Monday, January 20, 2014

Berlin Calling!

I'm planning to attend Berlinale for the first time and probably because of that one would find me in an essentially German mood. Now, thanks to the Berlin based jazz label Sonorama that feeling is delightfully doubled as they sent me a batch of records that document some of the most remarkable European Jazz of the 50s and 60s.

The first time I encountered a Sonorama release was when I discovered a fascinating recording of The European Jazz All Stars 1961, a meeting between top European jazz musicians during the Cold War which was presented by the Norman Granz of German jazz, Joachim-Ernst Berendt.

The line-up on this rare reissue is composed of no less than 13 musicians from 12 countries who, according to Berendt, couldn't speak in the same language but jazz. However, if you're expecting one of those off-the-cuff blowing sessions, I must say you are on the wrong track, as all the pieces in the repertoire are fully arranged by the Belgian Francy Boland.

Berendt remembers the process of finding the best musicians of each country by going through local jazz publications and jazz critics. The question asked from jazz writers of each European nation was pretty simple: "Who would be your nominated jazz musician to appear in an international group?" Therefore, from France Martial Solal was sent. From Spain, Tete Monteliou joined the forces. The rest of the musicians were: Erik Amundsen (Norway), Arne Domnerus (Sweden), Ronnie Ross (Britain), Albert Mangelsdorff (Germany), Hans Koller (Austrai), Sadi (not from Iran but Belguim!), William Schiopffe (Denmark), Dusko Gojkowic (former Yugoslavia), Franceo Verri (Italy). Even Turkey had its share of the party by sending trumpeter Mufay Falay. In addition to the instrumentalists, Monica Zetterlund sings on a couple of tracks. [See her taking picture in the album cover above.]

The All-Stars concert took place at the 4-year-old Kongresshalle [pic above] and of course, it proved to be very successful. One other participant of the 1961 jazz fest was Thelonious Monk whose influence can be traced on some of the tracks on this precious recording (a very relaxed take on Blue Monk is the most straight-forward nod). But in general, the arrangements are probably closer to the West Coast big bands of the time which was a more crucial source of inspiration for German jazz of the 50s. The following records prove that further.

The second Sonorama record I delved into was Helmut Brandt Combo, a compilation of a dozen nearly perfect West Coast jazz recreated in the heart of Berlin and other German cities by the multi-instrumentalist Brandt. This one turned out to be a real treasure, presenting some of the most laid-back, post-Mulligan baritone saxophone I've ever heard.

"A combo established itself in the league of the German jazz elite," reads the liner note in description of the Helmut Brandt Quintet and then it continues, "whoever heard their music on late summer evenings could recognize a correlation to the character of the nightly early autumn mood: dark color with lighter accents, pensiveness and light movement." I double that.

Speaking of feelings, I feel there must be something in the city of Baden-Baden which makes the musicians so graciously "surrender," as the I Surrender Dear that Brandt performs (listen to it on the video below) almost ties with another Badedn-Baden interpretation by Zoot Sims which I heard recently and blew me away.

However, still there is more Zoot Sims connection to German jazz if we go to the third recording. But for now let me say that Helmut Brandt Combo is already stored on my iPod to be the soundtrack of my Berlin visitation.

Then I played another totally new-to-me record from the 1950s, this one by the multi-instrumentalist Hans Koller [pic above] who was a Viennese, active in German jazz scene and the first European jazz musician who got a 5-star review from Downbeat. This gem, restored from various sources such as EPs and air checks, has more colorful textures and features a wider range of styles within one working year (all of the various sessions are from 1958) that other musicians need 5 years to achieve. The highlight of the album could be a team-up with Eddie Sauter and his orchestra whose lush, almost Bartokian arrangements helped Stan Getz to create his Third Stream masterpiece, Focus.

Furthermore, we have Zoot Sims who left an ever-lasting legacy in most of the western European counties he visited. Here, he is featured on two tracks, one of which (on clarinet) has become the title of the album too: Minor Meeting. What is so intriguing is Hans Koller who gets into some sort of "brotherly" swing, reminiscing of the Al Cohn-Zoot Sims days.

This album is due to release in February 2014.

This just reminded me of the treasure troves hidden under dust and forgetfulness in the European archives and how urgent it is to free these cultural and artistic documents from the oblivion and bring them back to life.

Finally, I've got a video which plays excerpts of some of the tunes in the three Sonorama records which made my day, today.

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