Simon Rummel Ensemble

Nichts Für Alle
Umlaut Records UMFR-CD19

Max Nagl Ensemble

Live at Porgy & Bess Vol. 2

Rude Noises 024

One of those phrases like laid-back Manhattanite which you don’t hear very often is humorous Teuton. But what sounds like an oxymoron is actually an apt description of these fine discs. Like muralists using a wider palate two Germanic player/composers – one from Köln and the other from Vienna – organized large ensembles to interpret their original compositions. Someone who composes for theatre, and dance as well as improvising with the likes of trumpeter Steve Bernstein and saxophonist Loll Coxhill, Austrian saxophonist Max Nagl’s Live at Porgy & Bess Vol. 2 is a wild-and-wooly 2016 sequel to a related showcase recorded in the same Viennese club with an identically sized band in 2012. German keyboardist Simon Rummel, who has worked in theatre composing music as well as other functions, been a church organist and has his tunes played by the James Choice Orchestra, convened the 11-piece Köln-based ensemble featured on Nichts Für Alle expressly to interpret his new compositions.

Despite an 18-yesr age difference – Nagl is older – both composers appear to have been influenced by the burlesque-like themes and hearty rhythms that were joined with faultless musicianship in Rock-Improv bands like Frank Zappa’s. At the same time while Zappa had a tendency to lapse into pandering tastelessness, both writers convey boisterous entertaining without moving the tunes’ rating from PG to R. Similarly like European manufacturers who adopt American concept to fit local concepts, neither Nagl nor Rummel negate folk references or musical currents from German speaking areas in their work.

To take one instance, although the tremolo textures come from his own or Oxana Omelchuk’s keyboards replications of accordion-like judders often surfaces in Rummel’s compositions like spaetzle served with schweineraten. Yet even when the Disney-cartoon-like tones threaten to dominate them, tunes such as “Mir Nichts Dir Nichts”, “Das Erklärt Nichts” and “Schnarre” are eventually saved from schuhplattler-like kitsch. Rummel’s undulating keyboard strategy, multiphonics from clarinetist Joris Rühl and/or Georg Wissel playing prepared alto saxophone and resonant burps from Carl Ludwig Hübsch’s tuba keep the tunes lively and somewhat complex. When expected dance rhythms enter the mix, they’re gently mocked as well as re-created. One example is a free-form adaptation of the famous Brazilian tango “Odeon”, segmented by reed squeaks and vibrating plunger work from trombonist Matthias Muche; another is when reed whistles and gurgling basso voices upset the proper clarinet-keyboard theme of “Schwesterlein”. Like the slender tip lengthened to make Dubai’s Burj Khalifa the world’s tallest structure, Rummel throws in additional inferences in the finals “Sehnsuchtslied Der Betrunkenen Seefahrer”. Saluting the nostalgia of a drunken sailor the seafarer’s memories include detours into Germanic yodeling, brass heavy interjections, including growls from trumpeter Udo Moll, Rühl’s clarinet wheezes that could have been played in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, strict tea dance rhythms and an uplifting ending complete with Michael Griener’s drum rolls and cymbal claps that move into national anthem territory.

If Rummel’s compositions can be anthems for an imaginary country, so too can the tunes put together for his band by Nagl have the same function. Close to the other CD in its distance from conventionality, the geography of the area created by the alto, soprano, baritone saxophonist and clarinetist includes space for Middle-European orchestra playing tangos and other ballroom favorites, faux Dixieland freak notes and solid rhythms that move from Jazz-like shuffles to Rock lurches with some Looney Tunes thrown in for good measure.

If Nichts Für Alle’s trademark sound is accordion emulation then Live at Porgy & Bess is haunted by the otherworldly writhing of Pamelia Stickney’s Theremin. For instance the Teutonic overtones of “Ropeller” are subverted by spectral oscillations from the Theremin until reed bites and plunger brass move it towards dance rhythms. Elsewhere the verve brought to many of the pieces by the precise spiccato styling of violinists Joanna Lewis and Anne Harvey-Nagl are like the rococo detailing in late Baroque architecture, adding a romantic formalism to pieces that earlier threaten to detonate into shards. This strategy is most obvious on “Die gelbe Strasse”. Acting like sonic sandbags, the strings prevent the bass-band-like oomph pah pahs from seeping onto the theme and drowning it in frivolity. Nothing is all that solemn in Nagl-land though, with one player or another taking the subversive role to keep tunes constantly interesting. The movie soundtrack alto saxophone vibrations on “Chroma” are kept from high seriousness by brass guffaws and gurgles, for instance. Meanwhile “barocker Barhocker” seems to be unsure which side of the Rock/Jazz wall it falls, with the drum rhythm moving from straight ahead to substantial, electric piano fills and screaming saxophone taking one side and big-band-like section work with the Theremin as the (female?) singer on the other side.

Nagl too saves the best for last ending the performance on a literal high note with “Vanfahre”. Applying as many variations of sonic shading as there are blended attributes in a sfumato painting, whinnying reeds, plunger brass tones, syncopation from the percussion and keyboard and guitar licks accelerate to a crescendo of unbridled emotion.

Like New Yorkers becoming stoic, the chances of Germans or Austrians moving into the first ranks of world-wide comedy are remote. But these lively CDs prove that when it comes to improvisation, despite a Prussian or Habsburg history, intelligent musical fun can be on show.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Nichts: 1. Mir Nichts Dir Nichts+ 2. Hommage A Enzo Grillo (Taugenichts)* 3. Das Erklärt Nichts+ 4. Schon 4. Wieder Nichts 5. Eigentor (Macht Nichts)~*+ 6. Schnarre+7. Walzermaschi (Hommage A Joseph Haydn)+ 8. Anna+^ 9. Odeon 10. Versteckte Mystik+ 11. Schwesterlein 12. Sehnsuchtslied Der Betrunkenen Seefahrer+^

Personnel: Nichts: Udo Moll (trumpet)+; Matthias Muche (trombone)+; Carl Ludwig Hübsch (tuba, whistling*, singing saw^; Joris Rühl (clarinet); Lucia Mense (recorder); Georg Wissel (prepared alto saxophone); Radek Stawarz [except ~] Axel Lindner* (violin); Simon Rummel (piano, melodica, mini-synthesizer); Oxana Omelchuk (Casio DM-100 keyboard)+; Michael Griener (drum set, percussion) and Ketonge (voice, special effects (except~)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Ansage 2. Parkgarage 3. Blass 4. Ropeller 5. Die gelbe Strasse 6. Chroma7. Nasenbluten 8. barocker Barhocker 9. 9 in 1 10. Vanfahre

Personnel: Live: Daniel Riegler (trombone); Max Nagl (alto, soprano, baritone saxophones, clarinet); Clemens Salesny (alto, tenor saxophones, clarinet); Clemens Wenger (keyboard); Joanna Lewis, Anne Harvey-Nagl (violin); Raphael Preuschl (bass); Herbert Pirker (drums) and Pamelia Stickney (Theremin)