Exploring “Baby” Sommer’s Wild, Multi-Faceted Jazz

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LE PICCOLE COSE: LIVE AT THE THEATER GÜTERSLOH / SCHOOF: Like Don. Mellow Mood. SOMMER: Inside Out Shout. Andartes. Marias Miroloi. Hymnus. TROVESI: No Parietto. Interview with Günter Baby Sommer / Manfred Schoof, tp/fl-hn; Gianluigi Trovesi, a-sax/a-cl; Antonio Borghini, bs; Günter “Baby” Sommer, dm / Intuition INTCHR 71321 (live: North Rhine-Westphalia, October 31, 2016)

It’s always difficult for an outsider to come into the world of a musician who’s been around for half a century, yet whose work you know nothing about. Such is the case of 73-year-old German jazz drummer-bandleader Günter “Baby” Sommer, whose playing combines elements of swing, bop, free-form, marching band music and a touch of Spike Jones. Coming out of Dresden, Sommer rose to fame in the German Deutsche Republic and is now a professor of drums and percussion in his native city.

The opening drum solo of the first piece, Like Don, sounded so much to me like the rhythm and tempo of the William Tell Overture that I started singing along with the “Lone Ranger theme” portion. Most of this piece, however, sounds like early Ornette Coleman except that it has a chordal progression which makes it unlike Coleman’s music. Nonetheless, alto saxist Trovesi sounds so much like Coleman on this track it’s uncanny, and Sommer lays down a hybrid swing-bop-ragtime drum base behind it all.

Sommer’s own Inside Out Shout, on the other hand, is free jazz in the style of later Coleman and/or some of those who followed in his footsteps (like Pharaoh Sanders). On both tracks, I was deeply impressed by the tremendous trumpet playing of Manfred Schoof, who has great chops and does a fine job of synthesizing different styles as the leader himself does.

Schoof’s Mellow Mood, though indeed mellow, is no namby-pamby soft ballad, but a slightly dark-sounding tune built around a four-bar progression with Borghini playing bowed bass. Trovesi switches to alto clarinet on this track, providing a lovely sound which was seldom heard in American jazz of the 1960s and later, when clarinets of all sorts except for the bass clarinet (made famous by Eric Dolphy) disappeared from the jazz scene. Oddly, this tune bears a closer resemblance to something Mingus would have done rather than Coleman, but in Trovesi’s No Parietto we are back in Ornette-land, very much so, with Trovesi scatter-gunning notes in the opening part of his solo and squealing in the second part. Schoof does his very best Don Cherry imitation, too, running up and down the horn and occasionally playing circular chromatic runs. Sommer plays aggressive-sounding paradiddles behind an excellent bass solo by Borghini, then both Schoof and Trovesi come in, together, to ride things out.

Sommer_2008

Gunter “Baby” Sommer in 2008

Andartes begins with a march-like drum solo, and this beat continues into the tune, an odd-sounding melody in C which alternates between the major and the minor. Free-form squalls interrupt the flow in the middle, with both Schoof and Trovesi playing together while someone (Sommer?) blows on a whistle in the background. Marias Miroloi opens up with a rumbling, low bass drone on a pedal B-flat while Schoof (on flugelhorn) and Trovesi (on alto clarinet) play ominous figures around it in B-flat minor. Eventually a singer enters, doing a sort of Middle Eastern sort of whine…since no vocalist is credited, I’m assuming it’s the leader, since his role is reduced here to playing a chime in the background. The mood is broken with Trovesi’s entrance on alto sax, where the tempo suddenly increases and Sommer’s drums get busy. Sommer shouts encouragement behind him while ramping up his percussion contributions. The bass drone and the ominous figure return for the finale.

The last piece on this disc, Sommer’s Hymnus, is another Mingus-like piece, also built around a droning bowed bass but having a bit more rythmic energy. The simple but attractive theme, played in unison by the two horns, leads to a second chorus in which they play it in harmony. When Schoof reaches his solo, the tune has somehow morphed into something like a shortened version of the Tennesee Waltz. The tempo picks up slightly as he plays variants on this, then even more when Trovesi returns on alto sax. A bit later, both horns wail in counter-action to each other, creating a nice sort of jazz polyphony. A more free-form section in a similar vein acts as the piece’s coda.

The CD concludes with an 11-minute interview with Sommer, unfortunately in German with no translation available, but the music on this disc is surely of a high enough quality to persuade several Americans to take the plunge. I did make out that he mentions Louis Armstrong and Baby Dodds, the latter several times, so apparently that’s where his nickname came from!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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