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.
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.