Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wolfgang Dauner’s Et Cetera “Knirsch”

Knirsch is pianist/keyboardist Wolfgang Dauner’s 1972 follow-up to the eclectic free-jazz/rock improv collective Et Cetera, which was also the rather too anonymous name of a 1971 album issued in Germany on the tiny Global label and reissued on CD in 2008 by the German Long Hair Music label.

That album carried through what Dauner started on his groundbreaking album, The Oimels (MPS, 1970), also with guitarist Sigi Schwab, bassist Eberhard Weber and drummer Roland Wittich, and presented some of the finest and spaciest German jazz rock – now called “Krautrock” – of the day.

With its follow-up, Knirsch, which is German for “crunch,” as alluded to by the trippy “bite” cover art of Frieder Grindler, who also designed ECM and Mood Records covers in the 1970s, the starry group was out and Dauner reconnected with MPS to hook up with American guitarist Larry Coryell (Chico Hamilton, Free Spirits, Gary Burton) and British drummer Jon Hiseman (aka John Hiseman, co-founder of the jazz-rock bands Colosseum and Tempest and, later, with Wolfgang Dauner, the all-star band United Jazz + Rock Ensemble).

Here, Dauner is also supported by German bassist and composer Günter Lenz (who appears on Krzysztof Komeda’s original recording of Astigmatic and has recently provided arrangements for Placido Domingo), the Detroit-born Fred Braceful (1938-95), who lived in Germany for most of his life and was Dauner’s drummer from 1963-73, and the mysterious Richard Ketterer who provides occasional “sounds” and “voice” on “Yan.”

Recorded at the MPS Studios in Villingen, Germany, in March 1972, Knirsch probably out ranks Et Cetera for classy experimentalism at a time when “fusion” wasn’t trying to sell records as much as it was trying to embark on a journey toward a creative direction that only very few artists in jazz or rock ever found.

One could argue that if Wolfgang Dauner hadn’t exactly “found” what he was aiming for (he quickly abandoned this style of music shortly afterwards), he had certainly come pretty close. Knirsch suggests that, perhaps, the world just wasn’t ready to make the trip that jazz-rockers or rock-jazzers were making at the time. There is a lot of great playing and terrific ideas mixed up in this maelstrom of a program, featuring four Dauner originals and Larry Coryell’s “The Real Great Escape,” also the title track to the guitarist’s own 1972 Vanguard album (done here without horns).

The nearly heavy metal-like “The Real Great Escape” sounds a little out place on this program; maybe too straight-ahead, like so much other Hendrix-derived rock of the day. It’s very much Coryell’s show here, whereas the rest of the album finds the keyboard-led program featuring the guitarist clearly as the guest – sounding more like Carlos Santana meets John McLaughlin than he has elsewhere.

By the same token, Dauner sounds positively Herbie Hancock-like on the exploratory “Sun,” a spiritual slice of creative fusion that probably could have gone on longer and more meaningfully than its six and a half minute playing time allows. Coryell and Dauner engage in a creative duel here that istruly exciting to hear.

The 13-minute “Yan” comes closest to recalling the earlier Et Cetera album and suggests a more percussive version of what Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band was aiming for at the time (check out “Rain Dance” from the 1973 album Sextant). While Larry Coryell is hardly audible here, Richard Ketterer’s additions point the way to some of the music John Zorn would later explore, particularly with Naked City.

The fusion of the eleven-minute “Tuning Spread” is a terrific template for the same kind of suggestive musical melodrama that the Italian prog-rockers Goblin (especially when the group was still known as Cherry Five) made famous in Eurothrillers during the mid to late seventies. Dauner lays down a particularly intoxicating groove with acoustic piano, clavinet and electric piano, inspiring Coryell to take a magisterial solo of epic jazz-rock proportions. It’s no wonder Dauner became a famed composer on German television. “Tuning Spread” indicates that Dauner and his partners know how to bridge a scintillating, eerie base of malevolent mayhem (that would have worked particularly well in 1973’s The Exorcist or any number of its Euro knock-offs) with an especially creative amount of jazz improvisation.

The album’s closer, “Yin,” pairs Dauner’s multiple keyboard explorations with Coryell’s varying guitarisms overtop a rhythm driven by Braceful’s remarkable conga work. “Yin” finds Dauner absolutely inspired, layering sound atop sound – as he’d learned to do so well (and would perfect as time went on) – to create an absolutely perfect jazz-rock synthesis that brings Coryell to some of his best playing in a creative rock environment (something that he evinces on several other occasions elsewhere).

Recently reissued on CD in a beautiful LP-like package by the German HGBS label, Knirsch is one of the more significant monuments to jazz-rock that ever came out of Germany. It is absolutely essential for fans of Larry Coryell, particularly those who prize his jazz-rock phase, and valuable to hear “Tuning Spread” and “Yin” alone. Et Cetera was only named for one more album - Live (MPS, 1973), also with Fred Braceful – so it was clear this sort of thing didn’t have as much life as the interesting music presented here suggests. Check it out.

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