The four greats of German jazz—Conrad Bauer, Ulrich Gumpert, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, and Günter Sommer—have always had an eye on German Volksmusik. On their new CD (the fourth Zentralquartett CD on Intakt Records), the quartet makes no secret of its origin, arranges German Volkslieder, and plays them as if they had been written today rather than in the Middle Ages.
The most well-known songs on this recording are "Dat du min Leevsten büst," which the stormy leadership of Ulrich Gumpert's piano turns into gospel, and "Es war ein König in Thule," sung by Gretchen in Goethe's Faust, arranged by Carl Friedrich Zelter in the nineteenth century, and here re-arranged by Conrad Bauer as an exciting dialogue between trombone and Jew's harp at the end of the CD.
The CD also includes such marvelous rarities as "Es saß ein schneeweiß Vögelein" (which was once arranged by Johannes Brahms), "Der Maie, der Maie," a round dance from around 1550 with words by none other than Hans Sachs himself, and a bold peasant dance from the depths of the sixteenth century, "Tanz mir nicht mit meiner Jungfer Käthen." Here "horses neigh; dancing women laugh; lovers pine; soldiers drum," as the novelist and poet Michael Wüstefeld writes in the liner notes.
This is European sharp-end jazz with a strong free-improv undertow, supplied by veteran improvisers from the 1960s first wave - the ornery kind who are generally resistant to postmodern whistle-stop tours around contemporary jazz and fusion styles. This set is something of a reunion for Germany's free-jazz pioneers, bringing together trombonist Conrad Bauer, pianist Ulrich Gumpert (the two were originally joined in Gumpert's 1970s Workshop Band), saxophonist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky and drummer Günter Sommer.
But it isn't a free-for-all - quirkily the opposite, in fact. The four revisit German Volkslieder, and turn the thumbscrews of free-jazz on folk song and peasant dances going back 500 years. You get high-stepping piano intros greeted with bursts of cacophony instead of elegant horn rejoinders, Latin-jazz dances that turn into wild squalls, pan-pipe sounds over sinister marching bass-drumming and squeaky silent-comedy tunes.
A standout is Petrowsky's misty, mostly unaccompanied rumination, on the rhapsodic traditional song Es Sass ein Schneeweiss Vogelein and Gumpert's Monkish ballad intro to Kommt, Ihr G'spielen, which turns into an exultant brass-band theme with a gospel-piano vamp under it. Engagingly unlovely, and not just for the already converted.
John Fordham, The Guardian, London, Friday 3 March 2006
We all know that the origins of American jazz came largely out of the root of blues. We also know that many cultures have contributed to this form. The one thing I, for one, did not expect was an album of jazz that was based on 12th century German Volkslieder’s art folk songs. These songs are about life and have had a tendency to morph into various forms over the centuries; polkas, marches and Klezmer come to mind. Now we have a quartet of improvisers taking this form and generally having a party with it. Conrad Bauer, Ulrich Gumpert, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky and Günter Sommer are masterful in their arranging and playing skills. Sombre marches melt into African grooves that crumble apart in aggressive free playing in a somehow thoughtful and logical manner. This is not to say that the music is cold — quite the opposite in fact. The thing that sets this CD apart from a lot of music that crosses my path is the joy, humanity and sense of humour that pervades. No eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head trance jams and no dry academic opinions, just a folk/free jazz romp into the German spirit — you know, the one that doesn’t make it into the tired stereotype category.
By Nilan Perera, Exclaim, Canada, April 04, 2006
released January 30, 2007
Conrad Bauer: Trombone
Ulrich Gumpert: Piano
Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky: Alto Saxophone, Flutes, Clarinet
Günter Sommer: Drums, Percussion, Mouth Harp
Recorded April 22, 23, 2005 Studio des deutschen Filmorchesters Babelsberg. Engineer: Falko Duczmal. Mixed and mastered April 24, 2005, Studio des deutschen Filmorchesters Babelsberg by Falko Duczmal. Cover art: Strawalde, Design: Jonas Schoder, Liner notes: Michael Wüstefeld. Photo: Georg Krause. Produced and published by Intakt Rercords. Executive production: Rosmarie A. Meier, Patrik Landolt