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COPY FOR: RealTime

The Italian Concerto

by Heiner Goebbels
ReR Megacorp, Thornton Heath, Surrey, UK, 2009
B002DKF4Z6, £12.50
Distributor’s website: http://rermegacorp.com.

Hommage/Vier Fäuste für Hanns Eisler (1976)
Von Sprengen des Gartens (1978/9)

by Heiner Goebbels and Alfred Harth
ReR Megacorp, Thornton Heath, Surrey, UK, 2007
LC-02677 (2 discs), £20.00
Distributor’s website: http://rermegacorp.com.

Reviewed by Mike Leggett
University of Technology Sydney

Heiner Goebbels has been making performance, with music at its core, since the mid-70s. These two albums span his considerable oeuvre, the latest in 2009; the double-CD is a re-issue of early albums recorded in Frankfurt and Berlin, the latter in a live gig at the Floz in 1976.

The earlier recordings display Goebbels and Harth’s considerable musicianship, moving freely between absorbed musical styles and idioms on a range of instruments including piano, accordion and organ, both playing tenor sax (in the little tribute to Rameau’s noisy birds), with Harth enriching the textures using soprano sax and three kinds of clarinet. Contemporaries of the period seep through into the flow of music, from the British Coxhill and Parker back to Coltrane himself. All these pieces are superbly prepared and recorded and yet manage to retain a sense of the circus band, or burlesque ensemble, ready to do battle with any heckler in the front row in a manner auspiced by Brecht and Müller among others.

Indeed the chants of Eisler, Brecht’s collaborator, are celebrated in both CDs in the re-release, recalling the on-stage presence of musicians in the many forms of central European music theatre, from kleitzmer to Pina Bausch. The approach is exuberant, some would say aggressive, but back in the 1970s there was plenty to complain about as well as celebrate, for a musician in his 20s. His instruments were not in fashion with the manufactured dissent generated by the rock industry but as with the different forms of alternative culture, commerce raided the startling collisions of experiment such as his, thereby keeping the sales turning over.

The recordings made in the current decade retain the overt musical referencing but are by comparison, sober and reflective, leaving much for the listener to work through with the larger group of musicians, including on one track the celebrated Senegalese kora virtuoso, Boubakar Djebate. The Italian Concerto track at 20-mins is the longest piece with Goebbels improvising at the piano with percussionist Chris Cutler, breaking into the Bach version of the tune, a remnant of his classically trained past, finally to be strafed by leitmotif blasts from the 17-strong Icarus Ensemble. The instrumentalists fly into a scorching fray bearing sounds long concealed within their classical instruments - brass, woodwind, strings and yes, sampler – to provide rich layers and combinations of sound and, potentially, image.

The resonance and timbre of percussive sound from the instruments, particularly the piano, even when playing the Bach, are heard as if in a gallery exhibition; each requires individual attention. Curated into the overall composition of the performance, these sounds become ambiguous in the setting of a listening room; ideal for concentrating the listener’s attention on the magic of vividly organised sound, but limiting in the full drama of performance, the core of the original presentations in a festival series in Italy.

Delivered to audiences in Italy during 2005 as the second of a touring festival devoted to Goebbels work, this inspired approach could include in future events sufficient resources it might be hoped, to provide a visual component on DVD. Audiophiles need not watch what this reviewer would like to see: the source of what we hear, specifically the two hard working percussionists joined in the final 3-minutes of the Bach piece by the Icarus Ensemble. Momentarily the riffs climb inside the tightly arranged intervals and memory is stimulated once more – we have shifted continents and are somewhere in New York City with the Jets and the Sharks. Goebbels is the master somewhere in our consciousness, of creating networked musical performance, crossing genres, attenuating tradition, generating crescendos of imagery and sound to breach expectations.

Last Updated 8 March, 2010

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