New Old Luten Quintet

Booklet Notes for Euphorium Records EUPH 045

Fastening on an historical time frame in terms of age and influences when it comes to deeply felt free jazz is often a mistake. That’s because those committed to consistently inventive expression evidentially retain a perpetual youthfulness in their improvisations. Consider the slab of bellicose interaction captured here for instance. Although veteran alto saxophonist and clarinetist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky is about three to four decades older than his musical partners, the constantly challenging sounds they produce are so a part of his sonic consciousness, that he comfortably – and notably – slides his ideas into their midst.

In one fashion, the three other German and one British (John Edwards) players involved are the heirs of the musical freedom pioneered by Petrowsky and others in the 1960s and 1970s. Although this outstanding CD was recorded at naTo, a Leipzig music space, one week after the reedist’s 80th birthday, it’s he who often creates the most incendiary solos, which in turn must be matched by the playing of dual bassists Edwards and Robert Landfermann, drummer Christian Lillinger and Elan Pauer on piano and percussive “little” instruments. At the same time as fresh as the reedist’s approach to playing is, it isn’t youthful as in juvenile. His emphatic sweeps, nephritic growls and staccato bites are the result of the experience he gained as one of the standard beaters of free musical expression in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, most notably as a member of Zentralquartett. Additionally, while the others may have negotiated the shoals and rough waters involved with playing so-called minority music, Petrowsky spent his time until German reunification constantly looking over his shoulder for the Stassi, whose musical opprobrium carried worse consequences than critics’ negative reviews.

Measuring the peaks and valleys of this single track’s evolution one should note how Edwards and Landfermann slyly split their roles, trading plucking and bowing outbursts often, so as to reach dynamic fissure. As they scrub sonorously or sound spiccato smacks, they also underline the saxophonist’s masticated and manipulated timbres. Meantime Lillinger positioned bumps and Pauer’s measured keyboard clips keep the powerful narrative from rushing off the proverbial rails. But also note that episodes of splintered glossolalia from Petrowsky’s saxophone coexist with his moderato clarinet sighs. Although the latter are equalled by melodic pacing from the pianist, they do more than display Petrowsky’s unexpected romantic side. Serving as intermezzos that approximate the calm before a storm, they allow the alto saxophone’s human-voice-like cries to intensify the undulating ferment and reach a climax where each player unites to play what could probably be defined as East German blues. The maelstrom finally expires with cascading piano chords backing Petrowsky’s descending trills, still defined with near locomotion power

With the identical meaning in English, the German word tumult is defined in a variety of ways. While it’s surely alive with unbridled energy, definitions like pandemonium, quarrel, riot and strife can be ignored when characterizing the sound of this disc. Instead relate it to upheaval, ferment and above all excitement.

Ken Waxman Toronto, January 2015