August 6, 2014
Euphorium Records EUPH 041a
New Old Luten Quintet
Euphorium Records EUPH 041b
Gently acerbic Free Jazz which flourished intermittently alongside vital improvisation in the former East Germany appears to have a post DDR-champion in Leipzig pianist/bandleader Oliver Schwerdt. Schwerdt, whose PhD thesis was on drummer Gunter Baby Sommer, creates sounds which like the drummer’s oeuvre are both deadly serious and a whole lot of fun. These discs show how he continues to tread the fine line between comedy and profundity in his work.
Case in point: Big Pauer, a CD and Small Pauer, a three-track CD-EP. For a start, Schwerdt, who is present on both sessions, hides under the name “Elan Pauer” on Big Pauer. Another of his pseudonyms is Edithrakneff Weinermond – go figure. But he gives the game away with a short variant of “Dry Swing”, a solo piano showcase recorded at the same concert. There are points in either run-through as well, that Schwerdt’s Meade Lux Lewis-via-Cecil Taylor keyboard and beyond exposition may be purposely exaggerated for effect.
Adding to his mixture of pre-and-post-Berlin-Wall-falling sonic elements is Schwerdt’s choice of sidemen. The EP is a trio session, where his piano and percussion forays are expanded on by an equally young, Berlin-based rhythm section of bassist Robert Landfermann and percussionist Christian Lillinger. Meanwhile on the CD this trio is expanded with the addition of second bassist John Edwards, a Londoner who has played with nearly everyone in Free Jazz; plus Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky playing Romanian shepherd’s flute and clarinet. About twice the age of the other participants, Petrowsky was one of the first major Jazzers to come from the DDR. At present he’s best-known as one-quarter of the Zentralquartett that also includes Sommer.
Under his own name, and with Landfermann and Lillinger, Schwerdt has come up with a little gem of a piano trio record. Once his truncated version of “Dry Swing” is out of the way, the three kick into perfectly compatible high gear. For every string scrub and spank there’s a drum clatter and pop – and both depend on the keyboardist’s even-handed voicing. Most representative is the short “Fresh Dritt”. So well is the balance maintained between power and prettiness that at one moment pastel note blending could come from a Bill Evans session, and the next second the kinetic key-stopping suggests Oscar Peterson’s classic trio.
Adding two players expectedly produces a completely different result, but only after the pianist has explored “Dry Swing” for more-than-18½ minutes. Forthright and flowing, the fervid boogie-woogie flashes are broken up with sequences of delicate, harpsichord-like études plus a section near the end where the melody turns almost overtly nose-thumbing. If Cecil Taylor played nursery rhymes the result would be similar.
Abrasive dual string scrubbing coupled with clattering percussion and wide keyboard ringing initially puts Petrowsky at a disadvantage as he tries to negotiate a theme from his thin-sounding flute. He fares better on clarinet, and by the concluding “Big Luten at Midnight” torques his reed enough so that it locks in with the swinging piano vamp and quivers from percussive little instruments. As the staccato interaction reaches a crescendo, reed spetrofluctuation plus bowed and scrapped string timbres from the basses and piano widen into a satisfactory, potentially sardonic climax.
Politics has change the situation for Free Jazz in the eastern part of Germany and made it more centralized. But outstanding discs like these prove that not all notable musical improvisation takes place in Berlin.
Track Listing: Big: 1. Dry Swing 2. Small Luten at Five 3. Smooth Dritt 4. Big Luten at Midnight
Personnel: Big: Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky (Romanian shepherd’s flute and clarinet); Elan Pauer [Oliver Schwerdt] (piano, percussion and little instruments); John Edwards and Robert Landfermann (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums, cymbals and percussion)
Track Listing: Small: 1 Dry Swing 2. Small Pauer 3. Fresh Dritt
Personnel: Small: Oliver Schwerdt (piano and percussion); Robert Landfermann (bass) Christian Lillinger (drums, cymbals and percussion)