FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004

FMP CD 101

Steve Lake


As I was saying, the project started out as an offering to Albert Ayler by the only man who ever moved a larger mass of air through his horn. The dramatis personae of Die Like A Dog were ranged around Peter Brötzmann like men "marking" the collected Ayler alumni. In this vision you could hear Kondo as Don Ayler to Peter's Albert, if you felt so inclined, while the feedback squall and the wah-wah pedal of the trumpeter's special effects also brought Henry "Last Album" Vestine into the picture. It's hardly overstating the case to say that William Parker is the Henry Grimes of his generation, insufficiently acknowledged as the fulcrum around which the New York avant-garde revolves. And as a supremely subtle drummer whose playing is informed by the skin-on-skin impacts of hand percussion, Hamid Drake could cover nicely for the Milford Graves of "Love Cry".

Die Like A Dog was hatched in a period when Ayler tributes were suddenly common currency, not the first instance of Brötzmann sniffing out a shift in the wind. Mars Williams was soon woodshedding his spirited, still-unrecorded, Witches & Devils band in Chicago with an all-Ayler repertoire; Hamid contributed to this group, too. David Murray brought a commemorative "Flowers for Albert" show to Moers. Maestro Giorgio Gaslini invented a florid, rococo Albert for his "Ayler's Wings" solo piano programme. Also coming out of Italy – where the unashamed sentimentality of Ayler struck a resonant chord – the band Nexus toured with "The Preacher and the Ghost", a suite of compositions dedicated to Albert's life and times.

Very soon, though, Brötzmann's men moved on, and were again telling their own tales, though Ayler's courageousness remains a touchstone. I've had the good fortune to hear some of those stories at stops on the way between Tampere and Berlin over the last few years. The music might be "self-generating", as Hamid says, but there is nothing formulaic about it: its narrative thrust is always surprising.

Listening to these latest tapes from Berlin, I'm again struck by the timeliness, the pertinence of Brötzmann's music. If you could take an architect's vertical section through these improvisations you'd see, at the top of the music, the electro-acoustic sound transformations triggered by Kondo's vaulting trumpet. At the bottom: the world rhythms snared in the kaleidoscopic flow of Hamid's drums. The work is framed by the two elements – electronics and the feeling of beats beyond "jazz" – which will bring about a metamorphosis in improvised music in the years ahead. Peter's instincts return him to the vanguard again and again – while he daydreams about Kid Ory, Bechet, Billie Holiday, and of course Albert, who revealed a similar ambivalence about pushing into the unknown. It is not just the size of the sound that the saxophonists share. What they have in common is a desire to shake "art" off their backs and sing a love song as purely as they can – yet the experimental impulse won't be stifled.

In a way I think Peter was unconsciously looking for a "Kondo" before the Kondo that we know existed. Turn the clock back 25 years and you find the Brötzman/Van Hove/Bennink trio augmented by a couple of unlikely guests: Don Cherry and electronic composer-improvisor Hugh Davies. If those extreme personalities could have been fused into a single mutant musician, his output might have been almost as creatively left-of-centre as the work of the little big man from Japan who is indeed part gonzo improvising genius with a lot of soul, part mad inventor.

I was about to write that this is as much Kondo's group as Peter's now but that's true only if you're measuring solo space with a stopwatch: a Kondo quartet would almost certainly be a "whackier" proposition. As an improvisor he responds to the environment in which he finds himself. The emotionally-compelling soundscapes that he creates for Brötzmann are conceivable only because of the magnificent, stirring undertow that William Parker and Hamid Drake provide. Their resourcefulness is something else.

Typical scenario: Brötzmann in full flood, surging saxophone demanding rapid-fire rhythmic response. Kondo enters, modifying his sound electronically as he plays, often cueing delay systems whose ricocheting slap-echo pulses are only obliquely related to the implied beat of the improvisation. Parker and Drake absorb and incorporate the new information, feed it back, and structure the musical material from the ground up.

There are moments when the music threatens to attain almost symphonic energies as the sounds pile up: stereophonic reverberations and electronic hailstorms from the trumpet department, the split-tones and flying partials emanating from Peter's overblown horns... William Parker's extensive experience as a leader of his own orchestras must serve him well in channeling and focussing this sometimes densely-textured sound-mass. Certainly, he and Hamid keep it moving, by any means necessary.

The quartet should have been playing more, these last five years. There ought to have been more records by now. Lack of opportunities do not merely, as Peter's suggested to writer Mike Heffley, reflect on cutbacks in European jazz funding. The logistics of touring a group like this are boggling. Bandleader ostensibly in Wuppertal but more usually living out of a suitcase somewhere. Drummer based in Chicago, bassist in New York. Trumpeter possibly in Amsterdam if he's not in Tokyo, but very likely in another location entirely (he's in India with the Dalai Lama as I write these notes). And each of them with any number of projects on the boil at any given time. Hamid working with Fred Anderson, Ken Vandermark, Mars Williams, Mats Gustaffson, Irène Schweizer, Adam Rudolph, Joseph Jarman, and many more. William leading his 17 piece Little Huey Orchestra and his quintet In Order To Survive, and contributing to the bands of Roscoe Mitchell, David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp, Charles Gayle, Joe Morris, and others. The inscrutable Kondo stepping forward – after recent guest slots with Bill Laswell and John Zorn – with what he calls "Cyberjazz for turntables and trumpet", his newest collaboration with mixmaster DJ Krush.

The personnel of Die Like A Dog are not about to squander their rare opportunities to work together. There is an urgency to play, tangible in every moment of this music from Berlin. Even the quiet moments.

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