Ingo Weiss: saxophones, live electronics; Peter Stock: contrabass; Kuno Wagner: drums, percussion, guitar, electronic devices

This may sound aberrant to those who reckon the sanative puissance of trademark free-jazz blasts (I myself belong there) but, quite often, an accurate repartition of the audio width paired with an unflawed lucidity of exposition pay dividends in an improvisational quandary. Enter the Peter Stock Trio, led by an artist who not only has shared the stage with relevant chieftains (he himself is a master double bassist) but in the late period of his calling has found new transport – accomplishing excellent results for that – via the reconsideration of some of the rules underlying a pragmatic resistance to clichés. Consider, for example, that all but one track shaping Third Stroke last ten to fifteen minutes; yet, by listening to them we get an impression of self-conscious agreement to a healthful treatment rather than experiencing the quintessential continuance of glances at the elapsing time on the player.

The timbral range is made richer by a stone-sober use of electronics, however the communicative kernel is entirely in the musicians’ hands and brains. In that sense, a terrific darkish episode is titled “Start Thinking Fast”, and there is no uncertainty about its pregnant acoustic traits overcoming the large part of whatever derivation of “lowercase” one might run into nowadays. This is particularly valid when the instruments unveil outward-developing ramifications in an unresolved gestural environment totally deprived of frigidity, three-voice remarks that can suddenly become clangorous or just stay composed, still looking way forward. Another slight departure from formulaic paths can be located in the concluding “Weedy Reap”, identified by an appealing reciprocity between string-derived sonorities, intangible suggestions propagating from the electronic gadgetry and the serenely divergent disclosures of the saxophone. As you can see, quoting the single instrumentalists on their respective means of expression is not necessary, for this troika genuinely works as a persevering intelligent organism capable of inducing unagitated magnetism through the fine art of restraint and coolness, even at fairly climactic junctures. Non-turbulence prevails, at least today.

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PRIV@TKREDIT – Dreikönigstreffen

Musik Labor

Those who have been scrutinizing the past adventures of Alfred 23 Harth – regularly reported on this very website – will definitely remember the name “Just Music”, a historic if slightly overlooked group that, in 1970, released a rather salient album on (then newborn) ECM label. Bassist Peter Stock was an important part of the collective throughout its course; after a long hiatus from performing, in 2009 he resumed activities in the ambit of German free-jazz and assembled this trio with Kuno Wagner (drums and toys) and Matthias Siegel (bass trombone), both affirmed specialists and teachers of their respective trades. This outstanding CD is the first recorded fruit of a hopefully fertile continuum for years to come.

Let’s not even deepen the sarcastic features of three central titles (respectively, “Küsse für Papandreou”, “Carla B.” and “In Bed With Merkozy”) showing that not everybody sleeps content with oneric imagery and cut-and-dried names. What we’re concerned about here, by now you should know, is how a record sounds. And Dreikönigstreffen sounds potent, agile-minded and balanced – a veritable jewel of forward-thinking improvisation that leaves nothing untouched. The lower frequencies – given the instrumental formation – are certainly an essential factor in the interplay’s impressive muscularity. Concepts are expressed with determinate imaginativeness and durable succinctness, assorted lines of thought fusing into a wholeness that doesn’t manage to spell the adjective “lazy”. There’s not a single hint of dogmatic posturing or smooth-talking frilliness: the acoustic body might be tending to the “massive” area, but the little nerves remain perfectly visible. 49 minutes gulped like a glass of fresh water, a must-have that sounds different from everything else.

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Memories Of Mr.23 (The Alfred Harth Chronicles)


2009 is a fundamental moment in Alfred Harth’s life, in that he celebrates both the 60th birthday (on September 28th) and a 40-year career’s “jubilee”. We already talked about Just Music, one of the first improvisation ensembles recorded on ECM, whose activities were tragically under-documented to date. Luckily, Harth is retrieving additional material from the archives, these three records constituting as a good introduction as any to the collective’s stimulating methods. All of this great stuff is now available from the instigator himself through the Laubhuette imprint, and it goes without saying that you’d better start to be more aware of the roots of instrumental ad-libbing as opposed to having some “prophet of silence” dry your wallet with a hour of coughs, creaks and outside motorbikes surrounding two single “pings” and a “whirr”.


Extraordinarily good-sounding, given that the recordings occurred in March 1970, the tracks contained by this disc – strangely enough – do not feature Harth but present a selection of improvisations by two dissimilar trios. In the first, Michael Sell (trumpet), Franz Volhard (bass) and Thomas Cremer (drums) show that brief disquisitions can yield excellent results. Sell is obviously a protagonist, his phrasing voluble without preponderance, a constant melodic resourcefulness at the basis of an invigorating cross of swiftness and concomitance in admirable interaction with the “fractured rhythm” section. If this piece has a defect, that should be its shortness. We’re soon rewarded by a superb “clean” set comprising again Volhard (this time on cello), Johannes Krämer (acoustic guitar) and Peter Stock (bass). This lengthier series is the ideal evidence of the sensitiveness-informed technical eminence of the musicians, who interact alternating exhilaration and open-mindedness during exchanges that range from sheer ebullience to classically-scented, chamber-like reflective interpretations of self-determination. Even within the same trio, the inherent subdivisions (practically, duos in three different combinations) reveal an “adult” approach to mutual give-and-take informed by a taste for first-rate tones which stamps this collection with a “not-to-be-missed” seal.


Just listening to the radiophonic excerpt which opens the CD, recorded at Hessischer Rundfunk in 1968 and featuring snippets of interview (in German) with a 18-year old Harth – who sounds like a well-trained host in answering the real host’s questions – is enough to make one instantly curious. Yet it is once again the incredible maturity of the music presented, intelligently sequenced in the subsequent tracks, which must be taken into account to establish the absolute importance of these archival materials. These pieces – fantastic how the typical background hum contributes to the fascination during the playback – appear as a cross-pollination of atonal thematic jazz and instant-reaction heterodoxy – without excess of transcendental euphoria – in perennial recusant enlightenment. The chief initiator, on tenor sax, is flanked by Dieter Herrman on trombone, besides the usual suspects Krämer (guitar), Volhard (cello), Stock (bass) and Cremer, here puzzlingly credited with “inflating drums” (STOP PRESS: the just-received explanation reads “Cremer inflated his snare and toms with the help of a hose by blowing air with his mouth that changed the pitch of the drums while beating them“). While the dialogues between the not-yet-Mr.23 with, respectively, Cremer and Herrman describe a sharp journeying around the possibilities of two-part counterpoint without devastating apogees or reprehensible utilizations of formulas, the cream lies within three marvellous expressions by the Harth/Nicole Van Den Plas duo, correspondingly titled “Call & Suspense”, “Durus” and “Reverserenity”, the latter characterized, as per the title’s hint, by sonorities based on reverse-tape techniques utilized with extreme soberness. The saxophonist – who in this case plays bass clarinet, violin, harmonica and other objects – and his (at that time) life partner, also vocalizing in semi-ritual fashion, share a noticeable confident comprehension, demonstrating a deeper degree of intuitive intimacy which is usually the crucial factor for intense revelations in improvisational ambits. The disc is concluded by a trait-d’union recording – “near the end of Just Music & ahead of the group E.M.T.” in A23H’s words – of the quartet formed by Harth, Van Den Plas, her brother Jean Van Den Plas (bass) and Paul Lovens (drums), which in a way symbolizes the transformation of ideals and, especially, the ever-shifting intellectual qualities of a man whose artistic aims were probably too high in relation to a proverbial modesty, as hundreds of imitators found a quick ascent to fame and fortune given their exactly opposite attitude (“let’s steal, then we’ll see”). But time, someone says, is a gentleman, and properly schooled ears are going to do the rest for a complete recognition of “who came first”.


A few additional soldiers join the squad. Harth and friends are flanked in a couple of instances by other free-thinkers, responding to the names of Witold Teplitz (clarinet), Hans Schwindt (alto sax), Thomas Stoewsand (cello) and Andre De Tiege (viola). Ensembles is probably the record in which the ratio between the modernity of the overall sound and the old age of the tapes is in every respect astonishing. A set like the one recorded on September 13, 1968 at the Liederhalle, Mozartsaal in Stuttgart could easily have been composed (on the spot, naturally!) and released today without almost anyone noticing that 1) the players are out-and-out teenagers and 2) the music comes from the post-Palaeozoic era of collective perspicuity, Harth allegedly unaware of entities such as AMM or SME which were evidently navigating contiguous seas. What we need to stress yet again is the impressive up-building of the interplay, which often start from veritable compositional illuminations in turn giving life to earnestness-driven hypotheses for a new contrapuntal design, without the necessity of recurring to tricks or, even worse, reducing the whole to unwarranted noise. In reality, what immediately strikes the ears is the non-difficult digestibility of this material: despite the lack of a commonly intended “theme” or some “melody” to be caught from, and the fact that nonconformity can be detected nearly everywhere, that classic sense of fulfilment deriving from the fine-tuning of dissonance resolving in catharsis permeates the air every time we stop and concentrate a tad more on the wholesome allure of these sounds. The conclusive two parts of “Radio Live Concert In Prague” might be considered among of the most evocative moments this reviewer has experienced in hundreds of hours of A23H-typified expressions, an exquisite meshing of controlled apprehension and cultivated aggrandisement of minuscule mechanisms, sustaining the weight of a prolonged duration to reveal a world of correspondences and interrelationships one would gladly like to acknowledge as “ideal”. An inspiring ending for this marvellous triptych, chock full of secluded beauties finally revealed to worthy audiences. If many people had conveniently “forgotten” to attribute the deserved place in the history of contemporary improvisation to Alfred Harth’s conceptions and ideas, now blind shades and earplugs must be thrown away once and for all. This music should be studied.

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Memories Of Mr.23 (The Alfred Harth Chronicles)


This primeval vinyl, self-released in 300 copies, encloses the recording of a summit that took place in Frankfurt on the title’s date. It is one of the earliest episodes in Alfred Harth’s discography, all the more charming given its age – which in any case is not echoed by the material comprised, fresh-sounding to this day. Harth and drummer Thomas Cremer had met pianist Nicole Van Den Plas in 1969 at a jazz festival in San Sebastian, Spain; at the same time, the Just Music collective – also featuring cellist Franz Volhard and bassist Peter Stock – was taking shape so, in essence, the LP documents the meeting of Just Music and Van Den Plas. The latter went on to become both the saxophonist’s partner and a key element of subsequent projects, including recordings at Frankfurt Radio that involved, among others, Peter Kowald, Peter Brötzmann, Paul Lovens and Jean Van Den Plas (Nicole’s brother). In 1972, Alfred, Nicole and percussionist Sven-Ake Johansson joined their forces, giving life to E.M.T.; thus, what’s heard in 4 Januar 1970 is considered by A23H, together with the above mentioned radiophonic sessions, as an ideal link between Just Music and E.M.T.

The short extent of the program – about 34 minutes – gives perhaps only a faint idea of what these musicians were able to dream up and fabricate, placing at the forefront of the frame a true cooperative spirit not mottled by egotist spurts and haywire tendencies. This means that there’s no available room for flapdoodles: each member sounds concentrated, stable-minded, eager to actively build the muscle of the improvisation until a communal sonic fission becomes substantial, under the semblance of small nuclei of instrumental interaction and intelligible upsurges where each input – also counting Van Den Plas’ abstract vocals appearing here and there – looks for the adjustment to unexpected responses as opposed to privileging the strained alternative of an unnatural terminology. Of course, the highly skilful, persistently enlightened legerdemain of the participants is unmistakable, as not for a single instant the immediate signals seem to have been “thrown away”. Every phrase, every minute of reciprocal listening symbolizes – more than the achievement of a predetermined goal – the untouched beauty of that kind of spur-of-the-moment gestural courage that was typical of arts and musics from the late 60s and early 70s. Eras that in all probability delimited the birth – and, unhappily, the rapid death – of inner movements and structures of thought that are destined not to resurface anytime soon. In that sense, 4 Januar 1970 is as prized an article as you might find.

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In January and February of 2010, Cologne’s Kunst-Station Sankt Peter hosted a composite multimedia installation, described in detail – in German – on the cover. Its soundtrack was created by Polish artist Maciej Sledziecki with the local “contemporary organ”. This instrument is endowed with a series of features that distinguish it from a regular “classic” church organ, the most important of which is its full MIDI controllability. Through the interaction of the composer with the computerized peregrinations of the various registers (comprising percussion instruments such as “xylophone, xylodur, chimes, glockenspiel, harp and psaltery”), the resulting music is an outlandish assortment of mystery, playfulness and chaos that, contrarily to what the blurb suggests, doesn’t elicit memories of Stockhausen, Ligeti or Nancarrow but lives an autonomous life between irksome and majestic. Picture a drunken Bach whose delirium tremens includes bad-tempered clavichords and spinning wheels with bionic hamsters desperately puffing and huffing to keep a bizarre logic going. The huge walls of slanting chords heard in the second and third movements are still the most impressive parts of the record, though; and, as usual, nothing beats the direct participation to the event.

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Memories Of Mr. 23 (The Alfred Harth Chronicles)


In a perfect world (pun intended), the finest music would result in a composition that sounds like an impromptu outburst of accomplished creativity – no pre-established rules, no rigidness, no nothing as Peter Brötzmann would have it. Cassiber (originally Kassiber, the name deriving from the Slavonic term indicating a “message smuggled out of prison”) were maybe the group that got nearest to that vision. The band’s official trace starts from 1982, but Christoph Anders, Chris Cutler, Heiner Goebbels and Alfred Harth had already met five years earlier, at the times of the Sogennantes Linksradikales Blasorchester. Interested by punk, willing to mix that influence with radical jazz, classical and various kinds of interference – made concrete by the use of radio and TV snippets and all sorts of samples – the original quartet recorded a couple of gems between 1982 and 1984, their significance at a stage of intensity and unrefined magnificence equivalent to the most essential politically committed talents of that (and any) era. After Harth’s departure in 1984 to form Gestalt et Jive and Vladimir Estragon, the remaining three kept producing great work in albums such as Perfect Worlds (there you go) and A Face We All Know, both on Recommended. Yet this writer has always perceived Cassiber minus A23H as a healthy body missing a limb.

Still, what really identifies the quintessence of this coherently wild corporation is probably Anders’ perennially hollered delivery: an exaggerated, histrionic mixture of irony, rage and sorrow that constitutes a veritable trademark instantly evident in “Not Me”, Man Or Monkey’s icebreaker. This introduction is unquestionably ill-mannered, an instantly nervous concoction of non-existent harmonic contexts where the collective multi-instrumentalist ability of the quartet is straight-away detectable, the sound shifting across many finalities without a definite answer to the needs elicited by this suspension. The repeated piano note constituting the backbone of “Red Shadow” brings to mind the first movement of Fred Frith’s “Sadness, Its Bones Bleached Behind Us” on The Technology Of Tears, whereas the fake Mariachi style of the impressively anguishing “Our Colourful Culture” is incontestably the most dramatic moment of the album, Anders reciting Cutler’s lyrics portraying a desperate man rambling about his people starving and getting killed while “we fight in the mountains”, the song ending with the protagonist’s spine-chilling hysterical laughter as the main theme fades to black. Curiously, this is the only segment in which the drumming chores are handled by another musician, Peter Prochir. “O Cure Me” sees the fervent vocalist declaiming a passage by Johann Sebastian Bach along delirious instrumental circumstances where contrapuntal implicitness and transitory phases are the menu du jour, the whole underlined by a cheap sequencer-based progression. Perhaps this release is where the doses of anarchy are more abundant than anywhere else, as clearly demonstrated by the free-for-all character of the lengthy title track and the Miles Davis-meets-dilettante guitarist adventure of “Django Vergibt”. The best was yet to come, though.

The Beauty And The Beast is, simply put, an epochal masterpiece of “progressive something” (put your designation here). Here, Cassiber’s deranged poetry achieves the highest level of expressivity, the music conversant with post Henry Cow-ism in the remarkable “What” and, especially, “Six Rays”, featuring Anders again uttering his restlessness amidst apparently unrelated brass blasts and a killer riff emphasizing the piece’s surefooted walk. “Robert” utilizes shreds of classic orchestration in a genre-pulverizing framework defined by illogical vocalism; instead, “Last Call” appears as the soundtrack to a noir interpreted by Tod Browning’s freaks, sarcasm and mystery surrounding an intoxicated telephone conversation. “Ach Heile Mich” is a hallucinating circus beginning with Anders chuckling and talking over a chaotic parallelism of volatile harmonies. Harth hopelessly tries to restore some balance with more linear (…) phrasings, only to get overwhelmed and blasted out by the return of a Tchaikovsky-ish cadenza leading the foursome towards a crazed garrulity in one of the many dangerously exciting moments of this group’s history. This particular piece should be downloaded in millions of iPods across the globe. Also notable are “Under New Management”, a potentially relaxed vibe completely disintegrated by the irredeemably lawless spirit of the ensemble, and the gorgeous “Vengeance Is Dancing” – namely the nearest thing to Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like The Wind” that Cassiber could ever conceive. In any case, nobody will ever beat the irresistible passion of the final suite, ending with the hymn “At Last I’m Free” (that’s right, Chic!): the musicians play and sing like if they knew in advance that this is the final tune they‘re going to perform prior of their demise, intransigence and dogmatisms thrown out of the window in favour of a multiform granulation of sonic varieties that generously invite the audience to join a party celebrating the upcoming end.

Accept a friendly advice from an indelicately aging old fart: everything made by Cassiber is mandatory listening, among the most excellent efforts in the four members’ careers. If you want to start with a single title The Beauty And The Beast is the absolute must, a supreme epitaph for what was once called “art” and nowadays has been reduced to the same status of toothpaste and stockings at the supermarket. What these guys achieved with this record can’t even be remotely understood by the laptop-fed, cell phone-burnt, one-dimensional brains from the present, definitely imperfect world.

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