on life, music etc beyond mainstream




1) Polar Bear: Same As You (the one that totally  blew me away, here the word “spiritual” might make sense even for atheists, a love of life-album that is terrific in its own ways of suspending time and  floating on and on and on)

2) The Mountain Goats: Beat the Champ  (a record with a sense of yearning, or is longing the better   word – and it’s about wrestling, sort of – like the brillant Whiplash is about jazz:) – John Darnielle even adds jazz colors to his heartwrenching songs that cut deep with sharp lyrics and the reinvention of childhood, the constant presence of loss, forgotten rooms and empty parking lots) 

3) Sufjan Stevens: Carrie and Lowell (song cycles about life, love and death cannot be more naked, more intimate. Low-key heartbreak, and a perfect song like “4th of July”  that finds solace amidst the knowledge that “we’re all going to die”) 

4) Schneider – Kacirek: Shadow Documents (one of the best 50 album of teutonic kraut- and chamber rock ever, with electronics, bass and drums changing roles and going deep to the bottom)

5) African Express Presents Terry Riley’s “In C” (excellent cultural transfer from a classic of minimalism to the busy street life of Mali, highly inventive – and you can hear Brian Eno sing a long ooooo)

6) Paolo Fresu – Daniele Di Bonaventura: In Maggiore (fabulous exploration of the physicality of the trumpet and the bandoneon, simultaneously delivering a beautiful series of melodies between far away Uruguay and old tunes from Sardinian backyards)

7) Second Moon of Winter: One For Sorrow, Two For Joy (three friends create magic in a cellar room in Cork County: a clarinet, a synthesizer – and an operatic voice that gets lost in strange areas between forgotten folk songs and electronic meditation)

8) Sam Lee & Friends: The Fade In Time (like a walk through an old English garden, and though you think this all is quintessentially English, the seeds come from the Himalaya, Indonesia and faraway greenlands.)

9)  Jakob Bro: Gefion (full of atmospheres and quietness and slow-building climaxes, archetypal ECM-production with so much care for details …  but you go with the flow and wonder how time can pass so quickly when nearly everythng is running slow)

10) Loderbauer/Puntin/Rohrer: Ambiq (A modular synthesizer, clarinet,  drumming and other electronic devices in free improv flights between nowhere land and faraway memories, call it where-am-i-music)

11) The Unthanks: Mount The Air (the sisters from Northumbria are digging deep again; old sources feel fresh without musical botox; if epic dimensions or chamber-like intimacy: they know how to send you places)

12) Bill Wells & Aidan Moffatt: The Most Important Place In The World (“Moffat duly rules the roles of noir-pop eroticist (‘Nothing sounds sweeter than a stolen sigh’), raving, roving werewolf librettist (‘I howled a poem at the first moon I saw’), and murmuring urban natur(al)ist eyeing up the city’s wild life (‘This is the soul of the city, her glory stripped, her passions laid bare’) – while Wells’ exquisite piano melodies and jazz-by-stealth chorales are as fascinating and seductive as ever.”)


2015 23 Mrz

Kopfhörerwelten (1)

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Es gibt sie in vielen Preisklassen. Lassen wir Billigprodukte aussen vor, kann man für “headphones” zwischen 100 und 5000 Euro anlegen, und damit das ganze Spektrum ordentlicher, guter und herausragender Kopfhörer abdecken. Sehr teuer ist nicht immer sehr gut. Kopfhörerverstärker bewegen sich in einer vergleichbaren Preisspanne, und mit dem richtigen Gespann kann man einen astreinen Klang erleben, der die Unwägbarkeiten des Raumes mit seinen störenden Resonanzen und Oden ausschaltet. Sich von der Aussenwelt zurückziehen und vollkommen in die Musik eintauchen – für manche eine ideale Form konzentrierten Hörens (deep listening). Zum Beispiel daheim, im dunklen Zimmer, oder auf Langzeitflügen (wo bestimmte Kopfhörer den Reisenden komplett von der Aussenwelt abschotten).

Oder ist der Verzicht auf den Klang im Raum, auf Bassvibrationen etc. eine Einschränkung, die der reinen Freude des Hörens abträglich ist? Da gehen die Meinungen sicher auseinander. Manafonista Jan erwähnte neulich (wenn ich mich recht erinnere), wie er den Reichtum der Musik von ABBA unter seinem Kopfhörer genau festmachen konnte. Manafonista Jochen erzählte mir am Telefon von seiner Begeisterung über seinen neuen Kopfhörerverstärker. Was passierte da? Ich erprobe derzeit (aus reiner Neugier, und weil mir der Zufall es in die Hände spielte) den Kopfhörer AUDEZE LCD-3 in der Kombination mit dem Verstärker BAKOON HPA-21. Hoppla, dachte ich, so was habe ich nie zuvor gehört, unfassbar. Oder doch fassbar.

Hier das Urteil eines (ist das ein Beruf?) professionellen Kopfhörertesters: ”Der erste Eindruck, den man gewinnt, wenn man Musik über die Kombi hört, ist der einer erstaunlichen Ruhe. Es handelt sich dabei jedoch keinesfalls um eine schläfrige Ruhe, sondern vielmehr um die Ruhe höchster Konzentration. Denn genau mit dieser Konzentration widmen sich LCD-3 und HPA-21 scheinbar auch dem kleinsten Musiksignal. Es ist wirklich faszinierend, wie vor einem absolut „schwarzen“ Hintergrund jedes kleinste Geräusch und jeder Ton quasi zu explodieren scheinen, wobei sie immer exakt definiert und konturiert bleiben.”

Bei aller Liebe zu aussergewöhnlichen Reproduktionen von Soundquellen: jeder weiss, dass selbst schlichteste Klangquellen tiefe emotionale Erfahrungen gestatten, weil sich die Qualität von Musik auch im bescheidendsten Medium durchsetzen, zumindest andeuten kann – und somit offenlegen lässt. Gibt es kleine Kopfhörer-Geschichten? Gar Liebeserklärungen an die Welt der “headphones”? Es gibt doch diesen immer wieder gelesenen Satz: “Music for Headphones”. Jeder hätte womöglich seine Liste der “Top 10 Desert Headphone Musics”. Oder eine kleine Anekdote zu erzählen.

It’s the “criss-crossing” that I like most. That may be the wrong word, a perhaps better one might be “intertwining”, or “theme travel” like “time travel”. Even better would be the word I learned from a Robert Wyatt-song: “zig-zagging”.

I definitely believe that so called “high art” is a cliche invented by dry brains. Art is high, from my perspective, if it reveals a personal relevance for your life. I could write a small book about this. Culture is about things that are not at all necessary. If Flaubert hadn’t written his Bovary-novel or Kafka no “Schloss”, there would be no one who would miss them.

To say it differently: I have no doubts that Donna Tartt’s “Distelfink” may be a great piece of art for a lot of people, but from a perspective of “personal revelations and discoveries”, “self-recognition” and “approaching the unnameable/unknown”, some episodes of “Banshee” , a deep watch of old “Beat-Club”-shows, or immersing yourself in “Birdman” can have more profound impacts on your life than reading the collected works of Seneca or Thomas Mann. Of course everyone makes his and her own choices. Culture is a “song for everyone”.

Seen in that way, culture changes from an elitist canon of “holy works” and a collection of not really necessary products to a survival kit in the best sense of the word. Then culture, freed from the necessity to rely on high brow guardians of so-called “truth”, really is about growth, recognition, and, sometimes, creates small portions of enlightenment, mini-sartoris in a religion-free sense.

I once got to know a culture worker who was thinking he was the no longer missing link between the high art and the people who need explanations and introductions. One day he entered a hotel room in München where he had to prepare one of his lectures. Suddenly he saw a big spider on the ceiling, and someone knocked on the door. A cleaning woman. She saw that very important person on the bed, trembling, shivering. “Please, please”, he said to the woman, “kill that spider, kill that spider.” This is a true story, and even long before this happened, i didn’t like this guy at all, his gestures, his persona, his aura of “going for the truth”. I heared this story from the cleaning woman. I was in the same hotel at the same time. She fucked me, and I fucked her, she was beautiful, she loved Caetano Veloso. She was a revelation. And she didn’t kill the spider. She took the animal in her hands and brought it to the balcony.

Sometimes you really have to dig deep to find something of great value in that genre once coined “New Age”, crammed with wrong nirvanas and boring heavens. If heaven actually is a place where nothing really happens, the music of Jordan De La Sierra´s “Gymnosphere” might be a place of constant wonder: a lot is going on here (in a very silent way) – lonesome notes drifting endlessly through a sacred space. As we know, sacred spaces often are a big deal for long reverberations. Call Eno´s classic “Music For Airports” a (very) distant relative, and you´re close.


The desert has always been a place for inspiration, from Harold Budd to Giant Sand, and Polar Bear´s new album “Same As You” is no exception. Though it starts with some Woodstock mysticism, invocations of light and love, don´t hesitate to surrender to the overall flow of the six tracks. A wonderful mix using field recordings without any resemblance to the usually “holy desert  sounds”, the album is captivating from start to end. Arthur Russell would been totally enthusiastic about this work of art. The dancing, joyful lines of the two saxophones add to the excellent mix of the primal, the melodic and the experimental. So this may be one of England´s finest contributions to the American “West Coast”-culture ever, known for relaxed moods, skilled studio musicians – and even Sonny Rollins once wearing a cowboy hat.


“A Most Violent Year” is a fantastic movie, a time travel to New York City, 1981 (the year Eno and Byrne created “My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts”, in Manhattan), shot with late 70´s vibes and colors, and, nevertheless, likewise oldfashioned and inventive. That´s saying a lot about a genre movie linked with gangster syndicates, archetypal anti-heroes from another era and the usual suspects from the old “New Hollywood”. The gist of the matter: J.C. Chandor is really doing fine in creating a new skin for an old ceremony. At times with breathtakingly slow speed, packed with the devil in the details (beware of the soundtrack, sparse and subtle), and, one of the most thrilling chase-scenes since Cary Grant had been attacked by a small aeroplane in “North By Northwest”. Chandor knows when it´s time to speed up. Pop corn fodder? Not at all, more of a descent into the underworld (in the psychic sense of the word). For example, within one single shocking second, you are transported from an overcrowded tube train to a deserted, ghost-like station (in the middle of NYC) – a good place to meet the inner demons.


And coming to terms with your own demons, you might want to enter the sceneries of the “Thriller of  April”. I´m still running through the last hundred pages, and, as you know, you shall not sing the praise of day till the last ray of light has vanished from the sky, and darkness surrounds you with all horror or relief delivered on the last page. Will the story linger in your mind, or is it just a cheap thrill and utterly forgettable? Wait and see. Manafonista Wolfram recently recommended an ancient thriller by Chester Himes. That book might be the other option. Himes can compare in quality to Chandler and Hammett, and he clearly is commenting on and developing their novels, plots and style. The past remains a treasure grove. But you can easily be trapped by it. Chester Himes, and J.C. Chandor luckily know the exit signs.

michael: friends of mine recently travelled through the desterted north of canada. they love these open landscapes. sebastian, where have you been in America, what were the places that inspired the relaxed, joyful, open atmosphere of “Same As You”?

sebastian: i have spent three months of the last year in the mojave desert in california, it’s really a magical place for me, and the community there are so welcoming. being in this landscape made me feel differently about space and space in music, space in rhythm, and i love that when you’re out in the desert you feel the same as every other living thing out there, like you are shown your place by nature.

michael: ah, that’s where the title comes from. I try to imagine the sound …

sebastian: the sound is like a thick silence but then a noise far away can feel close to your ear. also, with some events in my life and being aware of all the greed, war and prejudice in the world, i felt to make something centred around positivity and love and breath.

michael: i think that it’s a bit easier to make an album full of misery und falling apart than it is to make something profound about the joyful things of life. has the mojave been a love at first sight-thing?

sebastian: yes, from the first moment i stepped out the car in the mojave, it was like my mind cleared and felt like a child in my clarity, this was special to me, finding this in london can be difficult sometimes. i was speaking to a man out there about how i felt a great energy and vibrance out there, and he told me, yes, well, every animal and plant is struggling to survive out there, so maybe that’s what you are feeling. made me think that is how in some ways it’s similar to london, it’s not a slow energy in the desert but a very aware and alert one. you have to be alert and present as your life can depend on it. you dont want to get lost there.

michael: an interesting connection between the big city and the middle of nowhere! The album was produced in your hometown, right?

sebastian: we recorded it in assault and battery in west london and then i made some echoes and spacial things at my place, i felt these like our sound bouncing off the desert mountains. the album was mixed by ken barrientos at red barn recorders in the high desert. when i heard iman omaris’ album “viberations” i was totally blown away also by the mix. so i looked into who did it and when i listened to kens music and other things he had been involved in, they all had this very special quality, like invisibly psychedelic and very physical.

michael: … and then you met this man you’ve never seen before …

sebastian: i read an interview with him and my instinct told me to contact him about mixing our album with my music, personal connections are important to me, so in a way felt like a risk cause i had never met him before but when i did, was like i had known him for a long time, he’s a really unique and special person. we started with a couple days at his studio, then we headed out to the desert to mix at red barn. ken also had the idea to visit the integratron as a start to our mixing. to me, he has really captured in the mix how the desert makes me fee spacious but close.

michael: in what way did he capture it?

sebastian: when i listened out there, the bass and drums are the earth, john is like the air and sky and saxes are the birds circling and swooping. another part of this album is also my learning about ancient kemetic philosophies from michael who does the piece at the beginning of the album. some of the music was made by me using audio to make symbols representing kemetic gods.

michael: don’t know about kemetism, sounds like something paegan. but i know about your love of raga music. in a special way this album works in its length, un-interruptedness and flow like a western jazz raga with some kind of dancefloor compatibility. i mean Arthur Russell would have loved it, wouldn’t he?

sebastian: yes is great you feel this, i love how in classical indian they stretch your perception of time, this definitely influenced me and the landscape in the desert feels like this, you can drive for hours in the states and it feels like nothing

michael: It is quite subtle how leafcutter john and you made use of field recordings without making them a cliche.

sebastian: the field recordings were made by me and laid under each track, i wanted the desert to be in there always, i really love what ken did with them by using compression,he made them move with the drums.

michael: SAME AS YOU is utterly accessible and experimental at the same time. How did the idea grow that the sax players of polar bear, pete and mark, should prefer simple short lines, no big solos?

sebastian: the saxes represent to me on this album the feeling of freedom and happiness, the lines i thought about a lot, meaning like a thick sauce you might get in a restaurant, not much of it but an intense flavour, this was my intention anyway,
i said to them they could solo for as long as they wanted but just said i wanted the music not to have an element of angst, it could be as experimental and free as they wanted but needed to retain the the feeling of expansion

michael: your drumming sounds very special, too. precise and loose. did you have rattles on your arm that vibrate when hitting on something? Everything seems to vibrate on the album …

sebastian: think maybe what you are hearing are the jingles on my little snare and possibly the rivets on all my custom cymbals. i used a bass drum,two hihats, three snare drums and two bombe legueros on this album.

michael: and so the whole music is …

sebastian: … inspired by indian classical, the desert and the desire to put love into the world.

michael: how did you find the cover art for the album?

sebastian: it is by an artist i love called sanchita islam, she made four different paintings that are part of our artwork as well as a poem by my father about love and celebrating diversity. i felt sanchita would understand the colours i was seeing, even from my first email to her, she wrote back with the colours she felt and they were perfect to me. so happy she agreed to make this for us. i wanted the album to look beautiful and vibrant, there is a booklet that comes with it.

Als Jan Garbarek einst eine Platte mit dem Violinisten L. Shankar aufnahm, SONG FOR EVERYONE, entbrannten wütende Diskussionen, weil der Norweger (der dann leider auch bald seine besten Jahre hinter sich haben sollte) bei einem langen Stück einen maschinellen Trommelrhythmus einsetzte. Kommt heute noch gut! Aber da kamen die Jazzpuristen gleich um der Ecke geschossen, sowas gehe gar nicht, da würde keine “jazzaffine Interaktion” stattfinden, das sei doch wohl kommerzielles Kalkül. So ähnlich, nur etwas höher gehängt, ging es  in bunter Vorzeit zu, als Pharoah Sanders und andere Cracks die Trommelkulturen ferner Ethnien nutzten für ihre Vorstellungen. Da wurde gleich “Kulturkolonialismus” gewittert.

Die letzte Single, die ich mir kaufte, war “Wonderful World” von Black. Single-Charts sind musikalisch schon lange uninteressant geworden; meine großen Singles-Zeiten waren die Teenagerjahre, als Radio Caroline, Europawelle Saar, Radio Luxemburg und BFBS (Top Twenty) dauernd kleine Feuerwerke entfachten.

Wenn man bei Gregor die Jukebox anwirft, ist man plötzlich wieder 17, man möchte die zwei knapp bemessenen Minuten von “Summer in the City” davon überzeugen, nie vom Plattenteller zu verschwinden, man möchte mit Ray Davies durch die damals schon abgefuckte Carnaby Street laufen und seinem Bruder, diesem “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, zusehen, wie er sich abgedrehte Klamotten kauft.

Man möchte dem schönsten Girl der Strasse (die leider immer mit einem andern knutschte) die eigene Single-Sammlung zeigen, und sie davon überzeugen, dass bei langsamen Stücken (keine Hemmungen bei “Nights in White Satin”) die Küsse besonders intensiv sind. Transistorradiozeiten, heimliches Hören spät abends, als die Luft unter der Bettdecke oft knapp wurde!

ABBA wurde damals von uns Junghippies verschmäht, galten sie doch nie als Teil der Gegenkultur. Und doch, heimlich musste man sich eingestehen, die hatten was, und heimlich habe ich sie auch genossen, nicht gerade “Waterloo”, aber andere Songs umso mehr. “The Winner Takes It All” ist genial und tief traurig. Wie bemerkte Jan doch jüngst: “ABBA faszinieren mich tatsächlich immer noch und immer wieder. Keine der beiden Sängerinnen hat für sich genommen eine besonders bemerkenswerte Stimme, aber die beiden Stimmen zusammen können eine Tresortür knacken. Und man muss immer wieder mal zum Kopfhörer greifen, um zu hören, wie raffiniert die Gesangsarrangements und die Abmischungen tatsächlich sind. Dass die es dann noch schaffen, die Texte exakt syllabisch auszunotieren und für den Refrain immer eine Zeile zu finden, die man selbst dann versteht, wenn man kein Englisch kann, und dass das Ganze ins Herz trifft (jedenfalls meistens) – das ist die hohe Schule des Popsongs. Das konnten so perfekt sonst nur noch die Brill-Building-Leute.”

Wie gut, dass es auch anno 2011 immer noch Songs gab, die einen durch Zeit und Raum fliegen lassen, auch wenn sie nicht mehr in kleinen Papierhüllen stecken, und keine Jukebox mit ihnen gefüttert wurde. Killersong Nr.1 meiner damaligen Jahres-Top-10 ist der Titelsong des herrlichen Kate Bush-Albums: manche der 50 Wörter für Schnee wirken so skurril, als hätte Thomas Pynchon daran mitgearbeitet.



Jedenfalls höre ich diese Songs immer noch mit einer ähnlichen Begeisterung wie einst “Haha Said The Clown” oder “Sunny Afternoon”. Gerade kam der Postbote und brachte Sam Lees neues Album “The Fade In Time”. “Folk full of drama and surprise” (see comment 2). Fehlt nur noch ein Heimsieg von Borussia Dortmund, und die täglichen Dosenöffner und “Regressionen im Dienste des Ichs” (Groddeck, alter Psychoanalytiker) wären perfekt. 


1) Kate Bush: 50 Words for Snow
2) Brian Eno and the words of Rick Holland: Cloud 4
3) Wilco: One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)
4) Jeffrey Lewis: Kongru Green Slime
5) The Mountain Goats: Sourdoire Valley Song
6) Bill Callahan: Riding for the Feeling
7) Bon Iver: Michicant
8) Giovanna Pessi / Susanna Wallumrod: Who by Fire
9) Jayhawks: Tiny Arrows
10) Wire: Clay      


1) Polar Bear: Same As You (das nächste beeindruckende Jazzalbum der Gruppe um Drummer Sebastian Rochford)

DIETRICH RAUSCHTENBERGER: TROMBECK (Michael Kuhlmann hat das Buch über die “Erfindung” des Free Jazz in Wuppertal gelesen und wahrscheinlich viel Spass dabei gehabt)

2) Detail feat. Frode Gjerstad (Free Jazz-Ausgrabung von Rune Grammofon mit dem legendären britischen Schlagzeuger John Stevens)

3) Paolo Fresu – Daniele Di Bonaventura (Trompete und Bandoneon, eine Aufnahme aus Lugano, exzellente Klangreise)

10. NEUER DEUTSCHER JAZZPREIS (ALTE FEUERWACHE, Karsten Mützelfeldt berichtet von der Veranstaltung, bei der Kenny Garrett eine besondere Rolle zukommt)

4)Loderbauer/Puntin/Rohrer: Ambiq (jenseits der leicht zu ziehenden Schubladen, eine Freude, hier, im weiten Feld eines Modularsynthesizers und anderer Soundgeräte, Spuren des Jazz ausfindig zu machen)

5) Matthias Eick (der Trompeter Matthias Eick ist ein weiterer Wanderer zwischen den Welten und legt sein bislang bestes Album vor)

JAZZ IN POLISH CINEMA 1957-1968 (Polen-Insider Bert Noglik hat sich die ganze Box angehört, die beiliegenden Texte gelesen und in seinem Interviewarchiv gewühlt)

6) Polar Bear schliesst den Kreis der Stunde mit einer weiteren Passage des Albums, das in einem Studio in Südkalifornien abgemischt wurde

2015 11 Mrz


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Als kleine Vorbereitung auf meine Ausgabe der JazzFacts am 19. März 2015 um 21.05 Uhr (Deutschlandfunk) empfehle ich einen Rundgang durch das Red Barn Recorders-Studio, wo die Mischung des überragenden, Ende März erscheinenden Albums “Same As You” von Polar Bear stattfand. Ken Barrientos hat da wahrlich exzellente Arbeit geleistet. 


Bevor sich Ken Barrientos und Sebastian Rochford an den Mix machten, sozusagen als Einstimmung, sind sie (Kens Idee) zum “Intregatron” gefahren, eine sehr spezielle Räumlichkeit, die einst entworfen wurde von dem bekennenden Ufologen George Van Tassel. Eigenem Bekunden zufolge hatte er öfter Kontakt mit Ausserirdischen. Zudem behauptete er, dass sein “Integratron” der Verjüngung und – sic! – Zeitreisen dienen könne (an ideal place for manafonistas who know that time-traveling is easy-going :)) 1957 wurde das “Integratron” in Betrieb genommen. Das Gebäude finanzierte sich vor allem durch Schenkungen, und ein gewisser  Howard Hughes war ebenfalls daran beteiligt.


Mittlerweile ist dieser “power spot” (unbedingt Jon Hassells gleichnamiges Album in den CD-Player des Autos einlegen, bei der Anfahrt zum “Integratron”!) in den Händen der Schwestern des Ufologen. Sie betreuen es jetzt als “acoustically perfect structure”, bieten Führungen an, und Klangbäder (“sound baths”) an, als meditative Sessions, die von den Tönen von Quartzkugeln begleitet werden.

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