Michael Lösch

August 7, 2007

Sweet Alps
No label no #

The F-Orkestra 2003
Nurnichtnur 104 10 31

Two diametrically different ways of treating the textures available from a large brass-heavy band or banda, are displayed on these European discs. Essentially, the conclusion is that each CD winds up being as notable for what the bands’ composers attempt to do as much as how well the projects come to fruition. Simplistically Sweet Alps is intent on updating 19th and 20th century concepts, while Compositions is wedded to 21st century exploration.

Adding his own hard-swinging organ riffs and the intense alto saxophone solos of Austrian Florian Bramböck to the harmonies of an 18-piece Italian banda conducted by Helga Plankensteiner, Italian composer Michael Lösch dexterously melds traditional alpine sounds with contemporary jazz. Using the techniques and colors available from this folkloric band, Lösch pinpoints the reality that ensembles such as the Italian Instabile Orchestra are actually an outgrowth of a rich brass band history.

Furthermore the keyboardist, who studied at New York’s Manhattan School of Music as well as in Italy and has played with a wide-variety of Italian jazzers, has composed lines which not only showcase the expected talents of Bramböck – who usually plays in the Vienna Art Orchestra – but takes advantage of the band members’ skills as well.

Adding more strings, reeds and percussion – but no keyboard – to the brass and reed sections, The F-Orkestra interprets the compositions of four of its members – tubaist Carl Ludwig Hübsch; violinist Harald Kimmig; Thomas Schoch, who plays trumpet, flugelhorn and didjeridoo; and percussionist H. Lukas Lindemaier. Despite the wider variety of textures available – a bassoonist, a cellist, a flutist, a vibist plus two bassists and two percussionists are among those on hand – the minimalist and intermittent themes don’t make much use of tutti passages. Instead like such ensembles as the King Übü Orchestrü, broken octaves, cross fading and drones characterize the many antiphonal interludes in the compositions.

Good fun all around, Sweet Alps’ compositions allude to themes as distinct as polkas, waltzes, the William Tell Overture, Dixieland, New Orleans Second Line, organ-led R&B and (Free) Bop. Plus Lösch is talented enough to yoke variations of the musics to one another without making the results seem forced.

A typical line finds the horns melodically echoing alpine trills harmonized with bass clarinet, as Bramböck, in the foreground, fancifully decorates the tune and Lösch cross pulsates wide octaves jumps. Another piece evolves from what could be a skaters’ waltz to stop-time horn vamps – featuring an uncredited baritone saxophonist – to vocalized yodels and heraldic trumpeting that introduces pseudo-omph-pah-pah timbres from the tubas. Meanwhile the rest of the band members fold themselves into faux Swing Era variations. On yet other tunes, Booker T-like organ chording mixes it up with back-beat drumming and a creamy Johnny Hodges-like lead from the altoist.

A staccato line subdivides into boppish arpeggios from Bramböck that follow a snorting tuba exposition on “Off Limits” and precedes the composition turning into a near-frantic rhythm tune. Meanwhile on “Karl A”, the kinetic dynamic among tuba pedal point from Michael Engl and Gigi Grata and a call-and-response section from trumpeters Tobias Mair, Manfred Kirchler, Martin Rottensteiner and Paolo Trettel reaches such a state of hand-clapping energy that when drummer Peter Paul Hofmann’s drag and ruff solo follows, memories of pop-jazz bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears threaten to intrude.

Compositions contain no pop-jazz intimations, but the versatility and suppleness of Carl Ludwig Hübsch’s tuba makes up for the massed tuba, euphoniums and bass trombone missing from this banda. Not that the CD is in any way a showcase for brass, nor does any one track overshadow the others. Sharing values as well as a bit of distance in the recording process, no one tone is paramount in the sporadic fading and burgeoning textures which characterize the tracks. Schoch’s “Kobaltblau”, for instance, is concerned with cacophonous, tremolo circular lines, disconnected smacks from percussionists and – as can be expected from a trumpeter – a graduated whinnying and trilling brass explosion mid-way through.

Fiddler Kimmig, who has performed with distinctive stylists ranging from American saxophonist Steve Lacy to Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer, highlights one jagged violin-string swipe on “Atemmege”. However most of his nocturne floats on dark flute and string timbres, resonating vibraharp slaps, triangle shakes, rolling cymbal ruffs, tuba burps and reed tongue-slaps.

Hübsch’s “Interspektion” on the other hand, is built around parallel horizontal lines which contrast mouthpiece buzzes and percussion crashes that are spaced by silences. Someone who usually plays in groups such as the European Tuba Quartet or in bands with tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert, his large-scale work deals with individual tones, with few unison passages. Triggered bassoon and tubax slurs, contrapuntally accompanied by tuba drones and subtle vibraharp resonation eventually advance to a string-scratching climax from cellist Hennes Vollmer and dual bassists Johannes Frisch and Reinhard Hammerschmidt, spelled by elongated tuba slurs, and concludes with a single percussion taps from Jörg Fischer and Lindemaier.

For comparison, Lindemaier’s own “At the Hounfort – House of Loahs”, at nearly 18½-minutes, appears to be the only composition with enough space to allow for more energetic soloing. Although broken chords from the horn, string and percussion sections seem never to connect, space is created for guitarist Max Zentawer to solo in a half-Hawaiian and half-Surfing Music style; and for Christina Fuches’ serrated, Ornette Coleman-style alto saxophone solo. Reaching a thin-air variation of banda alpine sounds, Zentawer’s chromatic comping later underlies disconnected puffs and grace notes from the brass and an electrified hoedown from the strings. With the final variation dense and cacophonous with polyphonic and polyrhythmic layering, the composition concludes following heraldic triplets from trumpets on top and honks and snorts from the reeds on the bottom.

Aiming for a simple, swinging modernization of an old-time tradition, Lösch’s CD succeeds admirably at his restrictive goal and produces a notable session. Daring to try inchoate formulae and risk sonic incomprehension, F-Orkestra attempts compositions with a wider range and more serious breaks with tradition. The band and its composers can be praised for audacity, with the added proviso that letdowns must be accepted along with experimentation.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Compositions: 1. Kobaltblau 2. Intrspektion 3. Atemmege 4. At the Hounfort – House of Loahs

Personnel: Compositions: Thomas Schoch (trumpet, flugelhorn and didjeridoo); Karin Stock (trumpet and flugelhorn); Marc-Stutz Boukouya (trombone); Carl Ludwig Hübsch (tuba); Sabine Meehan (flute); (clarinet) Frank Goos (soprano and tenor saxophone); Christina Fuches (alto saxophone and bass clarinet); Roland Borgards (tenor saxophone); Bruno Waltersbacher (baritone saxophone and tubax); Klaus-Ptere Hirt (bassoon); Max Zentawer (guitar); Marko Hefele and Harald Kimmig(violin); Hennes Vollmer (cello); Johannes Frisch and Reinhard Hammerschmidt (bass); Hartmut Nold (vibraphone) and Jörg Fischer and H. Lukas Lindemaier (drums)

Track Listing: Sweet: 1. Funfahrenheit 2. Fank 3. Ano Geat Nou 4. Holladrio 5. Off Limits 6. Polkaloo 7. Brett am Zaun 8. Karl A

Personnel: Sweet: Tobias Mair, Manfred Kirchler, Martin Rottensteiner and Paolo Trettel (trumpet); Mock Hannes (trombone); Peter Cazzanelli (bass trombone); Paul Brugger and Sabrina Gasser (French horn); Petermair Hanne and Lorenz Mahlknecht (euphonium); Michael Engl and Gigi Grata (tuba); Sigmund Hofer, Werner Mayr and Jürgen Federer (clarinet); Florian Bramböck (alto saxophone); Hans Tutzer (soprano and alto saxophone); Michael Lösch (organ); Peter Paul Hofmann (drums) and Helga Plankensteiner (conduction)