Saturday, March 07, 2009

Review: Johannes Bauer/Gebhard Ullmann/Jan Roder/Oli Steidle at Aufsturz, Friday 6th March, 2009...











A foul wet night – but we braved the weather to go to Aufsturz on Oranienburger Strasse – via a pint of Guinness in an Irish bar full of loud Brits. To see a quartet – Gebhard Ullmann reeds/Johannes Bauer trombone/Jan Roder bass/Oli Steidle drums. We had great seats, just getting in before the joint filled up and what better way to spend an evening than up close and personal to some excellent free jazz? The band played several long numbers that never seemed to ramble – possibly because the razor sharp drumming of Oli Steidle kept everything on track plus the variety of instrumental techniques that were used offered a large field of expression that held the interest throughout. Bauer is a rip-snorting trombonist who occasionally channels echoes of oldschool tailgating that interestingly ground the band in the older jazz traditions (I'm sure at one point I heard a quote from 'Ory's Creole Trombone!').Well capable of playing off the modern orthodoxies – fleet fast lines – he also showed an impressive personalised range of extended sounds and colours. Wows and flutters, mumbles and muttered whooshs plus he used a variety of mutes including a plastic cup. Gebhard Ullman moved between tenor sax, bass clarinet and bass flute and matched his front line partner all the way – with much humour at times as they sparred with each other. The bassist was a little sunk in the mix from where we were sitting down the front (maybe the balance was better in the rest of the room?) although he came through enough to demonstrate plenty of skill and drive. He ranged from fast pizzicato to his own experiments in granularity – clothes pegs stuck between the strings to distort and break up the sound, rubbing the strings with his shirt-sleeved arm, using the whole of his instrument as a sound board, bowing beneath the bridge etc... Ullman similarly travelled from some straight ahead blowing that extended frequently into squalling higher register forays or dropped into quieter, breathy sound colouring, sparse questioning squawks on the mouthpiece of his instrument. The set started with musical fragments/pointillist dabs tossed, caught and developed and the performance always offered contrast and variety via furious dense passages to occasional sections of almost straight four rhythm to more abstract sonics. The dynamic levels throughout were varied – right across the terrain from quiet passages to storming fire music. The drummer especially kept a tight rein on things – occasionally upping the game with rapid loud splatters that drove the front line into interesting responses – at one point Ullman was swept up by a percussional barrage that provoked a wild free blowing retaliation, with the bass dropping out and leaving them to it. Bauer's turn came and he showed his class in riding the storm - no quarter asked or given, some brilliantly savage drumming here as the trombonist blatted out roars, smears and flurries of notes. Interesting to ponder that 'free jazz' from the sixties onwards actually rooted the trombone back in the earlier modes of playing by utilising the natural expressive qualities that had been somewhat flattened out by the fast-moving linearities of bebop.

The whole performance tinged with good humour throughout – the musicians were smiling, enjoying themselves and at the end played around with an almost slapstick call and response silly sounds section played for laughs. This is how the music is meant to be heard – and understood, I suspect. For all the wildness and extremes of range, being in the room meant you could follow the improvisational logics more clearly than on cd/record. Also – the ridiculous canard that anyone can play this music gets killed off pretty quickly when you witness the skills on display...

Uplifted me, anyway...






6 comments:

chenlu said...
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Rod Warner said...

all that glitters...

Spring Day said...

Hmm, the idea, that the role of the trombone in jazz was at a low during be bop times and rose again when free jazz began to appreciate the sonic possibilities of this instruments, this idea sounds familiar (I think I read it before in the Roswell Rudd biography at All Music Guide) - but that doesn't make it less noteworthy.
However, exploring the sonic qualities of the trombone in free jazz doesn't necessarily mean, that something interesting comes out - look at Mangelsdorff. For sure he is a very important figure in the search for new sounds and his polytonal playing technique is really unique. But I feel, his playing is usually a bit lacking of dynamics. I have similar feelings towards Paul Rutherford, though you might feel that's a sacrilege... Anyway, what I heard from Bauer recordings seemed not to suffer from any lack of dynamics...
And to link the remarks above with your last line about the common notion (among opponents of freely improvised music) that anybody can play it: I fear, people who have this notion, won't even give it a try, won't visit a concert of Bauer and Ullmann, for example.
But the opposite could also happen: In my case, I grew up with traditional music lessons, always playing from sheets with little black dots... and until today I don't even dare to try some free improvisation, not even for myself...

chenlu said...
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Rod Warner said...

Hi Spring Day - thanks for your comments. Actually, I didn't mean to say that bop had ignored the trombone rather that the technique seen to be needed - J.J.Johnson being the supreme example - of fast flowing lines to match the saxes and trumpets etc somewhat flattened the natural expressiveness of the instrument. 'Free jazz' to use the umbrella term seemed to offer a return to some of the older styles. ALthough I agree with you about Mangelsdorff who was a fantastic player but never really moved me. Rutherford I love and saw him on one of his last appearances on which he was brilliant. But that's the thrill of any music - one person's devil is another's angel!

Rod Warner said...

... and the idiot spammer chenlu can xxxx off!