«Plié» is something like a curtsey, bending your knees, a dance step. Ballett language. At any rate it has something to do with dancing, says Sommer. What Petrowsky says sounds similar, but is perhaps meant in a somewhat different way. The Zentralquartett still acts according to the principles of direct democracy, even after twenty years. Or was it different back then? But that is a different story.
But not forgotten. Listen to Conference at Lutens! There it is again. The sound of uprising that honorable historians perhaps wrote off to tradition somewhat too soon. More like a tradition of walking out. At best a complete exit from the other. Away from African-American, Black music, which at one time was simply called jazz. No one wanted it to be like that, they say today. The Zentralquartett swings. Always wanted to swing?
The sound of the suburbs and the conferences. The primeval times of Synopsis, Zentralquartett’s precursor. Sessions in Pretowsky’s hut on the outskirts of Berlin, around the corner from the big airport. Country house is what Gumpert calls it. Experiments in composition and discussions about music, sitting together and blathering for hours.
Back in the sixties, when jazz was broadcast into East German living rooms by the Voice of America in Tangier at one o’clock in the morning. Petrowsky can remember thirty-two measures of beeps, swinging groove and that he could not even clear off to the East. Not even dive under in the Polish scene; Petrowsky would have done that. At any rate, the German Democratic Republic was very far away from the sources.
Which is why at that time there was such terrible prudishness and that awkward Wolga-Don-Swing between ponderous march rhythms and classical muse moods.
Neglect, privation. Period. Then independence, the theorists, the eu-phoria, the woes and pains. Swing was taboo for the orthodox, «Kinder-garten!», that is easier to say today. But people were part of it, or weren’t they? But that is a different story.
«Plié» also means bowing, a return to the American roots, reflection, a statement. Says Petrowsky. In a way Bauer agrees, but not completely. Improvised music, says Bauer, and the Zentralquartett, the Group of Four in GDR jazz. Direct democracy. Also the obligation to the audience, exposing ideas, political thinking, suggestion and autosuggestion.
And Peitz, the fishing village near Cottbus. Open air and Free Jazz, intoxication and peace. The whole between-the-lines-thing and the belief that more could be found between the sounds. Free Jazzers that became as popular as rock stars. The people in the gray parkas, the secret police, did not know what to make of this music any more than the government bigwigs did, says Petrowsky. A quotation from Uschi Brüning, the solitary singer.
Halb-5, Bauer likes uneven bars, the trick with tension works through cutting things in half. What has chan-ged? Telephone numbers. And that it was once a privilege not to go to work every morning. Nowadays it seems like everyone stays home. With an expression of wonderment, Bauer explains that Halb-5 sounds African, at least that is what people once told him after a concert. Three years ago he was in Nigeria. Otherwise, his interest in travelling has actually diminished since the border opened. But he really did not expect that even people in New York would know the Zentralquartett. And in Canada. And in Japan.
Marul is the name of a small village in the Austrian Alps, four to six houses with a church, but no through road. His oasis, says Sommer, for skiing, composing, relaxing; this is the same Sommer that was once responsible for Hit Pieces. Four years ago he started off on a long journey, actually planning to go to Italy, but getting stuck in Constance. The band rehearsed for these recordings next to the Lake of Constance, Conference at Baby’s. And Plié für Inge, the dancer who also lives there.
The bluesy side comes from Gumpert, says Bauer. He has always been a fan of Blue Note records. The wisdom of old age, says Sommer. Inner compulsion, says Petrowsky. For ELP. Gumpert’s birthday serenade for Luten’s sixtieth. Something went wrong then. The Markowitz Bluesband and Uschi’s singing, the great tradition of the Adderley Brothers, for Luten alone, alias Petrowsky. Markowitz, the glib TV cop, who,inebriated, searches for criminals in the former zones of Berlin after the fall of the Wall. Who grubs in very private muck and demonstrates on the TV screen that history leaves its marks. Scars that run deep. Like thirty-two measures of beeps. Lamprecht’s role and Gumpert’s music. According to the script, Markowitz is written the same way it is said.
The wisdom of old age, says Sommer. Not always to be the only one responsible for Hit Pieces! Fünf Miniaturen. The band sounds like a big orchestra with several contrabasses. The secret to this tremendous sound is not given away. Two big drums, uncomfortable positions, the alto in the tenor sector: research in materials. The miniatures are the parts that can be repeated most clearly, explains the composer. Here nothing develops into something else, everything is centered around a clear way of dealing with assigned material. «Linear» is mentioned as a key word and «score» as well.
Rue Sthrau, a small street and a small hotel in the south-eastern part of the Seine metropole. A lot of foreigners live there. It is also where the Zentralquartett stays. There is really something to that part of town, says Gumpert.
Come together and funky riffs. Solus? No, Soul Plexus, soul as in spiritual soul. Blues-heavy theater is Petrowsky’s comment.
And Schmetterling, which means butterfly. It reminds Bauer of his dance music times in the sixties. Has nothing to do with the fluttering of a butterfly, more with «schmettern», which means to blare, like a trumpet. A play on words.
A lot of things were exaggerated back then. The folk song material was once very successful as a sticker. At one time more so for Gumpert’s Workshop Band, but also for the Zentralquartett. GDR folkmusic and its own jazz? No, that was never our intention, says Gumpert, he of all people. Yet, the song and Free Jazz, that was the Zentralquartett, says Bauer.
A bonus for being exotic? Behind the western façade Petrowsky sees mafia-like structures crumbling. What to do with the big names? They are individually teamed up with others, sent to the slaughter for some kind of Old School-New School bluff or other dubious festival business. The Zentral-quartett now plays about ten times a year. They all have their own projects, each of them manages to keep his head above water, somehow. «The most important things happened while there was still a GDR and we were allowed to travel,» says Gumpert. In the eighties, in Iceland: Thrill, the kicks. And what happened to the tradition, what came after-wards? Personal style and opinions. Underdog status, low salaries, private quarters and manager blues, fax, computer and the jungle of subsidies, somehow just everyday, normal life. A nasty little welcome to the World of Jazz. Disillusionment. The bonus for being exotic had nothing to do with the music.
Twenty years ago they began as a consequently improvising group, Bauer remembers. The wisdom of old age, says Sommer. No longer so relentlessly free, no longer so doggedly determined. Direct democracy. Possibly «Plié» before the jazz tradi-tion, in the sense of lightness, says Gumpert. Who never really was able to see the GDR specification, but who knows that music is the greatest whore: It can be used for everything.
The great Synopsis rebellion once followed the artistic sense of form, the Zentralquartett-East was followed by the Zentralquartett-After-The-Wall. The Zentralquartett-Today somehow sounds liberated. And not only because the gentlemen have grown older, the systems buried and with them the great theories. Whether society finds its expression in music? Well, these four believers in direct democracy have differing opinions. Whether the music has changed?
Christian Broecking, Berlin 1994
Recorded February 1, 1994 Radio Studio Zürich DRS, Switzerland. Engineer: Peter Pfister. Cover art: Eberhard Göschel, Design: Eugen Bisig. Liner Notes: Christian Broecking. Photos: Mathias Creutziger. Produced and published by Intakt Records, Patrik Landolt