Posts Tagged ‘motorik’

One of the true delights of any music festival is that, for a few days – or even just a few precious hours – you are in a strange and beautiful new world, away from the tangle and hum of city life. The 4th Jazzgroove  Summer Festival reigned over Sydney’s Redfern-Surry Hills Delta for four days in January, staking out the territory in the name of modern composition, improvised music and the jazz life.

And what a strange and beautiful world they conjured for us among the bricks and grime, the litter and the 7-11 Stores.

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I was fortunate to start at the very beginning, with Tom O’Halloran’s solo piano opener on Thursday at Surry Hills’ Tom Mann Theatre. A smart choice to open the Festival, O’Halloran’s sure touch made the piano sigh and glitter. His closer, a sparkling ‘No More Blues’ served as a teasing appetiser for a weekend of stellar music.

jazzgroove mothership orc

And stellar was the word (a TV sports cliché yes, but too apt to not use here) for Jonathan Zwartz’s band, up next. A Dream Team of players – Slater, Maegraith, Greening, Julien Wilson blowing (his and) our minds, Dewhurst, Matt McMahon, Hamish Stuart and percussionista Fabian Hevia holding it down with the calm river that is Zwartz himself. And from that calm river flowed strong and sure compositions, with melodic lines that were often country-simple but Gospel-true. From the opener ‘Shimmer’ through to ‘Henry’s High Life’, it was transfixing soul-blues that had the soloists reaching within – Phil Slater and Richard Maegraith especially going deep on the latter tune – leaving the audience at Tom Mann visibly affected. Like all true wisdom there was very little flash, but a universe of quiet fire.

The opening night was climaxed by the mighty Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, paying tribute to genius jazz composer Bob Brookmeyer (who sadly passed from this earthly plane last year). Even though the Orchestra bristles with astounding soloists, it was the Festival’s International Guest Artist (I suppose Aotearoa counts as international) tenor magus Roger Manins that was featured on all charts. The Orchestra is truly a national treasure and for this, their 10th anniversary gig, they played better than I have ever heard them – snapping and roiling on the fiery pieces and painting colour washed mists on the quieter pieces such as the lovely ‘Fireflies’. Manins stood toe-to-toe with the band on the blasting finale, ‘See Saw’, his tenor sassing back and cajoling the Mothership. Big kudos to drummer Jamie Cameron who rode the roaring beast on all pieces with great style and verve.

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Friday was Fusion Day for me as I took in the electro-jazz of the Alcohotlicks at 505 and later, the flamenco-jazz of Steve Hunter’s Translators down the road at the Gaelic. It had been Sydney’s hottest day ever (!) on record and the evening was still dripping from the day.alcohotlicks

At 505, The Alcohotlicks’ Evan Mannell admitted to ‘shitting himself’ at the prospect of working without a drum kit. He then won us all over with a beautiful funky groove, cut-up on his sample box from Jimi Hendrix’s throaty ‘Who Knows’ riff. Joined by Ben Hauptmann on MIDI guitar and laptop, and Aaron Flower (the hoary traditionalist of the group who merely plays a guitar through an amp) the trio – winners of the inaugural Jazzgroove Association Recording Artist Award  – astounded with tracks from their album Danaïdes. ‘Neon’ was neo-NEU! motorik funk; ‘Baader’ was Goldfrapp/Moroder replicant-porn boogie. Did I sense a few members of the 505 audience shifting in their seats during the Alcohotlicks set? Artists such as these are the ones who move any music forward and all kudos to them for working at the edge of the Jazz comfort zone. A little seat shifting is always a good sign.

steve hunter, the translatorsDown the steaming street to the Gaelic. By now slightly drunk on the merlot and the humidity, I was taken away completely by The Translators. Too loud for the room – not a bad thing at all – electric bass toreador Steve Hunter and the quartet blazed through a set of flamenco-flecked originals that had Míro dancing with Manitas de Plata, Chick Corea dancing with de Falla in my swirling head. At times Ben Hauptmann’s electric mandolin solos sounded like a 70’s micro-Moog, the otherworldly tone beautifully offset by Damien Wright’s flamenco gut-string. ‘Turquoise’ was blue in green in orange. ‘The Last Trannie’ was Madrid via Soweto. Always a fiery and sparkling group, tonight – after not playing together for two years – The Translators shone like a Catalonian sun and lit all our faces with broad smiles. Not so long between sangrias next time, please amigos!

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the fantastic terrific munkle

Saturday my hangover needed the peace of Prince Alfred Park and the gentle afternoon humour of The Fantastic Terrific Munkle. Cool breezes blew, people picnicked on the grass, and from between two huge trees, The Munkle – powered by Sam Golding’s tuba and the (snake-)charming clarinet of Jeremy Rose – wove their musical tales of whimsy, recalling ragtime, Dixie, weird old blues and French salon jazz. The song announcements were made through a megaphone, the guitar amp was powered by solar panels and guitarist Julian Curwin wore thongs. It was all so sweetly organic, it made the afternoon time stand beautifully still.

Too much daylight – bah! Back into the night and the Steve Barry Trio with Alex Boneham and the quicksilver Tim Firth at 505. This is the trio that played on Barry’s recent album, Steve Barry – a startling album made (conjured from the elements, rather) by this startling combination of players. All the telepathic play and spiritual-empathic magic that lights up the album was here on stage tonight. Reminding me of Bill Evans’ trios or Keith Jarrett’s ‘standards’ trios, Barry-Boneham-Firth could spat and spar – as on opener ‘B.W.’ – or dissipate like evening mist across an introspective ballad such as the lovely ‘Epiphany’. Some of the most fluidly intelligent music in jazz has been made within the piano trio format and groups such as Steve Barry’s trio remind me why.

After the rollicking fun of altoist Ross Harrington’s vibey, young and fun Midnight Tea Party – Dixie, klemzer, ska flavours; a huge hit with the 505 crowd – we were treated to the Andrew Gander Band.

richard maegraithIn a Festival line-up luminescent with musical wonders, I can unreservedly say the Andrew Gander Band was the highlight for me – and I am sure many there would agree. His five-piece group hit their jaw-dropping stride from the first note and ascended from there. I had already seen each of Gander’s sidemen in other Festival groups but playing with Gander seemed to push each of them into the deeper reaches of their own musical universe. Tenor player Richard Maegraith seemed particularly inspired, blowing hard into the white-hot areas of his horn’s capabilties. (My friend, CC – who knows about such things – said after one of Maegraith’s solos “I could see his aura and light flashing off him!”) Bassist Brett Hirst twinned with Gander through all of the music’s twists and turns almost preternaturally. Steve Barry would smartly sit out during guitarist Carl Morgan’s solos, allowing the drum-bass-guitar trio to stretch the harmonies and rhythms into new fluid shapes. The Gander originals such as ‘Retrograde’ (with one of those sizzling rock feels that Billy Cobham does so well) and the 5/4 roller coaster ride of ‘Prism’ were just eaten alive by the band, who also managed great takes on radically reshaped standards such as ‘Star Eyes’ and Dizzy’s ‘Con Alma’.

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ben hauptmann, zoe and the buttercups

Where to go from there? Thankfully the Sunday program offered sweet soul relief in the form of Festival Guest Roger Manins and the original lineup of his soul-jazz champions, Hip Flask. To a packed 505, Manins’ testifying tenor led the quintet through ‘Bang’, ‘Big Sis’, ‘John Scon’ and others from their Jazzgroove catalogue. Against the indigo-blue Hammond of Stu Hunter, Adam Ponting’s peppery shards of piano dissonance put Hip Flask in their own category without losing any soul-jazz juice. The intro to ‘Blues for Adam Ponting’ moved in and out of harmonic focus until Manins brought us back to the planet with some real deep earth. (Manins was also one of the drollest bandleaders of the Festival, his tongue popping almost through his cheek at times during his stage announcements…)

By now saturated to the brim with music and fine 505 merlot, I took one last rolling stroll down Chalmers Street, climbing the stairs to the Gaelic to bid the Festival adieu with Zoe Hauptmann and her Buttercups. The six piece snapped my jaded mind awake with their patented country-soul stomp and Tele-blaster Aaron Flower’s always-exhilarating chicken-pickin’. Watching Ms Hauptmann leading her Buttercups up there, a question swam into my mind: Where were all the women musicians at the 4th Summer Festival? Ok, there was Zoe H and new bassist Hannah James (yes, Elana Stone too, but I am not counting vocalists in this equation) – that’s two out of an awful lot of male musicians. This is not a polemic point, nor is the question rhetoric; it is an honest query. The Con and other institutions turn out many many women musicians, musicians who have graduated alongside their male contemporaries, women musicians who are out there any night of the week paying as many gig dues as the guys. So why, when you get to the highest levels of jazz in this country – such as the annual Jazzgroove Festival – are women so insignificantly spoken for?

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In his Sunday night wrap-up speech, Jazzgroove President (and Buttercup trombonist) John Hibbard admitted that this year’s Summer Festival almost didn’t happen. The committee had sat around Matt McMahon’s dining table and voted on going through with it or not. It was that dire. After four days of wonderfully attended gigs by our best and brightest – and some performances that seriously deserve to pass into myth and legend – it is hard to believe that meeting ever took place. But positive energy ruled that day – the vote was to go ahead – and that same positive energy ruled the 4th Jazzgroove  Summer Festival.

And thank God, Miles and Duke that it did.

The Jazzgroove website is here.

Published January 2103 on australianjazz.net 

The German avant-rock pioneers Can’s Inner Space studio in Weilerswist, Germany was sold to the German Rock N Pop Museum recently. The Museum bought everything, including the army mattresses that covered the walls to dampen sound.

Whilst dismantling the studio in order to transfer it to Gronau, the home of the Museum, over 30 hours of master tapes were found with barely legible labeling. Intrigued, Can main-man Irmin Schmidt and collaborator (and Schmidt’s son-in-law) Jono Podmore dug into it all, discovering years of valid archived material. These are not outtakes, they are tracks that had been created for soundtracks to movies that never eventuated, tracks that never made it to albums due to space constrictions and tracks that were part of Can’s ongoing sonic experimentation.

This last point is illuminating. Can often worked in an open-ended way – keeping the tapes rolling while they jammed, experimented, tried ideas and followed their tripped-out muse wherever She may lead them. Very much in the spirit of those heady times – late 60s to early 70s – Can seemed to be often more about the journey than the destination.

In his notes to the recent released Can/The Lost Tapes, Irmin Schmidt says that these tracks were “more about the atmosphere of creating” than “aiming for the masterpiece”. What we hear on their 12 superlative studio albums (pretty much all masterpieces, especially Tago Mago – see my review here) is the tip/s of the Can iceberg. The music that sprawls across the three CDs of The Lost Tapes is the iceberg.

Irmin Schmidt further explains “Obviously the tapes weren’t really lost, but were left in the cupboards of the studio archives for so long everybody just forgot about them. Everybody except Hildegard, who watches over Can and its work like the dragon over the gold of the Nibelungen and doesn’t allow forgetting.” I don’t know what he is talking about either, but with Can it is always best to just go with their spacey flow and to hell with logic.

And what a spacey flow it is. “Millionenspiel” (“The Game of Millions”) – recorded when the band was still called Inner Space – opens with a surreal musical shadowplay before drummer Jaki Liebzeit sets up a tense Motorik rhythm and the band is off, shards of glassy organ stabbing through the groove. “Deadly Doris” nags over an equally insistent mechanized beat, with early singer Malcolm Mooney improvising autistic vocals over the top. (In a piece of serendipity, Can were more than lucky to find, after Mooney left Can on the advice of his psychiatrist [!], the equally free-minded and liberally creative Damo Suzuki). Repetition, mechanization, noise – these are the elements that Can brought to rock’n’roll from 20th century modern classical or Art music (and a surprising amount of the music we listen to today owe these Teutonic Space Knights a tacet debt for that).

The Lost Tapes sees an already wildly liberated band operating largely on their own terms – free in the main from the constrictions of putting out ‘product’ or meeting a deadline – and able to just create as they wished. What is remarkable about these tracks, considering the freewheeling nature of the times and the Anarcho-Hippie culture that Can swam in (Germany, perhaps for historical reasons had a particularly unbridled and highly politicized Hippie culture) is their discipline. Very few appear to be whacked-out jams, despite their flavour being that of improvisation – the band breathing, rising and falling over the entire length of extended tracks such as the 17 minute ‘Graublau’. Like Tago Mago’s wonderfully snaky “Halleluhwah” or noise collage “Peking O” the extended pieces have their own logic, however oddly unfolding it may be. 

A treat – as if an Aladdin’s Cave such as The Lost Tapes is not enough in itself – is the inclusion of recordings of three live tracks – “Spoon”, “Mushroom” and “One More Saturday Night”. Apart from the applause and slightly muddier sound, these fit in beautifully with the studio tracks, as they are cut from the same psychedelic cloth – that magic Can mix of discipline, free improv, leaping in the deep end and that uncanny telepathic bond that all great Rock groups have.

Check out more (and take a listen to some Lost Tapes tracks) on the Mute Records website here.

 

Published July 2012 on theorangepress.net

The true artists of modernism make very much out of very little. In fact, many of the greatest have shaken the world with a handful of slight elements – in music: Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Black Sabbath and James Brown come to mind.

In 1971 Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger formed the band NEU! in Germany. Their musical philosophy and mission statement was to make a new music from the barest elements repeated until the idea was exhausted (a philosophy mirrored in the minimalist art music of the time and also in the visual arts). A way into this music was to expunge all traces of American rock, pop and blues influences from the performances.

On paper it looks frigid, inhuman and flavourless. In reality – in the hands of Rother and Dinger, with help and guidance from engineer Conny Plank – the music of NEU! (and Rother’s bands – such as Harmonia – and solo works that followed) contain some of the most uplifting, noble and achingly beautiful music of the late 20th/early 21st century. It is the musical path that lead to David Bowie’s “Heroes” and its tremors can still be heard today across all modern rock music.

Sydney was treated to an historical team-up for Michael Rother’s show at the Oxford Art Factory on Saturday night. Performing with Rother on the night was his Harmonia cohort, Dieter Möebius and on electric drums, Hans Lampe who played drums with NEU! in 1975. But this was not just an historical event –  the trio’s music sounded as sharp as tomorrow and full of power and surprise. And ecstatic beauty.

Before a large rectangular projection of pale olive and lime green blurs (a colour-shifted wheatfield swam in and out of focus) Rother would begin a groove or a vibe with a few notes; he would be joined by Möebius who would give further shape to Rother’s ideas as they built. The music would swim in and out of aural vision until Lampe started the motorik beat, and the whole thing would move forward, as if down a dot-lit highway in some European night.

Not enough can be said of the effect of the ‘motorik’ (trans: ’motor skill’) beat. It was perhaps one of the greatest aescetic thrills of NEU!’s 1971 debut, as heralded by the opening piece ‘Hallogallo’. A flat, straight eighth-note beat with backbeat on 2 and 4 of the bar, it does not vary in tempo or dynamic, rarely even utilising fills, and when there are fills, they are just more eighth-notes played across the toms. It is a perfect beat for rock and roll – see Maureen Tucker’s American take on motorik on the Velvet Underground’s early albums – primitive and modern all in one. Because it rarely varies it implies man-as-machine, but, as with everything about this music, it is deceptively funky. When Hans Lampe got going, every head in the place was bobbing to his motorik groove.

When I spoke with Michael for The Orange Press back in February (http://theorangepress.net/2012/02/qa-michael-rother-neu-kraftwerk-part-1/ and http://theorangepress.net/2012/02/qa-michael-rother-neu-kraftwerk-part-2/) we discussed his upcoming Australian shows and he said that “There was no chance to rehearse, but I know exactly what Dieter Möebius is capable of creating on the spot. So I am preparing the ‘backbone’ of the music, and I rely on Dieter adding special colours and spices to the music – that’s what he’s really great at: he can pick up the situation and come up with crazy ideas. I look forward to that experiment very much.”

With such an improvisational aspect to the music, it was even more surprising that it came together so seamlessly and with so much – dare I say it? – soul. As I looked around me at the height of the trio’s hurtling and thudding musical enmeshments, I saw many listeners bobbing their heads in time to the 8/8 beat, eyes closed, off in a world of their own.

And I asked myself: how can a music so devoid of harmony, so stripped of any syncopation or sophisticated rhythm, with melodies that are often flat and astonishly spare… how can that music conjure such feeling and high emotion? How can such bareness be so beautiful? Like so much contemporary art, this music gives the listener only part of the picture, often hazy suggestions, sometimes barely anything – we fill in the voids from the puzzle pieces of our own minds and experience. This is not any sort of explanation: the music is of course still utterly magical.

It is a magic road that rock music has gone down for 40 years now and it stretches out into the mapless future. To be taken for a ride by Michael Rother, Dieter Möebius et al was more than a thrill – after all, these men laid the diamond stones of that very road.

Published March 2012 on theorangepress.net