14 February 2008


After nearly a week in Vienna, it was time to move on. Sonore headed to Berlin to take part in the Peter Brotzmann Total on the weekend of November 2nd and 3rd, alongside Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller of Full Blast, as well as Johannes and Connie Bauer, and Clayton Thomas. Peter intentionally planned this mini-festival to coincide with the Berlin Jazz Festival and the Total Music Meeting, in a way it was a counter-festival to the counter-festival that FMP originally organized to contrast the more traditional Berlin festival. Based on my impressions of what Peter had to say about his reasons for putting together this weekend at the Schlot Jazzclub, both the older festivals in Berlin had become entrenched and stale, no longer about indicating where the music might be going but more about where it’s been and where it’s staying.

As is usually the case when we’re together, Mats, Peter, and I do a fair amount of talking about music, art, and politics, and how the three are entwined. During one of these discussions Peter brought up the point that, although the roots of Jazz came from a perspective of entertainment (and art!), in the social and political climate of the 1960’s and 70’s the music took on a more overtly political construction and gave expression to the frustration directed at the status quo power in the United States (particularly from Black America) and in Europe (almost every country on the continent had an avant-garde collective pushing against the edge of Jazz and Improvised Music). As the forward thinking politics of that time failed to take hold, and governments more or less returned to business as usual, many musicians also lost a connection to revolutionary ideas. This led to a return to conservatism in the mainstream of the music, much like what had begun to take hold in the international political arena during the 1980’s. For many, this brought a “return to the rules” and to “entertainment,” since there seemed to be little else to go on, based on the cultural climate.

As if hanging to illustrate his point, there were a number of posters from the Berlin Jazz Festival during the 1970’s scattered on the walls of the Schlot Jazzclub. The program in 1971 included: Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, the Ornette Coleman Quartet, Miles Davis’s (electric) Group, the Peter Brotzmann Trio, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Tony William’s Lifetime, the Albert Mangelsdorf Quartet, the Gunter Hampel Quintet, the New Jazz Trio with Gerd Dudek; and from the mainstream were Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, and the Preservation Hall Band. The following year: Derek Bailey solo, the Tony Oxley Sextet, Iskra 1903, the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, the Howard Riley Trio, the Evan Parker/Paul Lytton Duo, Ornette Coleman solo, Rahsaan Roland Kirk solo, and Pierre Favre solo; and from the mainstream were Cannonball Adderly, Phil Woods, Jimmy Smith, Dave Brubeck with Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond, and the Elvin Jones Quartet. By 1975 things had begun to shift: Mal Waldron’s group with Steve Lacy, the Cecil Taylor Unit, and Anthony Braxton with the Gruppe Neue Music Berlin; from the mainstream/populist bands were John Abercrombie’s Lookout Farm, the Jean-Luc Ponty Quintet, Weather Report, Gary Bartz, a Rhythm and Blues Review: Roots of Rock, the Jimmy Owens Quartet, Woody Shaw, Machito’s band, and the New York Repertory Company playing the music of Louis Armstrong. I site this trend not as a criticism in shifts of quality, but to point out a distinct shift in aesthetics. It would seem that by the mid 1970’s there was already a move away from a focus on the music’s cutting edge, and towards music that represented an earlier sensibility that met expectations rather than challenging them directly.

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