Johannes Bauer / Kris Wanders / Peter Jacquemyn / Mark Sanders

December 30, 2011

In Remembrance of the Human Race

Not Two MW-856-2

Kris Wanders-Mani Neumeier Quintet

Taken By Surprise

Not Two MW-861-2

Avant Jazz’s history is filled with unacknowledged legends and “what ifs”. Musicians, who didn’t get the right breaks, changed career plans for various reasons or became isolated, are legion both in North America and Europe.

One tantalizing thought is what if Dutch tenor saxophonist Kris Wanders, featured on both these notable CDs, had stayed in Europe instead of immigrating to Australia in the late 1970s? On evidence here, Wanders, an early member of the Globe Unity Orchestra (GUO), who often played with Peter Brötzmann, still has enough inventive grit and power in his playing to hold his own with anyone – including the seminal European Free Jazzers with which he trades licks on In Remembrance of the Human Race. Another question is what may have happened if Swiss drummer, Mani Neumeier, another early GUO member, had stayed with Free Music instead of founding pioneering KrautRock outfit Guru Guru? Judging from his well-paced, unpretentious playing on Taken By Surprise, recorded with Wanders and an Australian trio, his influence on percussionists may have been sizeable.

In the years since emigrating, the now Melbourne-based Wanders has been a one-man link to the European Free Jazz tradition and influenced locals such as percussionist Robbie Avenaim and bassist Clayton Thomas. The trio featured on Taken By Surprise operates at a similar high level as the Swiss drummer and Dutch reedist and includes Melbourne-based tenor saxophonist Brett Evans, Brisbane-based guitarist Yusuke Akai and bassist Rory Brown from Sydney.

Judging from Akai’s multi-fingered chromatic runs, slurred fingering and clanking twangs exhibited throughout the CD’s three frenetic tracks, his presence answers a secondary question: what would Wes Montgomery have sounded like playing with John Coltrane’s final quintet? The concept isn’t that far-fetched. Montgomery was for a short period part of an early Trane formation until economics curtailed the experience. But imagine hearing Montgomery’s inventions unhampered by Verve or A&M string sections and spurred by Trane, Pharoah Sanders and Rashied Ali. The potential evidence is here.

Cast in the Sanders role vis-à-vis Wanders’ Trane, Evans acquits himself admirably. Although it’s a bit difficult to determine who takes which saxophone solo, since both venture into altissimo glossolalia, pitch-sliding slurs and stop-time flattement. When the two blow parallel split tones with harmonic extensions reminiscent of Ascension, both are audible. It’s likely Wanders who throughout specializes in staccato and tremolo friction and Evans who adds snorting linear expansion. Moreover at times the saxophone recitation is so onerous with nephritic honks and node swelling, it sounds as if reeds could literally be splitting. Rather than being the forgotten man here though, bassist Brown’s timbral constructions include steadying pumps behind guitar and sax solos as well his own tough string skittering.

One of the present-day exemplars of that instrument, Brussels-based Peter Jacquemyn, who has played with everyone from saxophonist André Goudbeek to pianist Fred Van Hove, is the bassist on In Remembrance of the Human Race, recorded in Antwerp almost two years before the Australian CD. London’s Mark Saunders who has partnered saxophonists ranging from Evan Parker to John Butcher is on drums. And from Berlin, expansive trombonist Johannes Bauer, who regularly woks with a clutch of European bands, including ones with Parker and Brötzmann, fills out the group.

European Free Jazz of the highest calibre, the CD finds Wanders picking up the improvisational threads where he left them 30 years previously, unperturbed by blowing in such fast company. Probably the climax of the session arrives on “Uwaga” – how’s that for a late 1960s style Free Jazz title? Following some Morse-code-like spits from Bauer, the trombonist continues extending the sequence is a straight line as Wanders decorates the result with irregular vibrations, guttural snorts and broken-octave split tones. With Jacquemyn plucking away and Sanders rustling and bouncing, the piece opens up so that the trombonist’s relentless slurs and tongue stops now develop alongside the saxophonist’s jerky inflections, spiccato shrilling and tremolo vibrations. As both hornmen stretch their instruments sounds into vocalized tessitura, the bassist creates a third parallel line which is as arpeggio-modulated as it is friction-laden. Not to be outdone Sanders slides and scuffs on his drum tops and rings small bells. Meanwhile Bauer’s plunger tones become subterranean gutbucket, while conversely Wanders’ scratchy, squeezed runs range between inchoate and inclusive. Letting the saxman create a note-cluster pedal-point, the trombonist takes out the tune triple-tonguing, at first with agitated and then with mid-range timbres.

This sort of palpable exhilaration is present throughout the CD’s three selections. Bauer does provide a jape, when he finally enters the title track quoting Mercer/Arlen’s “Out of this World”, recorded by Coltrane, and which is perhaps a comment on how Wanders’ staccato tonguing, crying gurgles and intense overblowing reference Trane’s style. Earlier on Sanders has replicated kettle drums with his powerful tom whacks, as Jacquemyn’s wood-splintering rumbles and pumps are sufficient mates for the trombonist’s vocalized quacks. If that wasn’t enough, by the finale, the bass man sums up and redirects the near-supersonic forward rushing of all concerned by slicing the tension with a lyrical bowed bass solo.

Unacknowledged he may be, but with these releases Wanders proves that his tenure down under hasn’t lessened his experimental tendencies or sound searching. He can still hold his own with the best Europe has to offer. As well the newer CD introduces some expressive Aussie players and implies that Neumeier could still be a first-rate Free Jazz drummer if he wanted to move in that direction.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Remembrance: 1. In Remembrance of the Human Race 2. Uwaga 3. A Man’s Dream

Personnel: Remembrance: Johannes Bauer (trombone); Kris Wanders (tenor saxophone); Peter Jacquemyn (bass) and Mark Sanders (drums)

Track Listing: Taken: 1. Oxymoron 2. Taken By Surprise 3. Not On Radio

Personnel: Taken: Kris Wanders and Brett Evans (tenor saxophones); Yusuke Akai (guitar); Rory Brown (bass) and Mani Neumeier (drums)