Frey Tiepold Thierfelder Lang: Colibry (1981) Verabra

Straying out of Modern Jazz Quarantine, vacillating between bop, hard-bop, post bop and hip-bop, LJC breaks his own rules again, venturing into the genre of European jazz rock of the early ’80s Germany, nein-bop.

It’s a  record probably unknown to most, by a short-lived group  whose name is extremely long and no-one is likely to have heard of. Own up if you have, but I won’t hold my breath.

I offer you a forty-year old  European time travel  trip, a celebration of what kind of music the new generation of keyboard synths could create. Fully refundable if you are not satisfied with the music, at 1980’s prices of course.  Anyone wondering what the album title Colibry means: don’t. It has since been adopted by a hair-follicle depiliation product, and you don’t really want to know what follicle depilation is.

Selection: Four Elements (Frey, Tiepold)

.  .  .


Mathias Frey, piano, PPG Synthesiser; Wolfgang Tiepold, cello; Michael Thierfelder, percussion, congas; Stefan Lang, timbales, percussion; recorded 1981 at Cottage Tonstudio, Weisbaden, Germany,  engineer, Kurt Hummel.

The PPG 2 Wave Synthesiser:

The PPG Wave was a series of hybrid digital/analogue synthesizers built by the German company Palm Products GmbH (PPG), from 1981 to 1987.  PPG’s Wave series combined a digital sound engine with analog VCAs and 24db per octave VCFs  (me neither), featuring 8-voice polyphony, and around a hundred pre-sets ranging from “percussive hard bell” to “brass long attack”,  “space poly with wave sweep” and mouth-organ. Hours of harmless fun!

I read the 24 page Wave PPG manual, very complex description of wave-form synthesis, but nowhere did it tell me how to switch it on.

You are likely to have heard the PPG. Artists who used the Wave and presumably knew how to switch it on included  Norwegian synth-pop band a-ha (Take On Me, 1984), Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, The Stranglers  (Golden Brown, 1982) , Talk Talk, Tears for Fears  (Everybody Wants to Rule the World, 1985); PopSynth bands ruled the ’80s, big hair and shoulder-pads, however the use here is quite artful, mixed with conventional piano, staccato and arpeggios intermingle well with bowed, strummed  and plucked cello,  all very “European classical jazz fusion”, a long way from pop-synth.

Centuries ago, Germany churned out genius classical composers by the barrow-load, J.S. Bach,  Beethoven, Strauss, Wagner, Bachman-Turner Uber-drive. Its native contributions to the jazz scene have been limited:  German pianist Jutta Hipp moved to the US; the Gigi Campi/ Cologne scene employed largely expatriate artists, Saba/MPS Black Forest recordings of visiting American players. A few original German players stand out – trombonist Albert Manglesdorff , Joachim and Rolf Kuhn, Eberhard Weber.  Germany seemed largely content to listen to the jazz output of other countries, and concentrate on making better automobiles. (I say that as a three-time owner of a BMW). But also, the great condenser valve microphones that revolutionized jazz recording quality, danke schoen, Neumann.

Formed as a quartet in 1980, Mathias Frey and company  performed at numerous German  jazz festivals – Jazz East-West, the German Jazz Festival Frankfurt and the Berlin Jazz Days. Joachim-Ernst Berendt, a prominent German jazz writer and radio presenter, called them the “most important new group on the German scene in recent years” – referring to late Seventies early  Eighties.

Back in the 70s, saxopohonist Klaus Doldinger’s jazz-rock band Passport made regular appearances on my very modest turntable. Manfred Eicher’s ECM label is worthy of mention, though  much of the World Music leaning catalogue – Marooned Overnight on a Norwegian Fjord (Jan Garbarek) – is not to my taste. In the 80s, jazz in Germany splintered into many directions:  traditional repertory, various currents of free jazz (Peter Brötzmann – Machine Gun), 57 varieties of fusion, neobop,  and neo-classical or chamber jazz.

I  claim to rescue this album from obscurity. Costs nothing.


1980’s European Jazz Rock Classical Fusion,  mixing classical cello with synthesiser-driven melodic elements  and multi-layered  percussion.

I have a (hitherto undisclosed) liking for European contemporary classical school,  post-modern classical, like the classically-trained German-born British composer  Max Richter, incorporating the use of the violin and cello and acoustic piano: Memoryhouse (2002) The Blue Notebooks (2004) Songs From Before (2006), all on vinyl. These offer composed cinematic  narratives, which portray the grandeur of old European cities, obligatory environmental effect – in the rain,  string quartet, whispered voices, the iconic stacatto of a manual typewriter turning thoughts into print, a modern assemblage of things “past”. Quite lovely.

Hailing from 1981, I don’t know what to call Colibry,  it can’t be post-anything, because it is pre-post. Is that an oxymoron?

Vinyl: Verabra Records, Cologne; Verabra  No.2

Verebra Records were active in Cologne 1980-85, their main label star was the Swiss new age harpist Andreas Vollenweider, who I vaguely remember hearing at the time.

Hot on the heels of Japanese inserts, we have a German insert, none of which I can read. Any of our German friends, anything of note, welcome input.

Collector’s Corner

I thought I had my jazz musical preferences well under control, but a chance visit to a certain London DJ’s shop in Soho, hat tip Jean Claude, I found this title thrust under my nose. “Try it. I think you might like it. It was way ahead of its time.”

On to the technics deck, I dropped the needle and suddenly I found myself drawn into a baroque canvas of melodic synths patterns and percussion, the sweeping drama of William Tiepold’s cello. Better still, an engaging vinyl presentation untypical of mainstream 80s vinyl, recorded comfortably before the arrival of the CD.   I can usually tell within a couple of seconds if a recording  is for me. In theory I should hate this, but so much for theories,  without hesitation, I bagged it. Probably no-one was more surprised than Jean-Claude. Well, perhaps one person: me.

Some people insist they love every kind of music, others admit a narrowly defined taste but great depth within.  I  endorse Whitney Balliett’s definition of jazz: the sound of surprise. To that I’ll add, surprise can come from unexpected directions.

Post lock-down, LJC has lost it, European Jazz Welcome Here –  Wave Synths!   Any stories of musical discovery: I now cater for all sorts, you are among friends, its safe to tell all your musical dark secrets. Honestly, I promise not to laugh. At least not out loud.




9 thoughts on “Frey Tiepold Thierfelder Lang: Colibry (1981) Verabra

  1. Okay, I just took a flyer and bought this record (sticker price) on eBay. $25, probably the only copy in the United States of America, and how bad can it be? We’ll find out. Prost!

    • This record arrived today and I gave it a first listen while pretending to work for a living. Fortunately the record is in pristine condition, truly near-mint, played once is my guess, perhaps by a buyer who thought he/she/they were buying something else. I still suspect this may be the only copy in the USA.

      It was other than I expected, but not in a bad way. For some reason I had anticipated heavy synth in a prog-rock mode, perhaps mingled with seemingly unstructured Ornette Coleman-esque free jazz. In fact the music is quite structured, reminiscent of Baroque chamber music, with relatively little apparent improvisation (or perhaps the improvisation is so cleverly woven in with the structure that it isn’t obvious; that’s a question for a second listen). In addition to the Baroque, the connections that leap most readily to mind are to folk music (in the general sense, not the early Bob Dylan sense) — jigs, reels, sea chanteys, square dances, with more than a tinge of Celtic influence. Allusions to indigenous Japanese music creep in. On side 2, some Afro-Cuban rhythms and a more aggressive appearance of Bach-like rondos.

      As it happens, I played this record immediately following my first spin of another record that arrived by mail today: Duke Ellington’s soundtrack for the 1959 Otto Preminger film “Anatomy of a Murder.” I have always loved that movie, for lots of reasons, chief among them the Ellington soundtrack, which somehow perfectly evokes the mood of the film despite seeming at first blush to be entirely acontextual (sophisticated orchestral jazz accompanying a courtroom drama set in small-town northern Michigan). Ellington was a master at creating moods by mixing structural rigor with the impression of barely contained energy, and this F/T/T/L record is kind of like that. The segue was strangely fitting.

      Like LJC, I usually know right away if I like a piece of music. This one had me from the first bass-like cello plucks layered over rhythmic strumming cords. Looking forward to the second listen.

  2. The German label ECM has dominated my listening since the mid 1970’s. It’s a highly diversified catalogue – picking the wrong sample can leave one with an extremely false impression. There are threads of “world music” and Norwegian angst, but for the most part it represents the most innovative collection of jazz musicians of the last half century. The likes of Paul Motian, Dave Holland, Keith Jarrett trio, John Abercrombie, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Old and New Dreams, Sam Rivers, Barre Phillips, Eberhard Weber, Meredith Monk – and that’s just a small sample of the first 100 releases. Go for the earlier, pre-digital era LPs – likely the quietest vinyl I’ve ever played.

    • I agree. There’s some essential jazz on ECM. In addition to the names you mention I would also ad Evan Parker, Paul Bley, Tomasz Stanko, Enrico Rava. Some great records. The problem is, I never think to play them because if I’m honest I’m never in the mood for 75-minute jazz CDs. You can have too much of a good thing — very easily….

      • Great thing about the vinyl LP. Twenty minutes continuous listening suits my attention span. Put a keypad in front of me and it’s track-hopping, dysfunctional problem of unlimited choice. 75 minutes of CD is impossible without an intermission and time to refill your glass.v

        • Very true, I’ve got a couple of Barney Wilen albums on CD as the records are a bit beyond me, price wise, and the extra tracks are a bit much for one sitting (and not listed as the Japanese CD copies the record cover art)

    • My story is just like yours pcocke. I discovered ECM before Blue Note and the other NY NJ labels and the spiritual jazz that stems from Coltrane, and it is the Blue Notes and their like that have fallen most from favour over the decades. The ECM and ACT bands thrill me just as much now as the Spiritual jazz does. Some of the most exciting developments have been in Piano trios I would say.

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