily below the bridge before matching bow strokes to percussion outlays.

Laid back but methodical slaps mark the bassist’s note stretching on “A Gently Sloping Knoll”, while Elgart’s rapid strokes, clangs and drags join reed slurps in counterpoint with rapid guitar licks. Meanwhile rather than a romantic ballad, “Can You Hear the Rain?” is instead a showcase for the guitarist’s slurred fingering and multi-effects, mixed with triple-tonguing overblowing and pressurized lip vibratos from the clarinetist.

Most effective is the strategy on “Puppet Party’ that is stentorian enough that it could easily be adopted by You Are So Me’s trio. Wide guitar twangs and harsh downwards strokes mix it up with long-lined vibrations from the saxophonist, while Kneer outputs a spiccato, spiky bass line and Elagart demonstrates his skills with energetic rim shots, bouncing ratamacues and rim shots. But no one’s reach exceeds his grasp.

On the evidence of these CDs, and where Klare is concerned, it appears that a more satisfying program arises when the players have less of a singular mind and are add a hearty helping of musical sophistication to their improvisations.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Modern: 1 Beekeepers Song 2. Can You Hear the Rain? 3. Meat Dress 4. A Gently Sloping Knoll 5. Blank Mask 6. Grain by Grain 7. Puppet Party 8. Impish Episode 9. Mutual Agreement

Personnel: Modern: Jan Klare (alto saxophone, clarinet and flute); Jeff Platz (guitar); Meinrad Kneer (bass) and Bill Elgart (drums)

Track Listing: You: 1. It 2. Es 3. Tā 4. Yeh 5. A 6. Oha 7. Kai 8. Het 9. O. 10. Go 11. Det

Personnel: You: Jan Klare (alto and baritone saxophones, clarinet and flute); Oliver Siegel (synthesizer) and Simon Camatta (drums)