Gerd Dudek

Day and Night
psi 12.045

At 73, like many other Free Jazz players, German soprano and tenor saxophonist Gerd Dudek seems to have settled into autumnal eternal youth – at least where his improvising is concerned. Born early enough so that he had already established a Jazz career with the Kurt Edelhagen Big Band and the Manfred Schoof Quintet, by the mid-1960s, Gross-Döbern-born Dudek, along with trumpeter Schoof and trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, was one of the first established musicians to embrace Free Jazz, maintaining a long-time membership in the Globe Unity orchestra.

He also maintained his connections with more mainstream Jazz, and this well-paced session reflects his expertise in both arenas. Here Dudek runs through a program of tunes by Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Kenny Wheeler and Herbie Nichols among others, backed by a rhythm section whose members are individually about half his age. Still the masterful readings of these tunes depends as much on the veteran’s interpretations as the enthusiasm of the younger players.

Ironically, 42-year-old Landshut-born pianist Hans Koller, who has lived in London since the early 1990s and helped Dudek select the program, shares the same name as Viennese saxophonist Hans Koller (1921-2003), one of Europe’s first modern Jazz musicians, whose career moved from Cool to Free Jazz and may have influenced Dudek. Besides the younger Koller, who has worked with players like Wheeler and saxophonist Evan Parker and leads large as well as small groups, the band is filled out by dependable bassist Oli Hayhurst and flashy Gene Calderazzo on drums.

Dudek’s work on Wheeler’s two ballads, “We Salute the Night” and “Fedora” suggests why he initially must have embraced Free Jazz. Playing tenor saxophone at this tempo above Koller’s low-frequency, sliding cadenzas, Hayhurst’s solid bass lines and Calderazzo’s rolling pops, his tone suggests nothing so much as John Coltrane’s. But especially on the latter tune, when he becomes more intense, migrating from a full rounded tone to tongue flutters and modulated smears, he indicates his individuality while matching Koller’s harmonic sophistication. If his option in the mid-1960s was between being yet another Coltrane follower or an original Free Jazzer, he made the right choice.

Even more impressive are the quartet’s take on Mingus’ “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” and particularly Nichols’ “Step Tempest”. The first is given a dramatic, astringent reading encompassing an unforced drum beat – in contrast to Calderazzo’s usual tempo-pushing – and a near-Stride accompaniment from Koller. With the drummer using mallets on his snares and cymbals, the pianist and saxophonist blend tones the way tenor saxophonist George Adams and pianist Don Pullen did on the original recording. Balancing split-tone and flutter-tongue inflections, Dudek maintains the narrative flow throughout, recapping the head with slurry pre-modern flourishes.

Following Jazz tradition, the head is also recapped on “Step Tempest”, but since the careening composition wasn’t initially recorded with a horn, there’s more freedom in the interpretation. As Koller ruggedly key clips, Dudek fits smears and slurs into his solo, toughening the theme statement.

Steve Lacy once observed that “Free Jazz keeps you young”. And it appears Dudek is one more proof of that aphorism.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Step Tempest 2. Congeniality 3. Blues à La Carte 4. Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love 5. Blues to You 6. We Salute the Night 7. Fedora 8. Der Tag mit seinem Lichte

Personnel: Gerd Dudek (tenor and soprano saxophones); Hans Koller (piano); Oli Hayhurst (bass) and Gene Calderazzo (drums)