Written on: 14/09/2006 by jfderry (208 reviews written)
This is a historical moment caught on a great recording, the astonishing first time outing for Gunter Hampel's new concept of music. So new, that he formed his own Birth Records label to carry it because no other label would/could share the vision.
The concept centres around the collective conversations emerging from the interaction of disparate elements. The novelty arose from the structures that were created for the movement of "New Jazz", or "Free Jazz" as it was becoming known. The restructuring was deemed so important by musicians and critics alike (a great rarity), that The 8th of July 1969 has been acclaimed as one of the all time great contributions to the evolution of the Music of the 20th Century!
Free jazz came to us in the late 50's from the likes of Ayler, Harriott, Shepp and Taylor, but mostly from Coleman and Coltrane, although Tristano's "Digression" and "Intuition" in 1949 almost qualify. Its name hails from Coleman's 1960 album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation.
Bebop and modality were no longer cutting it with these cats so they came up with the new sound, devoid of charted harmonies, melodies and rhythm. They are the music's avant-garde. Improvisation is the key.
So what happened in Holland on July 8, 1969 when Gunter Hampel, Anthony Braxton, Jeanne Lee, Willem Breuker, Arjen Gorter, Steve McCall and sound recordist Andre van de Water got together?
Well, for one, it was quite an incredible line-up, perfect for this date - each a fantastic player in their own right, but collectively, the emergent force is astronomical. Quite fitting considering the Apollo moon landing occurred just 2 weeks later.
Elsewhere, Marianne Faithful took an overdose of barbiturates on the set of the movie Ned Kelly, and a year later The Everly Brothers Show was launched on ABC-TV. July 1969 was also an important month in the recording of Abbey Road. Pretty much every track was either recorded or had some post-production done; vocals were overdubbed onto Here Comes the Sun on the 8th of July.
Hampel had already made an impact with his first recording Heartplants with Alexander von Schlippenbach as early as 1964, and since then has consistently received 4 stars and more from Downbeat. Since then he had been busy touring his quintet in Europe and Africa, sometimes performing in classical contexts like the Modern Jazz Quartet. In 1966 he enlists Breuker and Gorter, and gets his break into the US with a guest slot on Benny Goodman's show.
Starting two years before this gig, Willem Breuker and Arjen Gorter have consistently performed together for almost four decades, generating their reputations as well known, prolific, and influential figures in 20th century Dutch music.
Their earliest outing together was as part of Alex von Schlippenbach's enormous Global Unity Orchestra, which also had a certain Gunter Hampel in its ranks.
In the next couple of years Hampel met long-term 33-year partner Jeanne Lee, relocated several times in European cities and started playing with McCall who acted as a vital gateway to various Afro-American musicians, including Anthony Braxton.
Jeanne Lee was an innovator, an inventor with her voice. She once wrote, "As an improvising singer, there was always the option to scat, thus imitating the jazz instrumental sounds. There were also jazz lyricists who set words to instrumental solos. Neither of these options allowed space for the natural rhythms and sonorities or the emotional content of words." Her solution was to bend and move the words to enable her to be an instrument, not just through imitation, superimposed vocals over the orchestral background, but actually belonging within the arrangement.
She contributed to the arts in so many ways, from professional teaching and writing (Jam!: The Story of Jazz Music), composition and performance with poetry and dance included, to seminal recordings from her early career with Ran Blake (Legendary Duets, Newest Sound Around), Rahsaan Roland Kirk (Aces Back to Back) and Carla Bley / Paul Haines (Escalator Over the Hill), through the many guest appearances with the likes of greats Marion Brown (Afternoon of a Georgia Faun), Sunny Murray (Homage to Africa), Archie Shepp (Blas ) and Reggie Workman (Synthesis), the many recordings made since the late 60's with Hampel (The 8th Of July 1969, Ballet Symphony, People Symphony, Spirits, Familie, Angel, Waltz For 3 Universes In A Corridor, Broadway / Folksong, I Love Being With You, Unity Dance, Out From Under, Journey To The Song Within, Celebrations, Cosmic Dancer, Enfant Terrible, Transformation, That Came Down On Me, All Is Real, Freedom Of The Universe, All The Things You Could Be If Charles Mingus Was Your Daddy, A Place To Be With Us, Life On This Planet, Cavana, Companion, Jubilation, Fresh Heat, Celestial Glory) to her acclaimed later output (Here and Now!, Natural Affinities). Her passing in 2000 was a great loss. We were robbed!
Steve McCall was a genius of suggested rhythms, keeping the beat without actually playing it! His mastery gave him an important place at many great sessions, plus a pivotal role in the principally Black-American Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), which is exactly why he was able to bring Hampel in contact with the likes of Braxton.
It's hard to categorize Anthony Braxton, but "multi-instrumentalist, intellectual, philosopher, academic, jazz and classical composer, genius" covers some of it. Part of the problem is in categorizing his music. Often the subject of heated debate, is it jazz or is it something else, and if so, then what? He should be a jazz artist. After all, he has recorded a whole album of Charlie Parker reworks. At the time of meeting Hampel he was living in Paris and working in a group called Circle with Dave Holland, Chick Corea and drummer Barry Altschul. Just prior to recording The 8th of July 1969, he had released his first two albums as leader, 3 Compositions of New Jazz and the much acclaimed solo work For Alto.
Hampel's collaborations were so extensive by now that he had 2 working units, but this did not deter him from starting a third Then And Now, performing with Pharoah Sanders and Sonny Sharrock, and including Gorter and the up-and-coming young guitarist John McLaughlin. "I decided to go to the Continent and just play the kind of music I wanted to play. The first offer I got was from Gunther Hampel in Germany, so I went there playing free music for about half a year or so. I am very glad I had the experience with Gunther. I know, idealistically, it's right to play free music ... In order to really play it, first of all, harmonically and melodically you have to know everything, and then you have to be a real big person, a developed human being. Only a developed human being will not indulge himself." One of McLaughlin's most beautiful compositions appears as Arjen's Bag, named after Gorter, on Extrapolation his first album, and later gets reinvented as Follow Your Heart with the Joe Farrell Quartet, which does get a bit of free blowing over the top of it, but nothing like what goes down on The 8th of July 1969.
We Move bounces into our subconscious, a hypnotic rhythm spelled out on piano, bass and percussion, Lee's lilted phrasing, voice as instrument, seducing us into the vibe as the horns curl up serpentine into striking pose, hissing venomous lines, spitting fire, backbitten by a monsoonal tidal wave of drumming, all the while coaxed and eased by Lee's eddy whispering, when we met we needed no introduction, without question we recognized each other, we needed no talkings, not even to think we moved we move, picked up, spun round, left, smashed and wasted against the shore.
Morning Song wakes you to droplets of vibraphone breaking on your face, stretch crusted eyes against the glare of the scorching saxophone sun. Native rhythms rouse you further, drum and bass from the deep interior, voice and horns sing in the tree-tops, the jungle awakes, frog chorus, life's diversity.
Crepuscule drifts fog-slow across your sonic landscape. Breathy Lee, breathy Braxton. Something scuttles, you're not alone. Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict. Peace ends, battle cry, carnage. Screams from the aftermath. Make music not war.
Steal yourself for two further takes of We Move, plus two takes of the title track. It's not over yet.
Free Jazz is often accused of being just unskilled random manic playing, with little or no concern for the other players. That's what orchestration, arrangements and composition give you, a place for everyone.
Free Jazz was reinvented on The 8th of July 1969.