Memories Of Mr. 23 (The Alfred Harth Chronicles)

PARCOURS BLEU A DEUX – Die Kainitische Stadt Über Abels Gebeinen


Heinz Sauer (1932) ranks among the most prominent German saxophonists, a career including a number of significant collaborations with entities such as Albert Mangelsdorff, George Adams, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Globe Unity Orchestra. In 1990 Alfred Harth had organized 2324 FU, a retrospective exhibition of his own visual art at Frankfurt’s Dominikanerkloster, a renowned gallery situated within a cloister. What he envisioned was a concert with Sauer to be held in the cloister’s Holy Ghost Church (devoted to Albert Ayler, one thinks…). This is exactly what happened, and Parcours Bleu A Deux were born.

As A23H puts it in a typically puzzling description, “the spirit and the reverb was the challenge”. PBAD were not meant to be a simple reed duet, but a completely autonomous small acousmatic unit; to achieve this goal, prerecorded tracks (also involving the voice of Isabel Franke reciting passages from the Apocalypse) and electronic emanations were added to the recipe. The musicians were able to maneuver those splinters via foot pedals while playing, the surprise factor guaranteed by the unforeseen manifestation of elements that might be perceived as not pertinent at first, appearing instead perfectly integrated in the music’s general unrest in a matter of seconds.

This CD (rough translation of the title: “The city of Cain built upon Abel’s bones”) comprises 70 minutes of extracts from performances dated 1991 and 1992 in Frankfurt and Vancouver. The initial set is introduced by a Canadian female host who translates the duo’s name as “Blue Horse Ride Of Two People” (indeed “Blue Course” means a lot of other things; surf the web, and rest assured that AH had thought of something different from what you’ll find). It becomes instantly clear that the improvisations are gifted with a remarkable structural definition deriving from the almost visible resolve of the performers, who literally ostracize bewilderment and chaos in favour of a logical kind of disquieting turbulence, remaining inside the enclosure of focused contamination. The timbral mixture is practically stainless, broad shoulders and stinging efficiency alternated to squealing and chirping with the same naturalness of an actor’s change of stage dress in relation to the upcoming scene.

The couple provides an indicator of how a clever improvisation should be carried on, boosting the tension level with hard staccatos, increasingly nervous quodlibets and sudden theatrical exploits highlighted by the appearance of the above mentioned prearranged fragments (my preference directed to the amorphous synthetic backgrounds that occasionally steer the sonic microcosm towards even more mysterious territories, still sweetening the brutality of certain dissonant counterpoints). Harth adds a personal dose of visceral physicality and grotesque drama by grunting, blathering and sardonically laughing into the instrument’s conduits, halfway through a good-humoured fiend and a vainglorious joker deriding the audience’s intellectual capacity. All in all, this is a difficult but – as always – extremely gratifying record that must be listened with concentration at full steam: the substance is thick, the artistry is indubitable, the technical proficiency proportional to the emotional intensity, only if you grant the music the due attention. Using this stuff as conversational backdrop means losing the coordinates of rationality, and perhaps some friend.

Harth and Sauer collaborated again – together with other instrumentalists – in 1995 in the ambit of FIM (Frankfurt Indeterminables Musiqwesen, the umpteenth collective formed by the protagonist of this series) for a tribute to fellow Frankfurter Paul Hindemith. The short life of PBAD is just another question mark in the chain of “whys” that characterizes this man’s creative being; for sure not many saxophone duets sound as lucid, provocative and ironically eccentric as this.

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