Wolfgang Czelusta / Herbert Joos / Wilfried Eichhorn / Helmuth Zimmer / Klaus Bühler / Rudi Theilmann

February 16, 2021

Four Men Only

NoBusiness Records 131

Recalling another overlooked episode is German Free Jazz, this three-CD box set of the Modern Jazz Quartet Karlsruhe-Four Men Only is notable for two reasons. For a start it fills out the back history of trumpeter/flugelhornist Herbert Joos (1940-201). Later a linchpin of the Vienna Orchestra, his improvisational beginnings took place with this Karlsruhe-based ensemble. More intriguingly the set’s tracks could be metaphors for the evolution of advanced music in that time or place. For with each disc, recorded two years apart from 1968-1973, the band created new sonic identities.

Put together as a non-professional unit, the original band members besides Joos were milti-reedist Wilfried Eichhorn, pianist Helmuth Zimmer, bassist Klaus Bühler and drummer Rudi Theilmann, all of whom sometimes played additional percussion. Emulative and sometimes imitative, the first CD finds a FreeBop quintet inching its way into an avant-garde paradigm via screaming multiphonics propelled from the top of their respective ranges from the horn players, clipping piano feints and fluidity, booming double bass slaps and echoing drum patterns and percussion extensions. Featuring frequent faux-march tempo stop-time themes, the band is most comfortable in its upfront Aylerian reed smears, double tongued capillary runs and buzzing bass thwacks on a track like “The Devil is Green, Blue, Yellow”. Illuminatingly, the one extended track, unreleased at the time, presages the band’s further progression, Melding slow-moving mellophone blows from Joos, Zimmer’s inner-piano string digs, sawing sweeps from Bühler and elaborate beats from Theilmann.

Moving forward to 1970 on the second CD and the quintet redefined itself with bolstered reliance on overdubbing, textures from auxiliary instruments, hints of electronics and themes that feature as many emphasized undulations and raucous interruptions as harmonies. With tonal extensions often taking the form of penny-whistle-like reed peeps, clip-clopping power drumming and brassy whinnies march-like narratives are made sharper with layered horn parts. While the textures are more unbridled and intermittent moving forward on another unreleased track, the New Age titled “The Sun Is Coming Over” is more representative. Beginning with resonating gong vibrations and marimba-like strokes, top-of-range horn interpolations staccato reed snarls, near-vocalized horn cries and wordless yodeling from Joos meet up with Eichhorn’s bass clarinet lows and bass-sting scrubs that reorient the narrative to mellow meandering.

Renaming the band as FourMenOnly in 1972, while recording as a bass-like quartet on two tracks and adding trombonist Wolfgang Czelusta for the two final ones 19 month later, the group’s swan songs on CD3 have finally attain the exclusive identity the group had previously sought. Emboldened with kinetic dynamics, Zimmer’s solo shakes suggest the excitement of both Cecil Taylor and Jerry Lee Lewis. The exposition of “Count Down/Excess” moves along with Chaplin’s Lille Tramp-like waddle, leaving space for contrapuntal challenges from Eichhorn’s processed flute whistles; slapping tongue flutters from the trumpeter, as widened pitches finally reach a harmonized exit propelled by dynamic keyboard work. Bell and gong-like spanks initially predominate on the pastiche that is “Voridiana/Ich Und Meine Brüder/Compulsion”, the other quartet track. But the noisy stop-time exposition is resolved. Following expressive bass clarinet echoes cushioned in arranged and overdubbed horn parts, the theme widens and speeds up to sprint to an ending defined by tenor saxophone reed barks and vibraphone reverberations.

Perversely the Czelusta tracks suggest another path the band could have followed. As stylish as some earlier pieces, the moaning energy from the trombonist not only intensifies Theilmann’s connective power, but also maintains the tunes’ rhythmic-melodic balance. More overdubbing among the reeds allow for a near operatic climax of layered tones that are as interactive as they are atonal. Finally the theme conglomeration that is “Dead Season/The Beauty without a Face /Lucifer is Marching in/Return” exposes even more of the new quintet individuality. Stacked and shaking the exposition jumps from psychedelic freak-out to big band swing to Ayler like marching hymns. Besides allowing the drummer to reveal his showy Buddy Rich-like side with clapping bombast, it confirms that the trombonist’s skill in balancing plunger tones, onomatopoeic snores and mariachi-like styling’s (with some help from Joos) could have created new distinct identity for the band.

Unfortunately that never happened. Shortly afterwards the group dissolved and the saxophonist and trombonist are now dead. Obviously the group will never reassemble. But it leaves behind some striking sounds, especially on its second and third discs. Now with this set more people can hear them.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1.Trees 2. Schnee Verbrennt 3. Lonely Time 4. The Devil is Green, Blue, Yellow 5. Change of Beauty 6. Unreleased 1 CD2: 1. Position 2000 2. Where Love Forever Shines 3. The Sun Is Coming Over 4. Unreleased 2 CD3: 1. Voridiana/Ich Und Meine Brüder/Compulsion 2. Count Down/Excess 3. Departure /Plastic Happine /Beautiful Darkness/Space Wall 4. Dead Season/The Beauty without a Face /Lucifer is Marching in/Return

Personnel: Wolfgang Czelusta (trombone); Herbert Joos (flugelhorn, mellophone, piston, Indian flute. percussion); Wilfried Eichhorn (tenor and soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, flute); Helmuth Zimmer (piano, percussion); Klaus Bühler (bass, percussion) [not on CD3]; Rudi Theilmann (drums, percussion)