Tocotronic: Nach der verlorenen Zeit

Rating: 7.3/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status
: Genre Recommendation
Released: 1995
Specific Genre: Indie Rock, Noise Pop
Main Genre: Alternative Rock, Rock
Undertones
: Slacker Rock
Label: L’Age d’or

1 Ich muss reden, auch wenn ich schweigen muss 2 Du bist ganz schön bedient 3 Gott sei Dank haben wir uns beide gehabt 4 Ich hab 23 Jahre mit mir verbracht 5 Ich werde nie mehr alleine sein 6 Michael Ende, du hast mein Leben zerstört 7 Ich mag dich einfach nicht mehr so 8 Ich bin neu in der Hamburger Schule 9 Es ist einfach Rockmusik 10 Hauptsache ist

Der da drüben ist jetzt DJ in Berlin

This is a very short, but all the more concise follow-up in the direct vein of their debut Digital ist besser (which was published not even five months earlier the same year): their simple, brash, riff-driven indie rock (with some noise elements) and panache for post-adolescent yearning is still fresh although they’re less eager to impress with pure force and noise experimentation. The lyrics are as clever, but take a notable shift towards a generation in their mid-twenties slowly realising they’re not automatically the youngest people anymore when entering a room.

The thematic choice and the sonic restriction pay off: with a Marcel Proust-referencing title and a runtime of not even thirty minutes, this could have come across as a weirdly uncomfortable, extremely rushed sophomore effort, seemingly just throwing leftover ideas from the debut at the wall. But it’s not! With its rigid structure, the choice of avoiding lengthy guitar thrashing and the lyrical quality, they manage to turn their simple formula into another melancholic but emphatic indie rock burst that expertly thwarts collapsing beneath built-up expectations and self-imposed ambitions.

Hildegard lernt fliegen: …vom fernen Kern der Sache

Rating: 8.7/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status
: Genre Contender
Released: 2009
Specific Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
Undertones: Chamber Jazz
Label: Unit Records

1 Lanjusto 2 The Arrival of Lee Pershn Sirgal 3 A Tale from the Forest 4 Vom fernen Kern der Sache 5 Knock Code 3 6 Seldom Was Covered with Snow and Old Oak 7 The Angry Man 8 Sad Lily

There is too much water in the sea

While the debut Hildegard lernt fliegen (2007) of Andreas Schaerer’s brainchild already impressed with originality and freshness through jester-like flirtation with the ridiculous in a chamberesque avant-jazz context, its follow-up is the six piece avant-combo’s fully realised form. The composition are as unpredictable yet easy to follow, there’s a larger amplitude of moods – compare the histrionic showtune extravaganza of „The Arrival Of Lee Pershn Sirgal“ with the almost Ellingtonian melancholy of the double-bass-reliant piece „Sad Lily“ – and, yet again, outrageous vocalist Schaerer is in full flight: his voice cajoles, careens, scats, doubles as a trombone and does all the silly tricks you would expect from a vocal acrobat. The difference is, though, that it doesn’t come off as a pure joke, his voice is implemented as an additional instrument.

The compositions, though having an earnest bend towards Mingus and avant-prog, owe a larger part to Zappa’s big band experiments (don’t pay too close attention to the lyrics though, they are pretty clearly just syllables meant to match up a former scat in dadaist/Eno-manner). While Schaerer is the brain and heart of the project, one should listen very, very carefully to the band – whipped into shape with the precision of a workaholic, they still all find little niches, cracks and alcoves to make the whole affair conversational instead of stubborn, open-ended instead of constructed (when a featured typewriter provides the beat, you hardly notice for how naturally it fits in). Probably the band’s masterpiece, as Hildegard goes flying like a weird, boney, flapping and yapping wayward mechanism through some Dali-painting’s sky. Be sure to pick this one up if you’re interested in the theatrical side of contemporary avant-jazz, where Zappa’s shadow stops looming and things turn bright again.

Dollar Brand: This Is Dollar Brand

Rating: 6.1/10
Rated as:
Album / Archival
Album Status:
for Fans
Released: 1973
Recorded: 1965
Specific Genre: Cape Jazz, Piano Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
Undertones: Third Stream
Label: Black Lion

1 Little Niles 2 Resolution 3 Which Way? 4 On the Banks of Allen Waters 5 Knight’s Night 6 Pye R Squared [Medley 7–9:] 7 Mood Indigo 8 Don’t Get Around Much Anymore 9 Take the „A“ Train

A good but in no way essential addition to Brand’s early work

Originally recorded in 1965 (but not released until 1973), this is early Brand. It doesn’t sound unfamiliar, but Brand displays neither his sprawling african piano swirl, nor does he go into his Ellington-musings too often (though he does, of course: the last three tracks here are an Ellington-medley).

No, in this London solo-session (Pye Studios), he explores pieces which are slow and abstract, with some of his signature clusters and fast little dissonant attacks thrown in, but he never sets into the relentless groove familiar from his works from the later 1960s. His tone is harsh and direct here, the abstract pieces sound pleasingly pensive and alienated, and the Ellington-pieces sound, well, also pleasingly pensive. Abstract Brand plays some abstract Ellington, both survive. The songs are not very constructed but do follow Brand’s idiosyncratic logic of structure which is always borderline improv.

Of most interest is the display of an additional side of Brand in 1965 – his published works, like the trio-session Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio, retained more of a swing feel, while the live set Anatomy of a South African Village was already introducing his mobile, sprawling „cape jazz“. This, on the other hand, is Brand displaying his stark, slightly avant-garde leanings. Without the soft touch, though. If there ever was a great pianist who didn’t care about the „soft touch“, that is Dollar Brand.

This is a good but in no way essential addition to Brand’s early work, as everything that is „signature Brand“ is only faintly audible here, as if he was deliberately holding back. Brand wasn’t a refined player at that time, so the slow but brittle sound might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I’m not surprised this didn’t get released until when he was already internationally famous, because it has this demo-feel all over it, as if Brand was just trying out some new motives on some afternoon in the studio. Yet it lets you see Brand’s less approachable, voice-searching leanings at the time, which makes for a great complementary addition.

Edition trivia: The several mid-1960s sessions Brand played (mostly in Europe) have a messy publication history. The tracks from this 1965-session have surfaced 1973 on several LPs and CDs eversince, usually called This Is Dollar Brand or Reflections. They are the same and the track listing is usually congruent, but the LPs and CDs called Reflections usually feature four additional tracks. Several online sources claim that these sessions were issued under either title in 1965, but that is not true. While this track list here contains the session’s bulk of interest, the entire session is available on Reflections (Black Lion BLCD760127).

Miles Davis: Jack Johnson

Rating: 9.5/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status
: Classic
Released: 1971
Specific Genre: Jazz Fusion, Jazz-Rock
Main Genres: Jazz, Rock
Undertones: Avant-Garde Jazz, Blues Rock
Label: Columbia

1 Right Off 2 Yesternow

The outrageous one

Miles Davis’ fusion albums of the late 1960s and early 1970s form something like the cast boy group of progressive jazz: the chilled-out mysterious one (In a Silent Way), the brainy weird one (Bitches Brew), the wild one (Live-Evil), the aggressively sexy one (On the Corner), and now: the one that everybody wants to hang out with – the outrageous one, the fun guy! In a less moronic way to talk about it, it really seems like Davis had a sort of vision for this period and what to do with the fusion style: though similiar, each of these albums represents one perfect stylistic distillation of what fusion could do.

Jack Johnson, then, is obviously and audibly spliced together from several different jam sessions (this is most notable when a short part of In a Silent Way shows up on side B) – but let’s talk about what it sounds like if you have no edition history to consult.

On the side-long first track (which is what this album is all about) a small raunchy combo kicks it right off with a simple blues rock rhythm, a distorted electric guitar attack, a bass finding its bluesy groove and staying with it – did I mix up records in the sleeve again? No, after John McLaughlin’s hilariously primitive riffs cease for some moments, Davis’ piercing trumpet takes over about two minutes in and it’s simply a ride of a totally loose groovy funky unstoppable jazz rock jam from here on, as the trumpet and the guitar exchange improvised solos and duels without giving it a thought. The soloing in the following ten minutes is just brain-melting, Davis screeches, rocks, and lumbers his way through the blues rock like you’ve never heard him. This part ends about twelve minutes in with some short ambient fusion intermezzo but thankfully immediately returns to the same relentless groove, with Steve Grossman’s saxophone and a new trumpet sound, the band continues to groove even swampier and Herbie Hancock is thrown into the mix. Judging from his performance he must have thought something like: „Okay guys, if you’re not taking this seriously, I’m not“ and plays a totally disastrous solo on some heavily distorted, disastrously sounding organ and the result somehow is instant history. With this completed line-up, they tip the rhythm into even dirtier territories, McLaughlin wraps it all up with a razor-toothed shredding guitar fest à la Hendrix and well that’s that.

Side B is more akin to the calmer, more textured and nuanced fusion sound of Silent Way and Brew, and it’s also a very good track, with calm keyboard layers for Davis to float away on, the typical start-stop bass patterns and heavy editing. It’s a generally more pensive, deliberate affair that gets screechier and decidedly cross-grained in the second ten minutes when keyboard, electric guitar and trumpet are constantly fighting for attention. Good stuff.

Either way, with all the splicing done here, the reduced fusion line-up and the improvised feel to it, this is not a „perfectly executed“ album – but who cares, among Davis’ fusion and jazz-rock albums, this stands as an absolutely unique, unrepeatable jam session that might well become your favourite „rock“ record for a while. Indispensable.

Ballbreaker Ensemble: Töff

Rating: 7.0/10
Rated as:
Album
Album Status:
for Genre-Enthusiasts
Released: 2011
Recorded: 2010
Specific Genre: Jazz Fusion, Experimental Big Band
Main Genres: Big Band, Jazz
Undertones: Jazz-Rock, Avant-Garde Jazz, Chamber Jazz
Label: Unit Records

1 Angry Angus 2 Rebellion 3 Pagliatelle 4 Phazor One 5 Eintagsfliege 6 Reboot 7 Eruptio 8 Das Begräbnis des Herrn W.

A culmination and synthesis of a lively, bubbling progressive fusion jazz scene

A 13-piece-big band born out of the Jazzwerkstatt Bern, this record features almost an overabundance of Swiss jazz talent. While the Jazzwerkstatt lives off spontaneous one-off projects, this album was recorded by a proper band consisting of regulars. It’s clearly signalled as a collective effort: no ‚band leader‘, no ‚leading instrument‘ taking the spot, each composition by a different mastermind. It’s still a consistent album, as these people worked together in many other circumstances. But the sound is not necessarily what each composer or musician plays in their other projects, making it a unique album within the scene: with their dramatic, cerebral experimental big band mixed with the electric jazz-rock approach of, say, Frank Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo, the Ballbreaker Ensemble delivers a stormy album full of wild horn-section freak-outs, roaring statements of mischief (to compare Colin Vallon’s thunderous „Reboot“ to his out-of-sight-quiet ECM-albums is almost hilarious), academic, skippy ruminations („Rebellion“, „Phazor One“, ) and exuberant, balkan-esque tour de forces like Andreas Schaerer’s „Angry Angus“, whose playfulness is thwarted by a menacing electric guitar tone and funereal slower horn intersections in the middle – and so on, every piece is of note, as the pressing performances are on spot every time.

It remains this particular constellation’s sole effort (although single pieces would appear on some of the Jazzwerkstatt anthologies), probably because it’s hard to get thirteen musicians (who are all busy playing for several other outfits) and composers under one umbrella on a regular basis. The album’s status suffers somewhat from this as it comes across as a side project, presumably worth less attention than the ‚actual‘ other projects each of the participants has. This is a shame, because this can easily be seen in a very different light: A culmination and synthesis of sorts of a lively, bubbling progressive fusion jazz scene whose more prominent talents started to get international recognition right around the time this appeared.

Herbie Hancock: Mwandishi

Rating: 7.4/10
Rated as: Album
Album Status: Genre Contender
Released: 1971
Specific Genre: Jazz Fusion, Avant-Garde Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
Undertones: Jazz-Funk, Spiritual Jazz
Label: Warner Bros.

1 Ostinati (Suite for Angela) 2 You’ll Know When You Get There 3 Wandering Spirit Song

From funkified electric grooves to pure introspective meditations to free form

As the first record on which Hancock consequently combined the electric, free-floating approach taken from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and his already heavy funk leanings, Mwandishi is the essential starting point for what Hancock would be doing the larger part of the remaining decade. While its follow-up Sextant is more manic and spaced-out, and Head Hunters is a lot funkier, Mwandishi holds its own quality against these two. Only the first track cooks heavy in its own relentless groove, while the second and third track (the latter taking up the whole of side B) explore a much looser, more cautious and introspective „inner space“ sound, not unsimilar to what Chick Corea’s Return to Forever would be doing in their quieter, relatively ostinati-free moments.

The sound of these latter two thirds of the record is at times so meditative and relaxing it becomes almost elusive (in a good sense). Just a tingle of the percussion there, some tentative electric keys thrown in there, then the louder riff of the horn section, full stop – and back to searching, echoing keyboard strokes. The „Wandering Spirit Song“ taking up Side B goes from that ‚inner space’ calmness with just a little groove to complete free form halfway through. But even the free jazz section doesn’t sound wild or unrestrained, but rather poised – this isn’t the kind of gloriously chaotic, outrageous free jazz Sun Ra would be doing those years. It’s, so to speak, ‚Apollonian’ free jazz, used for dramaturgical and deliberate reasons. And brilliantly so: The different steps on the whole album, from funkified electric grooves to pure introspective meditations to free form – and right back to calm weather after having stirred the ocean a bit works perfectly, like different acts guiding the listener through the experience.

Having said that, it isn’t a personal favourite as it is ultimately less extreme than other works by Hancock. It is nonetheless essential for anyone interested in Hancock’s musical development as well as in the greater 1970s context of jazz and fusion. Besides paving the way for his future output, it stands as a testimonial witnessing that in those years, there was no one else who could pick up the vanguard sounds of the era quite like Hancock and channel them into something that could serve as the perfect introduction for the uninitiated to exactly that vanguard.

Grant Green: Idle Moments

Rating: 8.2/10
Rated as: Album
Album Status: Genre Classic
Released: 1965
Recorded: 1963
Specific Genre: Hard Bop
Main Genre: Jazz
Secondary Genre: Cool Jazz
Label: Blue Note

1 Idle Moments 2 Jean de Fleur 3 Django 4 Nomad
Bonus Tracks: 5. Jean de Fleur [Alternate Take] 6. Django [Alternate Take]

Awesomely suggestive exercise in good taste

Stellar jazz guitarist Grant Green and stellar vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson join forces for this terrific workout in nocturnal, silky hard bop that avoids being listlessly smooth, but is elegant, soothing and occasionally brooding. The opener „Idle Moments“ is fifteen minutes of low-key barroom depression à la grandeur. Slow, languid and winding, Green, Hutcherson and Joe Henderson take off from the beautiful motif opening and closing the number with inconspicuous but effective solos – perfect for long lonesome cognac nights. The up-tempo „Jean de Fleur“ swings hard and wouldn’t be very interesting if not for the amazing interplay between all the quartet’s members (plus soloists Hutcherson and Henderson) – there’s scarcely another formation playing as democratic, tightly balanced and hypnotising as Green and his colleagues. Green knows that solos are only as interesting as their frame and his quartet is all about this framework. The structure is the same as before, with a catchy riff starting and ending the piece, swinging solos in between.

Green’s down-tempo version on „Django“ takes its time building up and kicks into mid-tempo gear almost two minutes into the track, with another splendidly understated statement by Grant’s guitar on top of the sax-supplied riff. In its strongest moments, Idle Moments sounds like a soft-spoken but confident answer to Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. „Nomad“ plays like a mix of the opening track and the faster swing of its followers, a fascinating twelve minutes of gentleman-bop, borrowing and quoting details of „Idle Moments“, creating a feel of careful coherence for the album.

There are no standouts in the traditional sense to speak of, because nothing sticks out of the overall quality. „Idle Moment“ is the deepest and most effective track, but the musicianship creates varieties of similar moods that invite you to rest and dwell in, each like the cool part of a pillow before you have to turn over. I couldn’t say that Hutcherson „shines“ on here for example – he just blends in perfectly, supplying even more subtle nuances to Green’s own subtle nuances. The album is really about letting yourself sink into the incessant swing these guys put down, not about the single tracks. Don’t make the mistake to dismiss this as too smooth or easy-listening – this is an awesomely suggestive exercise in good taste.

Lightnin‘ Hopkins: Goin‘ Back Home

Rating: 1.5/10
Rated as: Anthology
Compilation Status: Useless
Released: 1997
Recorded: 1964–1969
Main Genre: Blues
Specific Genres: Acoustic Blues, Electric Blues, Acoustic Texas Blues, Electric Texas Blues
Label: Comet 43324

1 Shaggy Dog 2 Santa Fe Blues [New Santa Fe] 3 Shinin‘ Moon [Shining Moon] 4 I’ll Be Gone 5 Shake It Baby 6 Goin‘ Back Home 7 Good Times 8 I’m Wit‘ It [What’d I Say] 9 Don’t Wake Me 10 Talk of the Town 11 California Landslide [California Mudslide] 12 Rosie Mae 13 Easy on Your Heals 14 Leave Jike Mary Alone 15 You Treat Po‘ Lightnin‘ Wrong

Good times here, but it’s better down the road

Another European cheapo collection by one of the greatest. A mix of some infectious, driving electric blues numbers in classic jaunty Hopkins-style and his trademark acoustic texas blues. Excellent, if unspectacular fret work, some surprising horn sections (on a Hopkins record!) and overall a more polished sound compared to his earlier stuff from the 1960s.

Some research: Tracks 1 and 3–10 are from 1967’s Something Blue (recorded 1965), tracks 2 and 11–13 are from 1969’s California Mudslide and the last two acoustic numbers (14–15) are from 1964’s Live at the Bird Lounge. Some track names have been slightly changed, I think intentionally, to cover up that this is probably a borderline illegal compilation just grabbing randomly from different sources (which also explains the indiscriminate mix of electric and acoustic tracks from different sessions).

Anyhow, the album Something Blue is here in its entirety though with scrambled sequencing (and inferior sound quality). So that’s okay if you find this in some one-dollar-trash bin, but any serious collector can skip this and go for the actual albums. There really is no point to any of this.