Ulrich Gumpert-Günter Baby Sommer

La Paloma
Intakt CD 198

Jesper Løvdal/Günter Baby Sommer

Jesper Løvdal/Günter Baby Sommer

ILK 188 CD

Having reached the age of 69 and with the GDR just a memory for many people, Dresden-born Günter Baby Sommer has acceded to his proper status as one of the most inventive percussionists in Europe. The disappearance of East Germany has also meant that Sommer is able to fulfill the demands for him to play with other improvisers, no matter the country in which they’re based. These duo CDs for instance, find him on one hand in the company of Berlin pianist Ulrich Gumpert, 67, with whom he has been collaborating since the early 1970s – most notably as part of the Zentralquartett – and on the other trading licks with Copenhagen-based multi-reedist Jesper Løvdal, who was born in 1969, long after Sommer had turned pro.

Each session is notable on its own. La Paloma as a meeting between two old friends running through 11 standards as they would at a no-pressure house party. Meanwhile the eponymously tilted other disc shows that the unstoppable Saxon can hold his own in the fast company of a well-schooled (in Denmark and New York) musician more than a quarter-century younger than he.

Gumpert, a composer and interpreter with a deft hand at creating Gospel-oriented melodies, as well as loving parodies of Teutonic classics, has lead a variety of configurations over the years, including his Workshop Band, which has been a training ground for three generations of German jazzers. On this CD, with root material ranging from Blues and Schlager to marches and Jazz-Funk, it often appears as if the laser is spinning among tracks by Red Garland, Bert Kaempfert, Don Pullen, Sammy Price, and a Bavarian marching band. Nonetheless the pianist and drummer come up with the proper and original responses to one another’s improvisations for each tune. For instance, Sommer creates cooperative drum breaks like his namesake Baby Dodds on “Fritze Blues”; clip-clops as if he’s playing a cocktail-style drum kit on the title tune, a tango composed in 1863; and turns to overt swing on his own arrangement of Manfred Schoof’s “Like Don”, while Gumpert lightly double-times the exposition. All along, rhythmic arpeggios and tremolo pacing from the pianist mixed with bass drum accents and a shuffle beat demonstrate that if they wished, Gumpert and Sommer could have been the (East) German equivalent of the Ramsey Lewis trio. Even so there are more profound illuminations of their combined talents on other tunes.

A severe “Lament for J.B.” is a dramatic saloon songs in the “Angel Eyes” mode, yet Gumpert’s passing blues glissandi and Sommer’s press rolls and cymbal clangs toughen and extend the melody past cliché. Impressively elsewhere, low-frequency shading and harmonic overtones from the piano plus harder drum pressures further transform a couple of Prussian folk-like songs into something more. The traditional “Es fiel ein Reif” for example, with its theme introduced with precise key strokes and proper military drum paradiddles is spun into a complex improvisation due to Gumpert’s double-timed dynamics and kinetic glissandi, with the febrile climax broken up by Sommer with mercurial drum beats.

Avoiding traditional melodies in the main, the 11 instant compositions on the Løvdal/Sommer date allow the reedist, who has recorded with the likes of drummer Jeff Ballard and trumpeter Cuong Vu, to display his prowess on tenor and baritone saxophones, clarinet, flute and pennywhistle. Additionally, on the jolly and jaunty “Maultrommel”, Sommer reveals a hitherto unheralded skill in jaw-harp improvisation, plucking in tandem with Løvdal’s humming and blowing flute lines. The only nod to the tradition comes on the aptly named “Billy Strayhorn”. Here Løvdal on tenor saxophone constructs his solo with breathy glissandi as if he was Ben Webster playing the dedicatee’s “Chelsea Bridge” as the drummer provides gong-like reverb behind him. In many cases however Løvdal’s virtuosity appears to be of the expected variety. His flute peeping references aviary notes, and his baritone sax snorts and slurs are suitably subterranean, for instance. Meantime the drummer ranges through woody castanet and clave-like shakes as well as more conventional pops and drags as he plays.

More substantial than his work on other horns are Løvdal’s forays on clarinet and tenor saxophone. The most descriptive instance of his straight wooden reed power is on “First Movement” where he moves from long-lined coloratura trills with wide-bore echoes to strained glottal punctuation, while the drummer scrubs his drum tops and subsequently accompanies the clarinetist using staccato rattles from what sound like wooden gourds, a bell tree and unlathed cymbals. As Løvdal moves through swallows, snorts, reed bites and squeaks, culminating in a face-off between melody and multiphonics, Sommer is there with balanced ruffs and pitter-pattering.

“Second Movement” plus the two following tracks are a tripartite showcase for Løvdal’s tenor saxophone. As the reedist transforms himself into a Scandinavian Sonny Rollins, elongating and exaggerating the broken-octave exposition, while emotionally running the scales with melody slurs, reed bites, triple-tonguing and virtual call-and-response pulsing, the drummer remains unruffled. Sommer keeps this trio of tracks moving with bravura brush work and inverted sticking, encompassing perfectly timed rebounds, bounces and flams.

Whether it’s with new associates or old ones, on these CDs Sommer easily demonstrates how to organically advance a satisfying program.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Jesper: 1. Real Tartare 2. First Movement 3. Maultrommel 4. Voice from Beneath 5. Billy Strayhorn 6. Bird Call 7. Story 8. Flight of the Flutes 9. Second Movement 10. Let’s Continue 11. Goodbye

Personnel: Jesper: Jesper Løvdal (tenor and baritone saxophones, clarinet, flute and pennywhistle) and Günter Baby Sommer (drums and jaw’s harp)

Track Listing: Paloma: 1. Gamme 2. Two for funk 3. Lovesong for KA 4. Fritze Blues 5. Indian Love Call 6. Like Don 7. Preußische Elegie 8. Shuffle to WH 9. Es fiel ein Reif 10. Lament for J.B. 11. La Paloma

Personnel: Paloma: Ulrich Gumpert (piano) and Günter Baby Sommer (drums and percussion)