Manfred Schoof Quintet
Manfred Schoof trumpet, flugelhorn
Michel Pilz bass clarinet
Jasper van ‘t Hof piano, electric piano, organ
Rainer Brüninghaus piano, synthesizer
Günter Lenz double-bass
Ralf-R. Hübner drums
Recorded August 1976 (Scales), December 1977 (Light Lines), and November 1979 (Horizons) at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Resonance compiles two discs of vital material from the early JAPO releases by German trumpeter Manfred Schoof: Scales, Light Lines, and Horizons. The first two albums are presented in full, while only half of the third is excerpted. As co-member with bass clarinetist Michel Pilz of the Globe Unity Orchestra (another group with a hefty JAPO footprint), Schoof was a hot ticket in the 1970s, when his quintet was all the rage in the European free jazz scene.
What distinguished him from the avant-garde demimonde was an insistence on melodic integrity. For Schoof, “the term ‘free’ not only stands for a specific style of jazz that, in its beginnings, opposed with revolutionary gesture everything redolent of the past and reminiscent of tradition but rather the freedom to choose between a multitude of very different means of expression. Tradition, therefore, is viewed as a past experience that merges with and enriches a new style of sound.” His band mates in these recordings include Pilz, pianists Jasper van ‘t Hof and Rainer Brüninghaus, bassist Günter Lenz, and drummer Ralf-R. Hübner, most of whom will be familiar to the more adventurous ECM listeners.
Scales (JAPO 60013)
The title track of Scales opens both album and set with a primal trumpet cry. It is Schoof’s calling card: a rip in the ether from which flows undeniable light. Van ‘t Hof poeticizes this light from a place beyond waking. And indeed, the more instruments are added, the dreamier the music becomes. Over time, Pilz’s gorgeous rasp adds tactility, so that surreal gestures begin to feel familiar. Pilz stands out also in “Ostinato,” which finds him sharing a stepwise ground line with Lenz. We are so fully mired in this swampy unison that when he breaks free from the waves, his voice feels like a shaded benediction in what is easily among the finest tracks in the ECM archive. Van ‘t Hof’s organ drone is also notable here. Over it drums seem to describe abandoned castles, stone by stone, until they loom before us unscathed by time. The keyboardist provides deep color shifts throughout the program, evoking early Steve Kuhn vis–à–vis electric piano in “For Marianne” and spacy atmospheres in “Weep And Cry.” The former’s cloud rolls give Schoof vast chromatic freedom, while the latter evokes sunset before cooling into a twilit canopy, now alive as the darkness reveals its dance through the bass clarinet. The scene closes its eyes with “Flowers All Over” in the album’s most joyous music. Schoof rides a harmonic dolphin, plunging variously into intuitive digs, likewise inspiring Pilz to grand emotional heights.
Light Lines (JAPO 60019)
“Source” introduces the second disc with the world of Light Lines. The middle of this JAPO sandwich finds Schoof swimming in an ocean of fire. Overall, the sound is more sparkling by way of Hübner’s clear and present kit work. The album boasts not only its own title track, a splash of sonic goodness in which Schoof’s trumpet is the very image of a bird in flight, but also that of the set as a whole. “Resonance,” for that matter, is more than a catchy word. It is the credo of a musician whose focus unnerves with its precision. Working through the changes like a card shark riffling to his cull, he holds our attention by means of powerful misdirection. “Criterium” and “Lonesome Defender” round things out, on the one hand, the glint of a blade catching sunlight and, on the other, an evocative blend of sweet and savory flavors.
Horizons (JAPO 60030)
Brüninghaus steps from the Jan Garbarek/Eberhard Weber mold and into open Horizons, where he adds lilting undercurrents and cascading solos throughout. Pilz’s fierce, uncompromising blues is downright brilliant amid the pianist’s sparkle in the waterlogged title track, in which Schoof emerges like a butterfly from its chrysalis, fluttering to and fro with the determination of a man on fire in search of water. In “Hope,” he sweeps a guiding hand through waves of thematic life, Pilz ever the underwater acrobat. The band rounds up a school of fish hungry for soul in “Old Ballad,” with Brüninghaus and Lenz hauling a fair catch each, while the final “Sunset” fronts the trilogy’s brightest stars, Schoof and Pilz, against a gradual rhythm section, carrying us out toward a forever receding waterline.
Two worthy, if confected, tracks have been elided from Horizons—strange when you consider the collection could have accommodated both. “The Abstract Face Of Beauty,” penned by Hübner, paints a vista of clouds and barren land, every bit the sonic analogue to the album’s cover, and features prime soulful blowing from Pilz. “Sunrise” taps a similarly rubato vein and throws the spotlight on Schoof’s technical prowess. The 14-minute loss isn’t likely to matter to those new to this material, of whom many listeners of Resonance are likely to be. In any event, Schoof himself assembled the included tracks, and one can only imagine his good reason.
Although he is one diamond in a mine already chock full of them, Manfred Schoof deserves any ECM fan’s close attention. As a composer, he builds a welcoming world. As a player, he turns fantasy inside out and makes it feel possible. Like the solo concerts of Keith Jarrett, if the reader will forgive the otherwise groundless simile, his pieces are distinguished by their ostinatos, which thrum with the invisible energy of ley lines. This is music that looks at itself in the mirror and asks, “Am I the reflection after all?”