Decades apart, acclaimed German guitarist locates jazz delights in the heart of Africa and on his home turf.
An artist of international renown – as a solo performer, a leader of his own MILD MANIAC ORCHESTRA and a co-founder, together with Jon Hiseman, of the UNITED JAZZ + ROCK ENSEMBLE – Volker Kriegel was never afraid to venture into uncharted waters but, wherever his six strings might roamed, the veteran’s concert recordings are thin on the ground. That’s why these two CDs can be revelatory for Volker fans and uninitiated alike, capturing Kriegel on top of his game and offering testament to the late musician’s freefall improvisations which would last for deliciously long time yet never linger, and not for nothing one of the cuts here is called “Elastic Menu”: such is his ensembles’ suppleness and variety of themes they whip up seemingly on a whim, while actually there’s a lot of control involved.
Control also had to be exerted on the German group’s Nigerian gig of 1979, although Lagos – a high point of their 11-country African trek – was abuzz with jazz and funk at the time, when Fela Kuti and Ginger Baker reigned on the scene, so the geographical choice made sense; more so, it allowed Volker and his collective unfold maximal liberty on the ebulient “Mindwill” and the carnivalesque “Bahia Next Year” that has the ensemble’s multitude of beats tied tight, anticipating a couple of high-energy, yet gentle, jams once Tee Mac and King Sunny Adé join in the fun. The band excel in shifting dynamics, flowing from incendiary flurries of notes and fiery slabs of brass on “Hot Nuts” where the band members rock rather recklessly, as Hans Peter Ströer’s bass bulges to lock in with drums and out of percussion patterns, to “Oriente” where Thomas Bettermann’s keyboards help Kriegel lead this Gilberto Gil’s piece beyond the pale and turn it into an effervescent, if twangy, epitome of bluesy elegance and restraint.
Caution will be thrown out the window for “Elastic Menu” which is being bent into a tribal dance and extended to span twice as much sonic space as its studio source did thanks to the vigorous filigree that sends jazz back in time. This method would also define, albeit with fluid European flavors, “Palazzo Blue” from 1990, when the new line-up visited Bochum to conjure up the same cosmic spirits of Hendrix and Ellington – but there’s fresh transparency to the Kriegel-Bettermann interplay to drive the four compositions delivered on the night and pour delicacy in the elegiac “Octember Variation” before giving “Philipp II” an infectious ripple. As motorik rhythms tap the Krautrock vein, overall adventurous feel reaches a boiling point, and “Metro Moskau” shows Volker in his most urban – as opposed to the deliberately unhinged Nigerian mode.
Yet together, these two concerts highlight the all-round nature of the late great artist’s in-the-moment creativity. A long overdue peek into his modus operandi,