A Visit With Urs Blöchinger Revisited

Urs Blochinger Revisited

HARRY DOESN’T MIND / BLÖCHINGER: Harry Doesn’t Mind. Adrenallini. Rudy the Pimp. I Love You – But Later. Kungusisches Arbeiterlied (Keiner Weiss Hinte, Wie er Vorne Dran Ist). Bhagwan Business. King Arthur Meets Hanns Eisler in Hollywood / Silvan Schmid, tpt; Lino Blöchinger, sxs; Sebastian Strinning, sxs/bs-cl; Beat Unternährer, tb; Christopher Baumann, pno; Neal Davis, bs; Dieter Ulrich, dm / Leo Records LR 885

Urs Blöchinger was a German free-jazz saxist who lived hard, burned the candles at both ends and took a blowtorch to the middle, dying in 1995 at the age of 41. This makeshift band, put together for this recording date, features Blöchinger’s son Lino on saxes along with a group of talented musicians playing tunes that he wrote.

The opening is truly bizarre, with whistle sounds and blurts and splats emanating from the instruments. The string bass plays a few notes, but the cacophony continues (even when piano and drums enter) for some time. Ever so slowly, the music coalesces until, at 2:04, we hear a slow, heavy repeated lick played over a tempo that slightly drags back on each beat, the band sounding like a drunken group of musicians playing at 3 in the morning.  There is an even briefer intermittent theme that serves as the B portion of the tune, then Lino Blöchinger begins his squealing and squawking on the tenor sax as the rhythm section goes berserk behind him. Little of it is sensible, but it is exciting as certainly pushes the envelope. At 5:01, a variation on the opening theme is heard, leading to a piano interlude by Christopher Baumann, then more of the ensemble as the theme is somewhat developed. A similarly splattered solo is then played by Beat Unternähnrer on trombone, in the second chorus of which pianist Baumann goes crazy behind him. Eventually, a series of double-time licks played by the trumpet and saxes come and go, slowing down once again as the theme is further developed. Most of the latter part of this track is played by the group as an ensemble. At 11:46 a regular beat, somewhat related to Latin music, establishes itself as an alto sax plays an excellent solo; I’m not sure if this is Blöchinger or Sebastian Strinning. We end with the same slow opening theme played as a coda.

Adrenallini is a fast-paced piece that also opens with some cacophony from the sax and bass clarinet. This becomes increasingly wilder until at 1:29, the strange, serrated theme appears, dying out on sustained notes, over which trumpeter Silvan Schmid plays a few licks, followed by the rhythm section. Schmid returns after a few bars to continue, now a bit more controlled, over it. The liner notes state that this piece was a tribute to Adrian Rollini, the great early-jazz bass sax, goofus, hot fountain pen and vibes player of the 1920s through the mid-‘40s, but it also states, erroneously, that Rollini “died after falling down a staircase – in delirium tremens!” This is simply not so. Rollini died in a hospital following an auto-related accident in the parking lot of the Green Turtle Inn at the Islamadora Key in Florida. According to Wikipedia,

He died after an 18-day stay in the hospital. According to the book, Jazz and Death: Medical Profiles of Jazz Greats (2002), the author, M.D. Frederick J. Spencer (also a coroner) went back and analyzed Rollini’s death along with many other jazz greats, and discovered Rollini truly died of mercury poisoning. While in his 18-day stay, he had developed a resistance to feeding and so a glass tube had been inserted into his stomach. The tube was weighted with mercury and somehow the tube broke, exposing Rollini to mercury poisoning.

As I’ve said many times: Don’t trust doctors, particularly those in hospitals.

By track 3, it has become apparent that every piece on this album is to begin with cacophony. This time, in Rudy the Pimp, it doesn’t quiet down until well after the opening theme is heard around 1:21.At 1:50 we finally hear the real downbeat and we’re off to the races in a fast-paced, somewhat boogie-woogie sort of piece with a truly interesting melodic line and strange underlying harmony. I really liked this one; it has a great beat, an interesting line, and Schmid’s trumpet solo is truly outstanding. At 4:55 there’s also an interesting interlude played by the two reeds, with the trumpet joining them for the development. Baumann also contributes a somewhat hectic but interesting solo. This is a great piece.

I love You – But Later is, unusually for this sort of music, a ballad, but a very sophisticated one. The bitonal melodic line rises and falls stepwise, with brief, excited interludes played by the trumpet. Dieter Ulrich’s notes tell us that it “continually celebrates moments of inner collapse, working like self-interrogation or self-sabotage.” The music becomes much more frenetic when Lino Blöchinger enters on the tenor sax for a frantic solo, calming down when Strinning enters to duet with him on alto. Baumann also has an excellent solo on this one. There’s sort of a Mingus feel to this piece in its variegated sections that are pulled together by the musicians.

Kungusisches Arbeiterlied was one of Urs Blöchinger’s experiments in creating his own folklore inspired by Rumanian and Bulgarian folk music but informed with the sophistication of his own culture. This one does not start out too frenetic, but rather moves into an extended bass solo by Neal Davis before moving into a catchy but somewhat elusive melody in an irregular meter. Then we get the cacophony as the band explodes and goes berserk, with the two reeds in particular fighting it out between them as a duo. Then, at 4:05, the strange-but-catchy melody returns as the band plays as an ensemble for some time. This is a quintessentially German jazz piece, leaning on a quasi-mechanical beat, almost as if an automaton were playing it…sort of a jazz version of Kraftwerk. The subtitle, Keiner Weiss Hinte, Wie er Vorne Dran Ist, translates into English as Nobody knows backwards how he is in front.

Bhagwan Business opens with a drum solo, evolving into slowly-moving downward chromatics before simulating Indian music. This piece, the notes tell us, was Blöchinger’s reaction to the multimillion-dollar cult of Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh during the 1980s. Eventually the band really screams in protest to the Bhagwan’s religious scams, particularly trumpeter Schmid but also the others. Then, at 2:45, the music suddenly slows down and picks up a more recognizable beat. (Historical footnote: hounded out of America and sued on two continents, Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh later changed his name to Osho and began issuing books on enlightenment with totally different photos of himself on the covers. I know. I owned one though I was never a member of his cult.)

King Arthur Meets Hanns Eisler in Hollywood moves forward in a confused muddle of tempi and themes. This composition continues to change and morph as it goes along, using different themes as well as variants on previous themes, although there is an excellent alto sax solo that acts as an interlude, played over an unchanging C minor chord. Following this, there is an ensemble break, then a pretty wild bass clarinet solo, sounding a bit like Eric Dolphy on acid. The piano and bass clarinet then play a repeating motif in unison as the trombone goes wild in his solo and the rhythm section implodes beneath him. This is another excellent piece, in fact better than anything Hanns Eisler ever wrote.

Some of this music may baffle the listener; in places, it did me; but it will also challenge you and, in the end, I think you will gain respect for these musicians and what they have accomplished here. The music is clearly good enough overall to warrant your owning this disc and listening to it a few times to absorb all of what is going on here.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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