November 26, 2014

es steht geschrieben
reformArt music 1-CD No #

Good taste is timeless goes the old adage and the same can be said about Free Music. Organized by the Vienna-based reformARTunit (rAu) Austria’s longest constituted Free Jazz unit, The CD es steht geschriebeno – “it is written” in English – features two tracks recorded in 1981 and one in 2013. Yet like a similar comparison of say Duke Ellington creations performed in 1939 and 1970, there’s a gratifying consistency in creation and performance despite the 32-year gap.

Organized in 1965 and still extant, the rAu, under the direction of saxophonist Fritz Novotny, was one of the first European units to conceive of a particularly continental variant of Jazz-centred improvised music. The tracks here honor, and in the earlier selections feature, Austrian visual artist and musician Walter Malli (1940-2012), a long-time rAu member.

More raucous, with some musicians in their forties rather than their seventies as they are now, “Homage 2” and “Homage 3” emphasizes the rAu’s Free jazz roots. Malli, who seems to confine himself to percussion on “Homage 2”, outputs a splattering of askew but appropriate pops, clatter and rolls, rather in the style of Sunny Murray, who along with other American improvisers such as Don Cherry and Kent Carter, has played with the band. Focus, however is on the interaction engendered by the currents of bassoonist Alaeddin Aldernest and multi-reedman Novotny’s instrument collection. While subtly negating the view of double-reed improvising as akin to that of a fat man waddling up the stairs, the bassoonist injects energetic jollity into his tongue movements, while maintaining the instrument’s dark sonority. Less linear in the exports from his ethnic-instrument collection, Novotny melds with, or opposes, Aldernest’s tumescent timbres, ending this showcase with alp horn-like spetrofluctuation, though leaving enough space for Malli’s clip-clop rhythms.

More problematic, the half-hour-plus “Homage 3” retains Novotny and Malli, but adds trumpeter Sepp Miterbauer, alto saxophonist/violin and synthesizer player Paul Fields, sitarist Ram Chandra Mistry and vocalist Linda Sharrock to the mix. With so many textures being expressed simultaneously it’s sometimes difficult to get a handle on the performance. Here Malli’s skewered drum rhythms and clanging cymbals run up against singe-syllable vocalizations, as well as the trumpeter’s fluttery triplets and multiphonic glossolalia from the reed players. More closely related to the era, distinctively Eastern sitar plucking appears to be arriving from a different plane than the violinist’s chromatic Europeanized romanticism. Using the synthesizer keyboard for multicolored Messiaen-like splashes or sounding jittery electronic washes also makes more sense coupled with upward blasting brass lines and reed vibratos than electric piano comping. Sharrock’s introduction of funky verbal asides is also at variance with the instrumental experimentation. Overall the lasting impression left is of synapses and disconnections trying to be soldered by Malli’s drum beats.

Throe decades along Novotny and Miterbauer are still together, But the rAu now is filled out by Yedda Chunya Lin’s piano and voice, Johannes Groysbeck’s electric bass guitar and groysophon plus David Ayankoko Vilayleck’s laptop. The last two instruments give the group the steady ostinato missing from earlier tracks, plus sophisticated granular synthesis to amplify and process timbres from the horns. Akin to this, Lin’s post-Free Jazz keyboard dynamics help ground the track, while her keening soprano voice provides the eastern-leaning flair sought the rAu was seeking in 1981. Paradoxically Novotny’s final soprano solo is appropriately orientalized, while early on his line appears to fasten on an unknown pre-Free melody, sounding at one point like “Bag’s Groove”.

All in all this CD stands as a suitable memorial for a drummer/artist as well as adding to the distinctive recorded products of the rAu. It’s also a heartening affirmation that no matter how distant from media-fueled global knowledge they remain, many unique Free Music scenes exist on their own.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Homage 1* 2. Homage 2+ 3. Homage 3&

Personnel: Sepp Miterbauer*& (trumpet); Fritz Novotny*& (soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, arghool, bombarde and percussion); Alaeddin Aldernest+ (bassoon); Paul Fields& (alto saxophone, violin and synthesizer); Yedda Chunya Lin* (piano and voice); Johannes Groysbeck* (electric bass guitar and groysophon); Ram Chandra Mistry& (sitar); Walter Malli+& (drums and soprano saxophone); David Ayankoko Vilayleck* (laptop); and Linda Sharrock& (vocal)