Peter Stock bass
Franz Volhard cello
Thomas Stöwsand cello, flute
Johannes Krämer guitar
Thomas Cremer percussion, clarinet
Alfred Harth tenor saxophone, clarinet, trumpet
Dieter Herrmann trombone
Recorded on December 13, 1969 at the Nettekoven Studios, Frankfurt am Main
Produced by Just Music and Manfred Eicher
Just Music was the moniker for a rotating West German collective whose avant-garde musical “happenings” were deeply rooted in an emergent challenge to mainstream politics and social strictures. Although the classical training of these musicians is readily apparent from their outstanding technical prowess, the opening outburst tells us we’re in for a wild ride. What starts as a scattered improvisation builds into a dense cacophony. Alfred Harth tears the ether with his sax amid wordless chanting as a cornucopia of colors and musical ideas is thrown into our ears. In spite of the above summation, these two 20-minute improvisations are, for the most part, fairly quiet and fraught with only occasional peaks of volume and intensity.
This self-titled album, released in 1969, was only the second for ECM Records and is still out of print. It remains a veritable zoo of musical languages in which each dialect is its own animal, caricature of an impossible ideal. Sax and trombone roar like elephants; the flute is a bird that would just as soon go into feathery convulsions than fly; cellos creep like reptiles; the bass lumbers like a lion from its den; drums trip over themselves like a drunken bear; and a guitar chatters with the insistence of an agitated monkey. This leaves only the human voices, a mockery in and of themselves. Just Music pulls out every stop in the book, as if flipping through a mental file of everything learned at the academy, along with dashes of extended techniques for good measure. The results rattle like a house caught in an impending battlefield. A multitude raises dust upon the horizon, bringing with it promise of annihilation. Where at one moment we are in our comfort zones, suddenly our power of direction is proven to be nothing more than a dream, forcing us to wander familiar streets as if for the first time.
I hesitate to call this controlled chaos, for it is no less illustrative of the chaos of control. When the music ends, it feels as if an old bulky machine has finally breathed its last. We may not understand what we have just witnessed, but we cannot help but want to sift through the wreckage and put it back together again. You should know by now whether or not this is for you.