The Berlin-based iconoclastic ensemble zeitkratzer finally goes Jazz! After many projects that embraced many conflicting genres and works of Merzbow, Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Lou Reed (his «Metal Machine Music»), Keiji Haino, Elliott Sharp and Terje Rypdal. And in typical a tongue-in-cheek spirit zeitkratzer decided to borrow the title of one of the most revolutionary albums in the history of jazz, «The Shape of Jazz to Come», released by Ornette Coleman Quartet (Atlantic, 1959). And zeitkratzer added as a guest vocalist Swedish Mariam Wallentin, aka Mariam the Believer who is known from Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra, the duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums, and many other intimate collaborations.
The idea of going jazz arose when zeitkratzer met Wallentin at a festival in France. Her strikingly flexible and emotional voice, her musicality, and technical skills fit perfectly zeitkratzer’s sound and irreverent spirit. Many of zeitkratzer members play or played in the past jazz: sax players Frank Gratkowski and Hayden Chisholm lead their own jazz outfits; artistic director Reinhold Friedl studied piano with Alexander von Schlippenbach; double bass player Ulrich Phillipp toured with Charles Gayle; drummer Maurice de Martin who spent his early years in the New York downtown scene.
«The Shape of Jazz to Come» was recorded live at Festival Sacrum Profanum, Krakow, Poland, in September 2018. And zeitkratzer and Wallentin open their performance in the surprising and challenging manner, an inspiring arrangement of Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians’ founder and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams’s «The Bird Song» (originally released on «Levels and Degrees of Light», Delmark, 1968, with the recitation of poet David Moore, and Anthony Braxton on alto sax and Leroy Jenkins on violin), one of the rare Jazz compositions including live-electronics (zeitkratzer’s director Friedl just curated the release of Abrams’ «Celestial Birds», presenting his electronic works, Karlrecords, 2020). Wallentin introduces this 15-minutes piece with a vulnerable delivery of the beat poetry text of Moore, and then zeitkratzer transforms it into a raw and urgent, contemporary texture, accompanied by the wordless vocals of Wallentin, stressing the sound of bird calls imagined in this controversial composition.
The other songs cover more iconic and familiar standards and songs. Zeitkratzer and Wallentin continue with a straight-ahead reading of the Dixieland chestnut, «Struttin’ with Some Barbecue», composed by Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong’s first wife (Armstrong later tried to claim the authorship after its success but lost in court), adding few ironic sonic detours. Arthur Hamilton’s classic «Cry Me a River» is abstracted to crying sounds from all of zeitkratzer’s musicians, supporting Wallentin’s expressive cries and innocent delivery of the song itself. Sweet Emma Barrett’s «Jelly Roll Blues» receives an arrangement that corresponds faithfully with zeitkratzer’s essence: rowdy, noisy, stomping, atonal, and belligerent.
The most emotional song here is Abel Meeropol’s iconic «Strange Fruit». Wallentin wise yet reserved reading reflects faithfully the brutal images and the profound sadness, interrupted only by the scratching violin solo of Lisa Marie Landgraf. Moving forward: zeitkratzer and Wallentin explosive cover of pianist Geri Allen’s modern «Drummer Song» (originally from her «Open In All Sides In The Middle», Minor Music, 1987), allowing concise free-improvised group eruptions. The album is concluded with a subtle and calm reading of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s classic «My Funny Valentine», reduced to the basics of its famous melody, and chromatic bass line. The original program included a cover of Archie Shepp’s «Blasé» (originally from the album by the same name, BYG Actuel, 1969, with vocalist Jeanne Lee).
Going jazz turned out to be provocative, mind-expanding, and rebellious journey. The match of zeitkratzer and Wallentin was made in some noisy heaven. That’s the spirit of jazz to come!
Frank Gratkowski (as, bcl), Hayden Chisholm (as, cl), Hild Sofie Tafjord (fr.horn), Hilary Jeffery (tb), Reinhold Friedl (p, dir), Maurice de Martin (dr, perc), Lisa Marie Landgraf (vio), Ulrich Phillipp (b), Martin Heinze (b), Mariam Wallentin (voc)