Reviews by Massimo Ricci

The A23H chronicle



In Alfred Harth's website - if you're snoopy like I surmise - there's a page that should tickle unpronounceable fantasies, a place full of CDRs documenting unofficially recorded adventures that quite often are even worthier than what's already known (and believe me, it ain't easy: this man's archival material will turn many collectors crazy). This is a compilation that the protagonist prepared for his own pleasure, and could certainly act as a perfect introduction to the sonic universe of our favourite "Frank-S(e)oul-Further" (pun definitely intended).
The opening couple of pieces is the one that, curiously, sounds "older" in terms of recording quality despite being the newest, so to speak, in date. Captured at Chicago's Empty Bottle in 1997, the trio of Harth, Kent Kessler and Hamid Drake are the nearest thing to pure jazz that we can find in this disc. The playing is instantly superb; in "Chic Ago" we see A23H blowing fuses pretty soon with typical lyrical fury and firing desperation, Kessler mixing swing, knottiness and consciousness, Drake utilizing drums like a painter stroking a canvas, placing "those" snare hits and "those" tom rolls exactly where not expected. A magmatic flow with serious purpose, a great start altogether. "At the Empty Bottle" exploits a calmer mood, yet the music remains intense to the level of pregnant self-containment, a gorgeous dialogue between clarinet and double bass highlighting the most beautiful section.
"Han Guk" - from the Frankfurt Jazzfestival 1995 - is a charming selection with David Murray, Fred Hopkins and Dougie Bowne, based on the common elements that Harth found in traditional Korean court music and jazz. It moves slowly upon repetitive bass figurations, the saxophones trading serene chants and bad intentions at the same time, the boiling drummer launching at times the piece towards the stratosphere in washes of pure bliss for the audience. The project was meant to be continued but, unfortunately, the death of Hopkins and a severe accident occurred to Bowne prevented this fine group to proceed to a future.
A quasi Coltranesque prologue is featured in "Ending peace", played in 1993 by the QuasarQuartet (check the review of "POPendingEYE", ladies and gentlemen). Simon Nabatov, Mark Dresser and Vladimir Tarasov join the Reed Man in a joint venture which, in the space of a few minutes, patchworks a deviated Tschaikovskij, free jazz and a hymn to the high spheres of sax-ism which, between you, me and the gatepost, works better for the lusty side of our ears than a dose of reductionism. You didn't hear a word from this spy, though.
The duo of Mr.23 and Heinz Sauer, Parcours Bleu a Deux (more about that in the next instalments of the "Memories") gains help from electronics and tapes in a kind of improvisational poetic that's as theatrically concentrated as technically advanced, and might probably be appreciated by experts exclusively (time to shift mental gears, people). Excellent material it does remain, with unexpected vocal apparitions and ethereal dissonances as a morphing background to the sax pairing. Taped in Frankfurt in 1990, this is the most impenetrable segment of the whole set. A long shot from Charlie Parker indeed.
Did someone remember that Günter Müller was a drummer before devoting himself to present-day EAI? Listen to him remodelling the audience's faces in this fabulous track at Willisau, 1987. Wanna know who else plays here? Get a seat: AH, Phil Minton, Sonny Sharrock, Andres Bosshard. They all go WAY out in various circumstances. Harth appears in need of an exorcism first, then recollects the shreds, finally deciding to cry his lungs skywards to impossible upper partials. Sharrock goes from involuntary serialism to the ghost version of "My Sharona" travelling through the outer spaces of overdriven dissonant plucking, just as Minton enters the scene with that bunch of strange guttural animals that he always carries in the belly. I would have loved being a microphone stand that night. Fantastic stuff - anything else in your cardboard boxes by this lineup, Alfred?
The record ends with "Honeymoon after 1st world marriage". It's a tranquil - yet not overly sweet - composition from 1984, with Charlie Mariano, Karl Berger, Peter Kowald, Trilok Gurtu and Barry Altschul. It was penned as a commemorative response to the participation to a "conference call improvisation", where artists contributed with sounds and poems while in simultaneous communication (a relatively pioneer concept in that period). The name of that performance was "Marry the world by conference call", so there you go. When an artist has such a wealth of ideas in the brain, they must exit one way or another. Come think of it, look at the names that played with A23H on this CDR only: enough for three "regular" careers elsewhere.

In Touching Extremes