1992 TMM / "Podewil"

Steve Lake (1992)

This, rather astonishingly, is the 25th Total Music Meeting in Berlin. The first such event was held at the Quasimodo club in November 1968. One is almost tempted to think that everything has changed in the interim except free music. Jazz has "died" and been "revived" at least a dozen times. Eras of rock - psychedelic, "progressive", punk - have come and gone. Straight music has passed through its aleatory, minimal, and new tonality phases and is currently looking wistfully toward the Middle Ages. The Wall's been toppled and sold, chunk by chunk, to the tourist trade. And Brötzmann is still roaring at the Total Music Meeting. Seen like this, "stamina" (not to mention bull headedness) takes on a new dimension. In truth, of course, there have been many changes in European improvisation, and in celebrating four of the music's most dependable stalwarts this festival can't help but illustrate some of them. But - as is the way with anniversaries - the 25th Total Music Meeting is also glancing back at its beginnings. Before Jost Gebers became the scene's reluctant Svengali (somebody has to take responsibility for programming, organization, documentation), the musicians established their own game plan and determined who they would play with. So it is in ´92. Peter Brötzmann, Misha Mengelberg, Paul Lovens, and Evan Parker have each been given carte blanche to fill an evening as they see fit. Though these principals will be familiar to Total Music Meeting veterans, previous Berlin encounters have given but limited insight into the range of their playing contexts.

The crew around Peter Brötzmann includes, this time, the exceptional Chicago-based drummer/percussionist Hamid Drake last seen here with Don Cherry's Multi-Kulti. Drake has also played and/or recorded with Fred Anderson; Foday Musa Suso, Michael Zerang, and Jim Pepper, to name but a few. Fellow drummer Frank Samba comes from Peter's Corner of the Ruhrgebiet and has travelled widely with him, including this year's tour of West Africa. He has studied with Shannon Jackson, and played with Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Linda Sharrock and Wolfgang Puschnig. Peter Oliver Jørgens is habitually of one of Brötzmann's task force on guerrilla forays into Scandinavia, as is electric bassist Peter Friis Nielsen and occasionally, Pierre Dørge. Best known as the guitarist and baton wielder for the New Jungle Orchestra, Dørge was a charter member of John Tchicai's Candentia Nova Danica, studied with Ornette Coleman, recorded with Dickerson and in various small group contexts, usually for the Steeple Chase label. Nielsen has played with a panoply of extravagantly named Danish collectives including Coronarias Dans, Cyklamium and Avantis. The career of the British soprano/tenor man Larry Stabbins took an unusual curve in the 1980s as the invaded the pop charts with soul/funk/jazz group Working Week. Free jazz diehards are glad to have him back; Stabbins was a key contributor to Brötzmann's März Combo in 1990/91. That ensemble proved a baptism-of-fire, improvisation-wise, for guitarist Caspar Brötzmann, used to having it all his own way in his high-volume dirge-rock band Massaker, now suddenly obliged to keep pace with the heavyweights. The Brötzmann circle is completed by bassist Dieter Manderscheid, who command of the widest range of jazz idioms is exceptional. From the loaded silences of his duo with Thomas Heberer, shaping an intellectually- alert chamber music out of Jelly Roll Morton's tunes, to flat-out free play, Manderscheid seems to have all bases covered.

Bring who you want the message. So Misha Mengelberg brought his band. That could seem an unimaginative response only to those unfamiliar with the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra, currently streamlined to octet-size, but sounding - thanks to Micha's direction - much bigger. Recent European performances (including the Zürich and Moers festivals) have received ecstatic echoes in the press, with the buzzword "post-modern" thrown around liberally. Connoisseurs, however, know that Mengelberg was "post-modern" even as the term "modern jazz" was entering the vocabulary. Start out, as Misha did, with one foot in Fluxus and the other in Monk and your view of the world is bound to be warped by a puckish sense of irony.

Conservatory trained violinist Maartje ten Hoorn (also a fine composer) and expatriate American reedman Michael Moore threw in their lot with Mengelberg after leaving Maarten Altena's Ensemble. Trombonist Wolter Wierbos (who contributed to the prize-winning Cecil Taylor in Berlin ´88 project) continues to commute between the two groups. Ab Baars, like Moore, covers clarinets and saxes, is one of the strongest reed players in Holland and is frequently to be found in all manner of contexts, from his own trios to primal rock band The Ex. Bassist Ernst Glerum has recorded with American pianist Curtis Clark, South African reedman Sean Bergin, with Willem Breuker and others. Ernst Reijseger has established himself as Europe's pre-eminent improvising cellist, partnering George Gräwe, Gerry Hemingway, Pino Minafra and more. And the mighty Han Bennink surely needs no introduction to FMP followers. He has played in almost all of Mengelberg's projects for 30 years now.

Paul Loven's "selected drums and cymbals" (and musical saw) have been such a permanent fixture at the Total Music Meeting and the Workshop Freie Musik that is starting to reflect that Lovens has not previously led an ensemble at either of these events, most of his energies having been directed to propping up Alex Schippenbach's large and small designs. This tome we find him in three other groupings of longstanding, with Paul Lytton (drums, live electronics), with pianist Urs Voerkel, and with the Quintet Moderne, here represented by four-fifths of its international personnel. Voerkel and Lovens had an interesting trio with bassist Peter Frey in the early 70s - a little more "inside" than most of the free-play of the day - and reunited as a duo in 1988. The Lytton/Lovens duo was founded in 1976, and the closeness of their musical understanding is reflected in the album title Was It Me? Teppo Hauta-aho, improviser and also a composer of note, is one of the most experienced Finnish bassists, whose credits include extended periods with the Helsinki Philharmonic and the Finnish National Opera. In duo with pianist Eerjo Ojanen, Hauta- aho explores jazz history from the blues onward. Harri Sjöström, another Finn, at present Berlin-based, is thus far the least-known of the Quintet Moderne. On the group's Bead album Ikunan Takana, he impresses with the soprano playing… and in his capacity as (surely) one of the first to play free music on the mouth-organ. Voilinist and electronics man Phil Wachsmann was born in Uganda, and studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. Though he is a member of Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra, Wachsmann's contributes are futher from "jazz" than anybody else's in that august ensemble; he numbers Berio and Webern amongst his primary influences.

Evan Parker is heard most frequently in Europe either as a performer or with his trio with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton. More than most free improvisers he believes in the validity of group music. Jazz history (Parker still considers himself part of the jazz tradition) bears him out - the majority of enduring achievements from the Hot Five onward have been the result of sustained collective endeavour rather than ad hoc experiments. So Evan's evening draws mostly on established relationships, though a gamble or two will certainly be broached in his head- on encounters with the electronics players. Together, Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton and Paul Rutherford established the vocabulary and syntax of British improvisation in the 1960s and they remain its outstanding exponents. Drummer Mark Sanders and bassist Paul Rogers have to be counted amongst the most inspired voices to have emerged in Britain since the heyday of the Little Theatre Club. They have powered a number of ensembles together, including the Elton Dean-Howard Riley Quartet, and have often played with Parker. In 1990, Evan Parker startled some of his hair-shirt contemporise with the release of Hall Of Mirrors, an album in which his distinctive soprano saxophone submitted itself to the treatments of Milanese electronic composer Walter Prati. Here, the straight horn improvising was subjected to processing (in real time) via banks of synthesizers, to strangely beautiful effect. Co- producer on this date was Mario "Bill" Vecchi, another Milan-born electronics manipulator who declares himself committed to indiscriminately open-minded collaboration with "contemporary composers, musicians and rappers". (Only the rappers are missing in Berlin.) With no less than four electronics players on hand - Lytton, Wachsmann, Prati, Vecchi - the potential for the investigation of new timbres and textures is promising indeed.

from:Leaflet TMM (1992)