Drei Katzen

On this vinyl LP by Neuköllner Modelle we have a lengthy session of free-jazz-improvised music played by the trio Bertrand Denzler, Joel Grip, and Sven-Åke Johansson. One thing to mention about Sektion 1-2 (UMLAUT RECORDS umlp03) is that it was actually recorded in Neukölln, a Berlin district known and loved by us Bowie / Eno fans since the Heroes LP, and a piece of music which happened to feature a memorable saxophone blast from Bowie. It’s also referenced in the liner notes written by Bastian Zimmermann, evidently a fellow who’s a cognoscenti of modern cafe society in today’s German bustling environs, and who contextualises the performance in an oblique manner with his penmanship. He’d like us to know that Neukölln has moved on since 1977 when the Bowie-Eno angstified view of the neighbourhood was published. “Every religious group is represented here,” he tells us. He also describes the Sowieso club where this record was made, with its unusual stage setup and choice of alcoholic beverages. So far it sounds like certain hipster zones of London, such as Dalston or Hackney, but probably less forced and self-conscious.

French saxman (great improviser and composer/conceptualist) Denzler has been puffing his tenor around these parts for some years now, most recently on Le Ring with Gerbal and Dörner…I’ve got to admire his restrained work on this recording, mainly because I like the short repeated phrases he keeps giving out. At key moments, you’ll get stuck in a delicious music loop with these simple statements of his. I’m convinced it means more than it appears to, especially if you think of more forthright 1970s improvisers who felt as though nothing short of 45 minutes of continual invention would do, never allowing a single repeat of anything if possible. Here of course it’s the same but not the same, the repetitions changing as they advance along, always framed and reframed by the very elastic context of the rhythm section. Some of this is down to the superbly flexible bass work of Joel Grip, but a lot of it is down to veteran drumster Johansson, who delineates one of the most open-ended percussion frameworks that an improvising musician could hope for. He also does it doe a long time – the whole record is over 52 mins long. And it’s quite understated, like the whole record in fact; energy is implied, for sure, but there’s none of your explosive roaring free jazz squonking afoot here. The dead-on accuracy of Johansson’s beats is uncanny, if we can use the word accuracy when trying to describe such a free-form, nebulous, pattern of activity.

Johansson is a long-serving hero of free improvisation and free jazz, first appearing on the FMP label in 1972, much to Sweden’s credit; he’s played with most of the greats of Europe, but to my shame I don’t appear to have collected or heard much of his back catalogue. Speaking of FMP, the pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach teamed up with this trio in 2017 and the foursome created Sektion 3-7, a double CD set which hopefully continues the grooves and themes laid down on this platter. I’m still trying to come to terms with the achievement of Sektion 1-2, running it mentally against certain templates in my brain; the New York Art Quartet from 1965 on ESP-Disk is one touchstone, with a similar constrained power and acoustic brittleness, but today’s record also has the slippery lines of certain Albert Ayler records, yet without feeling the need to overstate, overblow, or otherwise belt out histrionic excess. This may say something about the European temperament of the players and their Protestant roots. But this isn’t a cold, unfeeling record, and it still transports us from one place to another in its laid-back, close-lipped style. From 4th November 2016.

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