Just Music: s/t (ECM 1002)


Just Music

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.

Just Another Music
Alternate cover


4 thoughts on “Just Music: s/t (ECM 1002)

  1. Well, the zoo metapher reminds me on similar infantile descriptions by free music ignorants at those times in the 60ies.
    But here is a kind of charming in the context with the following associations, thanks for posting JuMu! When we had given that radio concert in Prague two years after the Sowjet tanks had entered the city our audience had answered very seriously with solemn association-reminiscences of that political roll back in 1968 in Prague.See & listen here:

    1. Mr. Harth,

      Thank you so much for the insightful words! As one born nearly a decade after this album was recorded, I often have difficulty conceiving of the political import of such music, and the significance that time and place can bring to any performance, so I am grateful to you for taking the time to bring this to my attention in the context of your own project. The ECM album is a wonderful piece that only increases in musical value over time. All the more reason why it should see a reissue in order to reach newer generations.


  2. Very well, Tyran Grillo, I shall write my memoirs, I see. At the end of the 60ies there had been the student’s movements also in Germany, especially in Frankfurt where Adorno and Horkheimer had been teaching, sometimes also Herbert Marcuse a.o.
    And JuMu grew up in that environment flanked by the Darmstadt Ferienkurse and the Wiesbaden Fluxus movement nearby.
    It was all about clearing old cement heads and crossing borders.
    Borders also being simple as between “professional” & “amateur” or “serious” and “entertainment” but not less powerful against the artists. And it was another thing to cross the iron curtain at that time, not many were able to.
    In 2008 I played with Otomo Yoshihide’s “Invisible Songs” on the 25th anniversary of the festival in Vandoevre, France. Thereafter a friendly man spoke to me.He said that he was from Prague, and that it had meant so much to them when I had played over there with “Cassiber” around the first Vandoevre festival appearance again with “Cassiber” in 1983. In 1984 the Cold War was at a peak in Europe & folks behind the iron curtain were so thirsty for stuff as “Cassiber”. Of course still not everybody could easily go there and play a concert. No, it was set up very secretly and hundreds of audiences appeared within some hours by calls…Probably this friendly fan from Prague was too young to have heard JuMu nearly 15 years earlier in his hometown…

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