BABY’S PARTY / SOMMER: Apéro con brio. First Shot. Flinke Besen. Second Shot. A Soft Drink In Between. Inside-Outside-Trip. Third Shot. A Little Nap In Between. WEATHERLY: Danny Boy. ELLINGTON-MILLS: In a Sentimental Mood / Günter Baby Sommer, dm/Jew’s harp; Till Brönner, tpt/fl-hn / Intakt CD 303
Whoever came up with the title of this CD—and somehow, I doubt that it was Baby Sommer—ought to be fired. I, for one, associate the term “jazz party” with a sort of freewheeling jam session, either of an ensemble of all-star jazz musicians (like the Harry Edison-Lionel Hampton-Art Tatum-Barney Kessel-Buddy Rich set) or a big band playing open charts, like Duke Ellington’s “Jazz Party” album from c. 1959. This one is comprised of thoughtful jazz, freely improvised to be sure but rebuffing the concept of “party” music, played by just two musicians, trumpeter and flugelhornist Till Brönner and veteran drummer-composer Günter “Baby” Sommer.
I made comment regarding Sommer’s talents in an earlier review, remarking that his style of jazz seemed to include “elements of swing, bop, free-form, marching band music and a touch of Spike Jones.” The same is true of this unique set, perhaps even more free-form than before, reminiscent of the kind of jazz played by the once-famous Art Ensemble of Chicago (who I actually saw in person once, in Chicago, playing at the art museum there back in the early 1980s).
Although each of these pieces has a title, and all are credited to Sommer as composer, I have no idea how much of it was pre-conceived. Perhaps a few themes were thrown out into the ether for Brönner to improvise on, with Sommer backing him in his unique style; it’s difficult to judge, particularly since this album came to me for review with no liner notes. Clearly, the free jazz arrangement of Danny Boy is the only piece in which Brönner plays the melody straight while Sommer improvises somewhat wildly and imaginatively behind him. Following the full statement of the melody, Brönner goes off on a most interesting improvisation, not quite as free-form as the drummer. One of the things I admired most about the trumpeter’s playing was how he managed to create actual musical structures out of thin air, not just splattering notes into the ether and hoping some of them would stick to the wall or whatever as many other “free jazz” musicians like to do.
Indeed, Brönner manages to create clear-cut, logical musical lines even in such a piece as Flinke Besen, the melody (such as it is) being just a few notes set to a certain rhythm (and in this one, Sommer clearly shows off his marching-band style with some nifty snare drum work). In addition, Brönner manages to follow Sommer’s quick changes of rhythm to inform and shape his own solo. This is jazz playing at a very high level of artistry; there is absolutely no pandering here to popular jazz tastes.
I was a bit taken aback to hear the twang of a Jew’s harp in Second Shot replacing the drums, but Brönner is unfazed by it, playing a sparse but lovely muted solo reminiscent of Miles Davis. In A Soft Drink in Between, Sommer replaces the Jew’s harp with chimes, gong and timpani, creating an odd, mysterious backing for Brönner’s playing, here given through a tape-loop device that reverbs his notes. He is able to play against the tape-delayed playback of his own notes to create yet another developing musical structure. Later on in the track, Sommer switches to playing the Kalimba or thumb piano. It’s quite a wild ride, but not quite as wild as Inside-Outside Trip, on which Sommer makes wordless vocal sounds while pounding out asymmetric rhythms on his bass and tom-toms. When the trumpeter enters, playing stifled, slurred notes with a mute in, Sommer ups the rhythmic complexity and falls in line behind him.
By contrast, Third Shot almost sounds like a straightforward bop number, albeit one played by tuned timpani (shades of Vic Berton!) and trumpet, while A Little Nap in Between features Sommer on snare and cymbals, with occasional bass drum thumps, while Brönner creates his own well-sculpted lines in the foreground. On Der alte Spanier, the duo sets up their most swinging and complex rhythm on the CD, and Brönner really gets creative.
The closer is Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood, played in a most un-sentimental manner, with Sommer all over the drums: snares, cymbals, bass, woodblocks, snare rims, you name it. This is a “jazz party” for smart jazz listeners only; neophytes and Swing Kids need not attend!
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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