Euphorium­ freakestra featuring Günter ‘Baby’ Sommer & Barry Guy

June 2, 2019

Grande Casino
Euphorium EUP 064

A sprawling three-CD set that captures all the sonic creativity unleashed during a program of improvised music in Leipzig in 2016, this particular roll of the dice is part of a regular series of east German activities organized by local pianist Oliver Schwerdt. However Grande Casino is particularly noteworthy as a historic occasion marking the first time two veteran Free Music standard bearers have recorded together. The weathered authorities are German percussionist Günter Baby Sommer and British bassist Barry Guy. Other sound gamblers on these 24 tracks are fellow Germans organist Daniel Beilschmidt, trumpeter Patrick Schanze, guitarist Friedrich Kettlitz, percussionist Burkhard Beins and bassist John Eckhardt, with French saxophonists Pierre-Antoine Badaroux (alto) and Bertrand Denzler (tenor) on board as well.

Seemingly presented in the order in which the concerts took place, this real-time sound unrolling appears sharper and more exploratory as the discs advance. It may be that the band members become more comfortable with one another as well as Guy and Sommer getting more room in which to practice their musical magic. Still with almost no individual track credits, it’s possible Eckhardt and Beins are also responsible for notable lines as well.

With tremolo organ prods, piano plinks, percussion dongs, spiccato double bass thrusts and yearning reed body-tube evacuations, the improvisation on CD1 initially inflate and shrivel until reaching a climax of sorts with “Zwei von dort (Telegraphenamt II) 2g” as an undercurrent of staccato string twanging, ring modulator-like buzzes and watery percussion stumbles and swipes subsume into a cross-patterning brass’n’drum duet. Further sequences interrupted by dolorous pauses don’t reach a further dramatic exposition until “Syrdillischer Octus” ushers in off-centre string resonations that work up to an end-of-CD finale of creeping, desiccated piano judders and organ wheezes which joined by the occasional horn honk dissolve into conclusive peeps.

The situation is profoundly freer and more relaxed on CDs 2 and 3, with high points arriving via Guy’s and Eckhardt’s string elaborations on “Fraktale Tracht” and some inventive free-form tonal explorations from saxophones, piano and percussion on the final three tracks. A post-modern “Two Bass Hits”, “Fraktale Tracht” includes bow cross slaps, guitar-like picks and staccato rubs that escalate into buzzing, contrapuntal clips, pulls and stops from highest to lowest timbres. Schwerdt’s swirling builds up to kinetic pacing on “Oma Eierschecke (Bei der Feuerwehr wird der Kaffee kalt)” and is abetted by sly triangle pings and conga-drum-like percussion pops, culminating in almost visual multi-colored tones that bleed into one another. Chiming cymbals hotel desk bell rings, cuckoo clock hiccups and harmonica puffs dominate the remaining tracks as reed split tones and tongue slaps from Denzler and Badaroux vamp alongside the percussion smacks and piano comping, eventually joined by Schanze’s trumpet blasts that somehow intertwine with whistles, oscillating keyboard ruffles and slashing string spiccatio. The concluding “Epilog: Daniel, Bertrand, Burkhard und die anderen,” reaches a squirming climax consisting of upsurging horn-of-plenty-like expelling honks by the tenor saxophonist, organ console thumps, with a corrosive drone saturating the entire exposition.

Consisting of a series of semi-solo sequences, CD3 is the most relaxed and accomplished. With “Beinwell-Krk” an open-tuning showcase for guitar and double basses, shot through with harmonica wheezes, trumpet slurs and saxophone breaks, unexpectedly “End Of Gannomiloctu Bleed, Bed & Shower (Naked In The Tower Rain)” includes an extended Jew’s harp solo backed by minimal piano lines before reaching a crescendo of multiphonic saxophone vamps, until thin alto saxophone licks downshift to mere tick-tock cymbal and snare accompaniment.

“Return of the Sun of Sharif Scheckheft ‒ Hallo, wer ist da gerade? (Telegraphenamt IV)” and the macabre “Marc Rothko Goes to Bath (Remembering Das Schild)”, the somewhat sardonically and enigmatically near-penultimate and final tracks provide an alternate definition of the Grande Casino. With its keyboards’ note crunching, rugged horn snorts and percussion clobbers every irregular vibration and split tone appears on display in the first tune, almost replicating a classic New Ting blow out. As for “Marc Rothko Goes …” erratic and contrasting motifs are present. But except for diaphragm-sourced reed blasts most of the experimental textures result from triple-stopping bass lines, mandolin-like plucks from the guitar and drum slashes.

Whether you prefer your Free Music loud or soft, belligerent or compelling, some variant of it exists on these discs. Taken together they show off dramatic and adventurous thinking and playing from a mixed-generation, trans-European ensemble.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD 1: Grande Casino I Phore I: 1. The Cream of The Heaviest Invite 2, Maik Muezzin & Euklid im Westparka (Was sind das für Geschöpfe, die da beten?) 3. Interflug/Intershop 4. Zwei von dort (Telegraphenamt II) 2g 5. Das Gruselschloß II: Geh da nicht lang!, ich hab’s Dir doch gesagt… ‒ Disembowelment III (Flesh Aksch 6. (No name) Phore II 7. Sieben: Schieben oder Ziehen (Fanfare Werogilongur) 8. Syrdillischer Octus 9. Elion am lidurnesischen Schrein 10. Epilog: Daniel, Bertrand, Burkhard und die anderen, Pt. 1 CD 2: Grande Casino II 1. Serielle Schwanenattacke 2. Fraktale Tracht 3. Oma Eierschecke (Bei der Feuerwehr wird der Kaffee kalt) 4. Geschäfte in Übersee (Das vergessene Scheckheft für Gulde-B‘fur ) 5. Fabel über Sechseck 6. Wandertag in Leipzig (Die Flugschanze) 7. Epilog: Daniel, Bertrand, Burkhard und die anderen, Pt. 2 & 3 CD 3: Grande Casino III 1. soujhmar #5 2. Beinwell-Krk 3. Anlauf auf’s Holz, Abstieg mit Salz 4. Ein kleines Marsmännchen macht Sauerkraut nach Rezept, dann Jazz für einen Kalende 5. Return of the Sun of Sharif Scheckheft ‒ Hallo, wer ist da gerade? (Telegraphenamt IV) 6. End Of Gannomiloctu Bleed, Bed & Shower (Naked In The Tower Rain) 7. Marc Rothko Goes To Bath (Remembering Das Schild)

Personnel: Patrick Schanze (trumpet); Pierre-Antoine Badaroux (alto saxophone); Bertrand Denzler (tenor saxophone); Oliver Schwerdt (piano, percussion, little instruments); Daniel Beilschmidt (organ); Friedrich Kettlitz (guitar, percussion); John Eckhardt, Barry Guy (bass); Günter ‘Baby’ Sommer (drums, percussion); Burkhard Beins percussion)