Herbert Joos: The Philosophy of the Fluegelhorn (JAPO 60004)

The Philosophy Of The Fluegelhorn

Herbert Joos
The Philosophy of the Fluegelhorn

Herbert Joos fluegelhorn, bass, bass recorder, bamboo flute, mellophone, trumpet, alto horn, vibes
Recorded July 1973 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer Carlos Albrecht
Produced by Herbert Joos

The Philosophy of the Fluegelhorn is Herbert Joos’s first of two albums for ECM’s sister label JAPO, the second being Daybreak. Where the latter was a lyrical, if longwinded, excursion, the former is something of a meta-statement for the German renaissance man—not only because he plays a bevy of overdubbed instruments, but also because its freer detailing gives pause over the sheer depth of realization.

The title track draws us into the outdoors, where field-recorded birds—and, among them, Joos’s horn—populate the trees with temporal awareness. Sibilant breath and popping bamboo flutes share the entanglement: the rhizomatic spread of Joos’s becoming-animal. Following this undulating prelude, “The Warm Body Of My True Love” opens the stage, a halved and hollowed whole. The nature of this soliloquy must be sought out in stirrings of life, excitations of molecules, and less definable physical properties. The horns are trembling, universal. “Skarabäus II” is of similarly finite constitution, navigating passage into darker dreams and adding to those horns a string’s uncalled-for response to the question of existence. Braided offshoots of trumpet fly around one another, each carrying its own flame of obsession. Next is the smooth and sultry “Rainbow.” Tinged by the alcoholic sunset of vibes, it is a hangover not yet shaken for want of the altered perspective. The squealing litter of horns that is “The Joker” segues into “An Evening With The Vampire.” Bathed in the sounds of nine arco basses, it enacts a morose ending to an otherwise luminescent session. Its sul ponticello screams recall George Crumb’s Black Angels and spin the echo-augmented horn like a chromatic Ferris wheel until the breath stops.

If you’ve ever been curious about Joos but didn’t know where to start, then by reading this you’ve already put your hand on the knob. Just turn it.

Herbert Joos: Daybreak- The Dark Side Of Twilight (JAPO 60015/ECM 3615)

Daybreak Dark

Herbert Joos
Daybreak -­ The Dark Side Of Twilight

Herbert Joos fluegelhorn, trumpet, cornet
Thomas Schwarz oboe
Wolfgang Czelustra bass, trombone
Strings of Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart
Recorded October 1976 and July 1988 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Carlos Albrecht
Produced by Herbert Joos and Thomas Stöwsand

German trumpeter and fluegelhornist Herbert Joos’s flirtations with ECM have been few, contributing to the big brass sound of Eberhard Weber’s Orchestra and notably to Cracked Mirrors, a marvelous and, it would seem, overlooked date with guitarist Harry Pepl and drummer Jon Christensen. Yet it was with Daybreak, recorded in the fall of 1976 for sister label JAPO, that the knot of Joos first audibly untied itself alongside Thomas Schwarz (oboe), Wolfgang Czelustra (bass and trombone), and the strings of the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart.

The emphasis on classical textures will feel familiar to admirers of Keith Jarrett’s likeminded forays, especially In The Light and Bridge Of Light. That being said, the overall effect is shadowy, overhung, though equally honest. “Why?,” for example, answers its own question up front in the very asking. Although an obvious reference to Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question, its progression spins closure from an interrogative oboe. The normally pastoral associations of the instrument are shed along with lingering symphonic details, such that when Joos’s breath cuts the air with its golden knife, the strings drip like lifeblood from its plane. None of which is meant to suggest that the music is in any way macabre. For what can there be but hope in the cyclical motif that churns during fadeout? “When Were You Born?” asks another question answered by its own sounding. The delicacies of Joos’s high-register playing render far more expansive maps in this instance, touching proboscis to firmament and sampling sunlight until nightfall. “Leicester Court 1440” features Joos in muted soliloquy. Riding a horse of compressed time, he enacts an agitated recession into the title piece. Joos has only his own echo for company before the inward journey is externalized by the dark arrival of strings. Hence, the “Black Trees” looming not far away. Yet despite the title, they actually let down the brightest of the album’s seeds with an approach that gives voice to nature and seeks universal truth in a bird’s nest. Joos’s lines bespeak haughty quest in “Fasten Your Seatbelt.” This playful frolic through arco fabric balances laughter and fearless arpeggios, while scuttling crabs and landlocked others communicate without need for sound. And when the seatbelt fails us, we are thrown into a life of slower motion, lit by “The Dark Side Of Twilight.” The latter appears only on the 1990 CD re-issue (ECM 3615) and, at 15 minutes, is the album’s most brooding texture. Relaying brass-synth and string chorale settings, it walks a broken circle with its head hung in thought, an outlier among the album’s modest population.

The music of Daybreak speaks to children in the language of adults. It photographs the illusion of age and melts it into a sea of numbers. Not every detail will be preserved in that translation, but in the process we come to understand that history and music are sometimes like water and oil. In this chamber of the past, futures hide in corners the light struggles to reach.

Daybreak
Original cover