Thundering keys, thundering cymbals, skins!
Gumpert and Sommer have already been four decades harnessed together as a team, celebrating music, vibrating alongside life. The “Gumpert-Sommer-Duo” – what a duet! The axis about which everything has always revolved, at some point doubled up into a quartet (Zentralquartett with Conrad Bauer and Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky).
It has been thirty years since then. Ulrich Gumpert and Günter Sommer prepare themselves, put up their grand piano and percussion instruments in order to record in Berlin, for the third time, this time for INTAKT. 2009, and life is thundering on. It only goes to show the power of that history when the Gumpert-Summer zest once again thrives on Biermann. His three songs give the “improvisational free flights their miles & more” (Sommer). Fascinating motives, condensed thoughts.
Collaborations between pianists and drummers often evolve around a unique chemistry creating interesting works of art. Such is the case with Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink, Matthew Ship and Guillermo E. Brown, and Louis Moholo-Moholo and Marilyn Crispell. There's also Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley, Paul Lovens, Jackson Krall or Max Roach). Add pianist Ulrich Gumpert and drummer Günter Baby Sommer to that list.
Maybe the closest comparison that can be made from to the music heard on Das Donnernde Leben ("the thundering life") is that of the Dutch Mengelberg/Bennink duo. While that duo is centered in Amsterdam upholding its European tradition, the music heard here has its roots in the American jazz and blues tradition.
The Gospel-tinged opening track begins with a Sommer drum solo, a gleeful yelp and scat singing, before the melody (an infectious toe-tapper) seals the deal. These two musicians trade solos throughout, finishing the other's phrase, like retelling favorite jokes. Similarly, the Peter Kowald-inspired "Blues Für P.K." is a Thelonious Monk-like piece by Sommer, fastening angular notes upon a blues romp. Tracks like "Free For Two" and the marching track "Soldat, Soldat" are great fun in their serious cartoon animated method. Sommer is a great colorist, moving beyond timekeeping into melody making.
When things turn a bit heavier on tracks like "Free For All" and "Ermutigung," the duo thoroughly shines. Gumpert's classical and improvisation skills assume control doling out interpretational wisdom with the gentlest of touch. The pianist has the ability to ring the keyboards as a percussionist or stroke the ivories as if he were holding a newborn. The session is best summed up by the final track, the hesitantly swinging waltz "Das kann doch nicht alles gewesen sein." Sommer and Gumpert dance in a synchronous, yet casual dance of music that is simply sublime.
Mark Corroto, Allaboutjazz, USA, December 08, 2009
This is a delightful album, by turns serious and light-hearted, sincere and ironic, serene and tumultuous. Pianist Ulrich Gumpert and drummer Günter Baby Sommer are long-time duet partners, dating back to FMP releases in the 1970s, and this album takes on added significance as their first recorded duet since then. It covers much of the same territory as the earlier albums, a terrain of free improvisation with outcroppings of folk musics, marches, Tin Pan Alley, and jazz and blues. It is a landscape they have inhabited for decades and they are comfortable wandering through it. They may not barrel around in it as heedlessly as they did in their youth, but with maturity has come the virtues of patience and refinement; they still know how to unearth a surprise or two. It’s virtuosic and highly focused, of course, but it sounds as intimate and casual as if Gumpert turned to Sommer and simply said, “Old friend, let’s play.” When Gumpert and Sommer first started mixing vernacular references into their improvisations, it was far less commonplace that it is today. They’re old hands at it now and it is second nature to them. The freedom and intense concentration of their genre manipulations make every incongruity seem like a logical outgrowth in the development of the piece. The improvised “Free for Two” opens with Gumpert’s deliberately awkward lines teetering precariously over Sommer’s swinging beat. It sounds as if the piece might fall apart at any moment, but it’s actually carefully balanced. Before long Gumpert is playing stride piano and Sommer is doing tippy-tappy soft-shoe rhythms as if the music had wandered into a tipsy vaudeville rehearsal. “Funk for Two” is a soul jazz tune in which all the elements – blues, gospel, riffs, bop lines – tumble together one over the other. Their arrangement of a Japanese folk song, “Kami-Fusen” lingers over the tune’s sense of nostalgia and loss; it’s quite touching. On the other hand, “Soldat, Soldat” is witheringly ironic. They play the martial theme with corrosive mockery, dismantle it in their improvisation and give it a disdainful reprise. The entire disc brims with witty merry-making, and there’s a lightness to their approach that prevents the more sober moments from sounding ponderous or solemn. “Free of All,” another improvised piece, is the album’s best example of their upbeat seriousness. They play with such brio; their dissection of melody, rhythm, and sound is so thorough; and their ability to play together is so telepathic that the music begins to sound as if it were made by a six-limbed drummer or a four-handed pianist. It’s music that only old friends can make.
Ed Hazell, Pointofdeparture, Issue 27, February 2010
released December 14, 2009
Ulrich Gumpert: piano
Günter Baby Sommer: drums, percussion
Recorded Mai, 4 and 5, 2009 by Kulturradio vom Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg. Cover art: Peter Graf. Graphic design: Jonas Schoder. Linernotes: Oliver Schwerdt. Produced and published by Intakt Records, Patrik Landolt