King UbuThus speaks King Ubu: "Yomm!" At his surrealistic parties he celebrates his "threomphe", enjoys hard drinks ("absinth"), lets us take part in unusual events ("Just rave in a bin bar"), and whenever he swears, it is probably something like "shrit" - a form of Yomm-speak. 19 musicians are going on a journey into the musical worlds of Norbert Stein, who is the medium, as it were, for contact with Ubu's fantasies. They improvise according to a plan - with short and long episodes and extracts from various concerts. The dramatisation is the result of a fragile search, a search for special moments in which improvisation finds its own.

It was not until the revolutionary changes of the 1960s, when Free Jazz had developed a vast amount of additional material for improvisation, that European musicians started to develop "European Jazz", rather than playing American-style "Jazz in Europe". They claimed the freedom to integrate not only Blues, but also their own roots - various forms of indigenous folk music (e.g. in Scandinavia, France and the Netherlands), on the one hand, and the sound worlds of the New Music, on the other. The politicisation of the sixties, which also affected Jazz, resulted in far-reaching changes. Initiatives formed in a number of centres, with the declared aim of taking the musical and economic destiny of their improvised music into their own hands, to become emancipated from their dependence on record companies and concert agencies. Two prominent examples are the Association de la Recherche d'une Folklore Imaginaire (ARFI) and the Kölner Jazz Haus Initiative (Cologne Jazz House Initiative), set up in 1978. Norbert Stein was an active member of the Cologne Initiative from the year it was founded until 1992, when he left it and set up his own PATA MUSIC label. The Cologne Jazz scene was observed very closely by the composer Manfred Niehaus, then jazz editor at the radio station Westdeutscher Rundfunk, who supported the young musicians both with advice and in practical ways. The Kölner Stil (Cologne Style) was a mixture of styles coupled with a specific brand of Rhineland humour: the rock artist Frank Zappa was at the back of their minds, together with a good knowledge of Mauricio Kagel's music theatre and a sound, craftsman-like grasp of Jazz.

concertStein designs sounds and structures that are full of association with passages that almost seem to be rituals with their own peculiar musical language that comes from a variety of sources. It sounds familiar and at the same time alien and is carried by an accurate awareness of musical sequences and forms that is by no means common in improvised music. However, although Stein uses a musical framework, he has always been concerned, first and foremost, with the meaningful narration of musical story lines. In this respect he is a traditionalist, translating one of the most important parameters of Jazz into his own language. Hints of New Orleans brass bands can be found in his music just as much as reminiscences of classical wind ensembles, meditative music from Asia and the eruptions of Free Jazz. Yet despite this eclectic approach, Stein's music bears its own signature. He has called the music of his Pata Horns and Pata Masters "New Archaic Music". "Pata" is a word he has borrowed from "Pataphysics" by the French writer Alfred Jarry, as well as Jarry's protagonist, King Ubu. The absurd new words he has coined make us aware that an artistic microcosm can also be fed from surrealist elements and can elude any evaluation based on conventional criteria.

cd coverARFI is very close to Norbert Stein, both intellectually and musically. This is reflected in the following extract from their foundation manifesto: "Improvisation is the tradition of a playful organisation of sounds: playing an instrument; playing with the instrument; playing with the memories of sounds produced a moment earlier; playing with other musicians, in a complex relationship with the listener/viewer; playing with one's voice and body; producing emotional connections; creating a new folklore - all these elements are stages in the development of musical improvisation. Playing is the warranty for familiarity with the music, for the immediacy of the action that takes place and for mutual closeness." Obviously, it is not spelled out which sounds exactly are to be organised, because that would mean undue limitations. The dream of a "folklore imaginaire" is the dream of regaining the opportunities of an oral culture (as opposed to a written one), as this is something which Western societies have lost, the dream of achieving the harmony of body and spirit at least part of the time, with a spontaneous wholeness, overcoming the barriers between performers and audience, regaining the qualities of myth and ritual - and a wisdom that need not necessarily be defined. The Leverkusen project News of Roi Ubu - Pata Music Meets ARFI is not a conference between two organisations, but an intensive exchange of experience between musicians who have developed similar ideas in different parts of Europe. Using a variety of collectives, Stein puts together new combinations, groups that only exist for a few days, for a particular project ("Flux électronique", "Speak French, Speak Yomm", "Chat imaginaire", "Percussion Ubu"). Obviously, this is only possible if those who are involved are on the "same wavelength". Because, as in all improvised music, there is the risk of poor communication between the selected musicians. But in this case the players enjoy responding to each other. Some of them have met before, either in Lyon or in Cologne. And they are using scores, which adds at least some external structure to the projects. Of course, their graphical form allows much interpretation, and it can only become consistent if the musicians listen to each other respectfully, without interrupting each other. Obviously, eruptions and outbursts are part of it, too. This is the beginning of a search for those magical moments, a search for a common language - here and now - which cannot be repeated in this form. At the same time, however, improvisation can only "work" if the musicians find their limits, both musically and in time, through a common process. Pure enthusiasm for the idea is not sufficient to find intelligible forms.

crown with eyeThe result is a sequence of forms to which each one of the 19 musicians has made his own contribution and which are therefore documents of a successful artistic exchange. The common thread is the ideas sketched by Norbert Stein - roughly hewn melodies, approximate sequences, interaction patterns and sometimes even arrangements that seem traditional. Ubu speaks. His "news", however, is not journalistic information, but musical poetry, highly precise episodes within their own conceptual framework such as "The Ultraviolet Things We Weren't Allowed". And these can only be decyphered to a limited extent. However, we can understand their messages. The only thing that is needed on the part of the listener is a little openness, being prepared to follow "wild" thought patterns and leave aside the musical patterns we have learnt, so that the "imaginary cat" can take shape in our imagination.

Dr. Ulrich Kurth

Participants of the project are: Michael Heupel (flutes), Michael Riessler (cl), Klaus Mages (dr), Matthias von Welck (bass-slit dr), Christoph Haberer (dr), Frank Köllges (dr), Albrecht Maurer (vl), Han Buhrs (voice), Jean-Paul Autin (cl, ss), Horst Grabosch (tp), Jacques Veillé (tb), Jean Bolcato (b ), Xavier Garcia (synth), Jean Mereu (tp), Maurice Merle (s), Christian Rollet (dr), Patrick Charbonnier (tb), Alfred Spirli (dr), Norbert Stein (ts, comp, lead).

Writer Ulrich Kurth states in the liners... (Norbert) Stein designs sounds and structures that are full of association with passages that almost seem to be rituals with their own peculiar musical language that comes from a variety of sources. A fair description indeed! Saxophonist-composer Norbert Stein has been at the forefront of Europe´s independent creative-free music establishments while organizing his own label, called "Pata" which he refers to as new archaic music. News Of Roi Ubu, denotes somewhat of a mystical plight revolving around a fictitious character called "King Ubu" .... Despite the complexities and connotations, Stein along with 18 musicians continue their assault on fantasy while implementing and executing a proprietary musical language spoken through 21 compositions throughout 2 discs.

Stein´s sophisticated approach is filled to the brim with wit, humor, dashes of electronics, unique horn arrangements and lively or at times turbulent rhythmic development. Disc 1 features several pieces which at times emit a strong sense of theatrics, bizarre sounds, flutes, violinist´s emulating animal sounds, spoken word and that´s not all.... The composition titled, "Treomphe" features the crafty soloing of trumpeters Horst Grabosch and Jean Mereu atop a staggered rhythmic pulse as the large scale horn section emit emphatic and melodic choruses which bring Duke Ellington to mind. If Ellington dabbled in the avant-garde it may have sounded something like this, mainly through unorthodox yet appealing chromatic horn arrangements and memorable melodic interludes. On the somewhat eerie yet whimsical, "Autism Cap" we hear whistling over briefly stated horn charts complete with sparks of dissonance, ethnic percussion motifs and enticing thematic development. It doesn´t take long here to expect the unexpected as the music borders free jazz yet bridges the gap with well defined compositional structure and disciplined group interplay. On "Absinth", Stein flips the cards as we are treated to an R&B-funk theme and roaring tenor work from Stein along with intentionally slurred and purposely torpid scat-like vocals from Hans Buhrs ....

Disc 2 is a continuation of the explorations of sounds and themes with spoken word over arco bass and high pitch electronics on "La Fete Surreal" and a lengthy percussion sequence on "Von Der Toenenden Insel". Here we notice faint, low pitch droning in the background as if this were some sort of ceremonial ritual as violins eventually interact with horns, disparate motifs and crafty improvisational dialogue. Although, the potpourri of styles, themes and movements seem abstract and at times surreal, this is music which defies categorization within this increasingly expansive musical artform we call jazz. Stein´s brainy tactics and fertile imagination is a joy to behold! Comparisons are slim, as Stein´s music is adventuresome and seductive while maintaining a positive disposition along the way.... Highly Recommended. * * * *

Glenn Astarita / AllAboutJazz