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Between Heaven and Earth


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Being Born 03:34
Wondering 06:36
Waiting For 04:22
Fighting 03:03
Looking Out 04:08
Travelling 03:20
Loving 04:26
Suffering 02:22
Playing 07:08


Intakt CD 079

For fifteen years, the trio Bauer-Kowald-Sommer toured, playing at numerous festivals in Europe and the USA, at the "Black Art Festival" in Atlanta Cityor at the "Vision Festival" in New York. In December 2001, the three made their way into the studio in Zurich and recorded a beautiful CD over two days. Powerful, earthy sounds, tonal games, group improvisations, grooves and drive: the great spectrum of three masters playing with the current forms of jazz. No one would have thought back in December 2001 in Zurich that this would be the last recording of trio with Peter Kowald. After the unexpected death of the bassist in September 2002, this recording has become a document to the memory of the bassist, as well as a declaration of friendship from Günter Sommer and Conrad Bauer. "For thirty years, this friendship to Peter Kowald enriched my life," writes the drummer Günter Sommer in the liner notes. "He did not only show me vast parts of the world, but through him I understood what keeps us moving, in the end,is the ability to do something with desire and love, to love something!"


A very real sense of melancholy might come over you somewhere into Between Heaven and Earth, the final recording by this trio of remarkable German improvisers. Peter Kowald's sudden death last year makes many of these moments seem particularly meaningful, bathed as they are in dark, somber tones. Recorded over two days in Zürich in late 2001, these 11 improvisations range in scope and texture, but the peerless sound (bravo, Martin Pearson) makes many of these variations seem perfectly voiced. Each man is simply magnificent: Conrad Bauer's pregnant slurs, extended techniques, and great, bellowing tones; Günter Sommer's cycles of grave minimalism; and Kowald's arco and pizzicato turns that combine quiet authority and tangled discord.
Greg Buium, CODA, Canada, July/August 2003

Strangely prophetic in its title, Between Heaven and Earth, is the second and final CD of this particular trio, recorded about 10 months before the sudden death of bassist Peter Kowald at 58.
It was only one of the many projects involving the peripatetic bassist, who over the years had expanded his reach from being a German free jazz player to someone as comfortable playing with Asian traditional instrumentalists as American downtowners. But in the mixed-up mosaic of continental politics, this German trio was unique on its own.
That's because its other two members -- trombonist Conrad Bauer and percussionist Günter Sommer -- were East German improvisers. Long before the Berlin Wall came down, Kowald made it a point not only to play with his countrymen in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), but he arranged through quasi-official channels to regularly "import" the drummer to be part of his band on European and Japanese dates.
Altruism was coupled with actuality, for in the trombonist and drummer he had two of the best musicians extant in the GDR -- and elsewhere. Both members of the experimental ZentralQuartet, Bauer who here combines a sly gutbucket tone with more sophisticated stylings, had also been a members of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra. Sommer has the sense of humor and sometimes-offbeat instrumental palate that resembles the work of Han Bennink. His main Western contact has been Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer.
Well-recorded in a Zürich, this bittersweet reunion after a decade's separation is almost appropriately restrained. But the muted outlook has more to do with the percussionist's harnessed playing than any portend of what would happen months hence. Plus each man contributes mightily to the proceedings.
With a pronounced lip and tongue vibrato Bauer can create in both post-modern and pre-modern styles. For the former, sometimes dipping into bass trombone territory he showcases droning pedal point, or snarls notes from his throat in such a way that a combination of that and slide positions mirror the elasticity of a saxophone. Other times he goes higher into hunter's horn territory.
As for the latter, when a tune like "Playing" arrives, he intensified his raucous tone by screwing a bucket or cup mute into his bell and pushing out a Jack Teagarden- style burr. Kowald and Sommer still act like a standard, modern jazz rhythm section so he follows this with the coloration of sharp slide notes. Imagine a J.J. Johnson with shorter arms.
Besides producing a waking tone, the bassist can create a drone all by himself. That is when he isn't sliding out some measured tones with his bow or trilling with his fingers on the strings. On "Waiting For" among the bell ringing from Sommer's kit, you can hear the bass rumble turn to screeching, daxophone-like tones, then sawing away in higher registers. "And Playing Again" even finds him dipping into semi-classical polish for a time, while the four square rhythm he adds to "Travelling Again" makes it sound as if he's using an electric bass.
The percussionist rocks with the best of them on that tune and shows off his jazz-appropriate press roll and sizzle cymbal work elsewhere. But he definitely doesn't confine himself to the standard kit. Or if he does, he makes it sound differently. Right at the beginning, he introduces "Being Born" with an extended Jew's harp twang. On "Suffering" he appears to be using a xylophone to counter Bauer's gutbucket blats and Kowald's speedy plinks, and on "Travelling" uses his tom toms to produce a Native American Indian-style beat at the end.
One shouldn't sell his quirkiness short however. Interspersed among cowbell smacks, ride cymbals hits and bass pedal drum accents are a few vocalized screams and what sound suspiciously like garbage can lids being stroked. All this is going on as he keeps changing tempo. And what about the sound that interrupts Bauer's quasi-romantic trombone and Kowald's swirling pizz on "Looking Out?" Surely the drummer is manipulating a tambora, not finessing a bolo bat.
All good things must come to and end, as did this trio. At least it left us a keepsake in the shape of this impressive CD.
Ken Waxman, azzweekly, Mai 2003


released January 1, 2003

Conrad Bauer: Trombone
Peter Kowald: Bass
Günter Sommer: Drums

Compositons by Conrad Bauer, Peter Kowald, Günter Sommer (GEMA/SUISA). Recorded November 30 and December 1, 2001 by Martin Pearson at Radio Studio DRS, Zürich, Switzerland. Produced by Intakt Records. Published and Copyright by Intakt Records. Cover Art: Strawalde. Liner Notes: Günter Sommer. Executive Production: Patrik Landolt


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