Wolfgang Dauner from Stuttgart burst into German jazz scene in the early 1960s, leading a generation that would eventually redefine European jazz ten years later. Somewhat prematurely, Dauner showed his predilection for anti-formalism – breaking the tenuous walls between intellectual jazz and contemporary avant-garde. But it was not until he encroached firmly onto borderline rock territory that his hitherto polarized approach brought remarkable results.
His early trio partners – Eberhard Weber (bass, cello) and Fred Braceful (drums) continued to record with Dauner well into the 1970s, even though their musical pathways had by then long bifurcated into ECM impressionism (Weber) and ExMagma’s avant-garde rock (Braceful).
Dauner’s most seminal recordings were published by Joachim Ernst Berendt’s MPS Basf label – a firm devoted to promotion of ambitious fringe jazz. Two of Dauner’s best records were also produced by Manfred Eicher – the founder of ECM and unquestionable architect of the continental style that set European jazz aesthetics apart from its transatlantic roots. In the coming years, Eicher was to innovative jazz what Dierks and Plank were to experimental rock.
Although feted at the time as the coryfee of German jazz, Dauner’s fame did not outlive his golden era.
Three interlinked preludes offer an unappetizing barrage of strangled comments about reading music. The voices are metamorphosed in an ear-bending fashion. Some percussion emboldens the cacophony of vocal effects – abrasive choking, blabbing bilabials, mutilated plosives. Shreds of cello and shrapnels of keyboard endorse doomed ingressives and fallen angels’ weeping.
This is Dauner’s classic Jazz Trio – or better said ‘anti-classic’. Eberhard Weber’s cello is in a fuzz guitar drag, barely dissimulating that its hovering notes are sustained with a bow. Sudden modal jazz inroads are served on prepared piano, but as soon as drums and acoustic bass join, the tape accelerates. The bass shifts direction. The trio is masterfully manipulated, in inhibitory auto-reverse, or kinesthetic overheat. This quasi cyclical pattern of compression and de-compression sounds revolutionary to this day.
This track was realized by Jürgen Karg in a separate session. It consists of the artist’s scraping and mopping slime and mucus from his caldera-hot upright bass. His technique oscillates between hollow vibrato and ominous sawing. An incomprehensible, choleric voice vents his temper, upon which Karg plucks the penetrating G-string in leaps laced with Xhosa-like vocal clicks. His col legno drubbing strikes back in a clipped echo and his glissandos shudder like ripping textiles. Should we reproduce this refractory sound at half-speed, the groan would qualify for a Godzilla movie (indeed, that is what Akira Ifukube and Eiji Tsuburaya originally did to give the monster a voice). In the lower range, Karg’s experiments have more from Helmut Nadolski than Iancu Dumitrescu.
Here the trio develops the ideas known from “Free Action”, recorded two years before. Although the piece evolves out of a basic blues structure, Dauner’s extensions and unexpected contrasts offer more than mere free piano intrusions. The composition has a slowly budding structure relying heavily on the piano in a double role – in lower dynamic it swings within the pre-set bars, but in louder moments, its adventures crash through the predictable format. Weber’s solo prefigures his later style – oily in texture, cancellous in value, haptic in gesture. This composition was later incorporated into in the repertoire of Jean-Luc Ponty’s Experience.
Shout. Crusty, wrinkly sound effects. Some fabric shuffling. Bass string scraping. Gaping and muting. Reluctant moan. Is it a toolbox falling into the piano’s interior? Raspy voices, gnashing strings, clocking hoofs. Manfred Eicher and Kurt Rapp fashioned here a cylinder-like ‘huis clos’ sound. With Dauner on prepared piano and Karg on musical saw, this research into the metastable thematic paralysis falls into the venerable (European) tradition of AMM, Ovary Lodge and Dedalus.
The trio in a jocular mood. Dauner whispers something and a wiggling dance of bellowing voices begins to swing like a herd of monkeys in the jungle. It is all welded by an indifferent psych-jazz bass ostinato and discrete drums.
The most “serious” composition on this record, penned by Wladyslaw Bankstein. It opens like a Mahlerian classic, but with cello’s solo mimicked by bass bowing. Although Dauner is not credited with “prepared” piano here, his right hand seems to be straying from the scale. The piano passage is too percussive and too polynomial to conform to any predetermined dogmas. So must be the notation for solo bass.
In the second movement (“leicht”), Dauner goes melancholic, as does the string duo of Weber and Karg. Still, they maintain a dissonant distance from the piano while agreeing on (occasional) harmonic resolution between each other. Clearly, this piece of pre-harmolodic chamber music must have required quite a lot of practice.
Several seconds of über-dramatic chorus resemble Dauner’s orchestral compositions, but the rest of this sequence is devoted to simply jesting about music. Dauner then picks up a “plastic tube” and experiments for neurolinguistic croaking. He slides and he stalls in lengthy, undulating tones that would certainly deserve the sonority of a trombone.
This is Fred Braceful’s percussion galore. After a short vamp from Weber, Braceful will lay out his impressive palette – from near-hiss to gentle mallet ornaments. Gongs and cymbals envelop this timbral shrine with rumbling rolls and rattling snakes. There is a musing, almost liturgic intensity to the intersections at which this restrained pitch research meets an equally percussive piano. A vast block of echo finally engulfs piano clusters and the emotively iridescent tinkle.
An intransigent, quenching glissando levitates from the trio of melodica, bass and bowed cello. The rugged, cinderbox plane of sonic dirt swivels like a swarm of bees. Occasional cello plucking fails to distract from the husky, frictional effect.
The record ends with a choking guffaw from Fred Braceful.
Dauner’s creative peak coincided with the axial period in the evolution avant-garde music. Although rooted in bold, free-leaning jazz of “Free Action”, he later developed at least three different styles. The least satisfying of these was Ordovician psychedelic jazz, often permitted to rehash jazz and pop classics in an angular quartet style. This can be still heard on positions 4, 6 and even 7 – an undeservedly revered quodlibet.
Dauner did not shy away from contemporary classical composition, as immortalized on 2 and 3. But his most rewarding ventures were free form extemporations (5) and electronic forays into free fusion (8). In the company of Fred Braceful, Dauner endeavored to combine both directions within a band format; Et Cetera’s eponymous debut (9) and the looser moments on 11 are highly recommended.
The list below is limited to the 1967-74 period. I never heard position 3.
1. Wolfgang DAUNER: “Free Action” (1967)
2. Wolfgang DAUNER / Fred Van HOVE: “Psalmus Spei for Choir And Jazz Group” (1968)
3. Wolfgang DAUNER / Reinhold FINKBEINER “Beobachtungen” (1969)
4. Wolfgang DAUNER GROUP: “Rischkas Soul” also known as “This is“ (1969)
5. DAUNER-WEBER-KARG-BRACEFUL: “Für” (1969)
6. Wolfgang DAUNER: “Musik Zounds“ (1970)
7. Wolfgang DAUNER: “The Oimels“ (1970)
8. Wolfgang DAUNER: “Output“ (1970)
9. ET CETERA: “Et Cetera“ (1970)
10. Wolfgang DAUNER – Masahiko SATOH: “Pianology“ (1971)
11. Wolfgang DAUENRS ET CETERA: “Knirsch“ (1972)
12. Wolfgang DAUNER’s ET CETERA: “Live“ (1973)
13. DAUNER-KOLLER-ROIDINGER-SEIFERT-STEFANSKI: “Kunstkopfindianer“ (1974)
MPS and Joachim-Ernst Berendt involved Dauner in many other enterprises, some of which left over memorable recordings. In 1971 he appeared on the momentous “New Violin Summit“, sharing the spotlight with Robert Wyatt, Jean-Luc Ponty and Terje Rypdal. The same year, this supergroup accompanied Don Sugarcane Harris on “Got the Blues”.
Dauner’s innovative keyboard style was somehow lost in larger formats: Hans Koller’s Free Sound and Super Brass Big Band, Baden Baden Workshop Band (which featured Carla Bley and Hugh Hopper) and United Jazz+Rock Ensemble. He also appeared on records signed by Family of Percussion and by Kolber-Illenberger. Eventually, Dauner turned to utilitarian illustrative music – with mixed results.
Dauner’s early recordings also appeared on MPS samplers – “MPS Jazz Sound” (1971) and “Stop My Brain” (1972). Meanwhile, Karg turned to electronics:
Jürgen KARG: “Elektronische Mythen” (1977)
During Et Cetera’s interregnum, Fred Braceful and Eberhard Weber appeared together with Mal Waldron on a record cross-contextually related to the history of Embryo (specifically, LP “Steig aus”):
WALDRON-JACKSON-WEBER-BRACEFUL: “The Call” (1971)
Both musicians continued their illustrious careers in very different directions – Braceful in trio ExMagma and Weber in the ECM stable. Sonic Asymmetry will return to these phenomenal recordings in future.