This is one of my two choice improv reissues of the year (notwithstanding Solar Records’ wonderful Sonny Rollins and Don Cherry: Complete Live at the Village Gate 1962) – the other being Anthony Braxton & Derek Bailey – First Duo Concert (London 1974), which I’ve already reviewed. Both albums were recorded in the period 1969-74, and both in various ways play on tensions between musical organisation and nascent freedoms.
Unlike Braxton and Bailey, the Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden will likely be unfamiliar to most. They were active only from 1969-1972, and then mostly within Germany. They are an absolutely fabulous discovery. The single CD Frictions/Frictions Now (NoBusiness) accommodates their complete recordings, excepting only an eight minute festival excerpt included on the Born Free compilation (Scout, 1970).
The group featured two composers in trumpeter Michael Sell and multi-instrumentalist Dieter Scherf, alongside a strikingly original electric guitarist, Gerhard König, and a drummer, Wolfgang Schlick, whose style sounds distinctly contemporary today. Their togetherness on these dates is remarkable – there’s not an unfocused or unconcentrated moment on either of the two albums compiled here.
Their first release, Frictions, was recorded at Walldorf Studio on 12 July 1969, in sessions that yielded a single continuous piece lasting 37:32, which comprises seven interlinked sections with thematic composition credited individually to Scherf and Sell: “Intro For Four” (Scherf), “Topology” (Sell), “Töne” (Sell), “Sounds For M” (Scherf), “Töne I” (Sell), “Ballad-Allintervallreihe” (Scherf), “Peaceless” (Scherf).
The follow-up, Frictions Now, was recorded two yeas later, again at Walldorf studio, and presents two pieces: “Frictons Now Part I” (17:16) and “Part 2” (18:35), which are both free improvisations.
Both albums were originally issued in their respective years of recording, each as private press editions limited to only 500 copies.
“Frictions” opens with Scherf on piano, König on flute, and Schlick vigorous on toms, and this is the most dated passage of play on the album, evocative of any number early 70s multi-kulti enterprises. But there’s an effortless transition to full kit drumming behind twinned sax and trumpet, and the quartet are soon playing with focused intensity, Scherf’s sax ever on the cusp of plaintive anguish and hymnal ecstasy. Sell’s trumpet is Scherf’s more penetrating counterpart: both tonally and expressively they combine supremely well.
Transitions between the composed sections are distinct, sometimes abrupt, but smoothly negotiated. The quartet course through thematic material that offers plenty of variation—notably an exposed sax solo after 15 minutes—using it up and moving on in seemingly impulsive momentum.
In this bass-less context the ever-resourceful König’s guitar plays both rhythmic and counter-textural roles. Working in a small town at the birth of the free jazz movement, both König and Schlick had previously played in rock and soul groups, and the drummer, in particular, brings unashamed emphatics to bear. One of the more beautiful passages has wiry guitar chords chopped out over insistent polyrhythms, all sprinkled with glisters of inner piano.
Just occasionally, Scherf, in particular, sounds like Peter Brötzmann, whose milestone recording Machine Gun dates from only one year earlier. But in its free-ranging semi-structure FJGW’s music also evidences awareness of the 1950s innovations of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman (Coleman and Don Cherry’s double voicing, in particular, is echoed in the Scherf/Sell sound), and touches on aspects of the music developed much later by jazz-rock outfits such as Nucleus to Last Exit.
The later recording, though freer and certainly more free-flowing, sounds equally well thought through, if not mapped out. “Frictions Now Part I” is focused, tempered and nuanced. It begins with König’s thrumming away like a bass beneath a freewheeling commingle of brass and reeds, all kept airborne by regular bass drum detonations and a welter of cymbal skims. Collective intensity is maintained throughout a performance that arcs from ardour to vehemence.
“Frictions Now Part II” is cooler but still intense, with an apparent AACM/Art Ensemble influence at first, particularly in König and Scherf’s early use of flute, then closer to the more combative Free Music Production (FMP) aesthetic. While the AACM in America and Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden were direct contemporaries, the latter’s fusion of free jazz and world music is distinctly their own, and this piece, which is increasingly focused on the grain of individual frictions, pure sound as noise, actually sounds contemporary today.
Nearing a conclusion, König’s tempered guitar solo with thematic trumpet accompaniment adds a Morricone-esque twist, but Scherf’s impassioned saxophony fires things up again, reprising the ardour and open intensity of “Frictions Part 1”.
Each of the three sets on this disc represents an advance on the already impressive last. Though it’s a pity there’s no more to come, the album distills the compulsion of origination into a potent and enthralling 73 minutes of timeless music.
After FJGW disbanded 1973, Scherf ran a short-lived trio with Paul Lovens and Jacek Bednarek (their only recording, Inside-Outside Reflections, was reissued in 2005 on Atavistic). Meanwhile Schell increasingly focused on composition, releasing music through his own MISP-Records imprint. Other details are hard to come by, König being represented on Discogs by only a single 1981 date backing vocalist Jürgen Albers.
Michael Sell trumpet; Dieter Scherf alto saxophone, oboe, piano, shepherd’s flute, shenai, prepared trumpet, bamboo flute; Gerhard König guitar, prepared guitar, flute, double flute; Wolfgang Schlick drums, metal.
Buy Frictions/Frictions Now direct from NoBusiness.