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INTERVIEW 'A co-operation of strong and daring musical minds'

German pianist GEORG GRAEWE of the Frisque Concordance Quartet talks to Chris Searle about their double album Distinct Machinery

THE FREE-IMPROVISING pianist Georg Graewe was born in Bochum in 1956, where his parents ran a pub just 50 miles away from the British Forces Radio Station in Cologne.

At that time “it was the entire, mostly British rock scene I was listening to,” he says.”The Beatles, Stones, Who, Georgie Fame and later Cream and Hendrix. I bugged my parents into buying me a guitar when I was eight and started on piano at 12.”

At 15, he joined a rock band but “they already had a good guitarist, so I got stuck with piano.” Three years later, he formed his first quintet, playing a kind of free jazz which involved written parts as well.

From 1969 on, he became fascinated with the European free jazz played by Manfred Scoof, Derek Bailey, Keith Tippett, Evan Parker and Kenny Wheeler. Only later did he absorb the more “historical” jazz artistes like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.

Graewe has subsequently played with many of the greats of the music, early on with Parker, bassist Barre Phillips and saxophonist Anthony Braxton: “I've been looking up to them ever since,” he says.

His own piano playing has been influenced by listening to many jazz pianists. “But in terms of technique and sound I tried to learn from the grand masters of the classical tradition — Feruccio Busoni, Josef Hofman, Wilhelm Backhaus,” he explains.

“Not for the repertoire of Beethoven, Schubert or whatever, but articulation in general. Needless to say, I’m nowhere near their level of mastery.”

In addition to Graewe, the Frisque Concordance Quartet comprises saxophonist John Butcher and drummer Mark Sanders, both British, and Dutch bassist Wilbert de Joode, the pizzicato ace. “They’re very strong individuals who can play complete concerts of their own and capture the audience,” Graewe says. It’s a co-operation of strong and daring musical minds.”

On Inklings, the quartet’s opener on the first disc of the Distinct Machinery album, recorded in Vienna, there is the harsh vibrato of Butcher’s sparks of notes, de Joode’s booming, subterranean bass, the sprinkling phrases of Graewe’s piano — each note a bell — and Sanders’s ubiquitous percussion.

In such tracks as Fissures and Flow Fields, Butcher’s horn sounds are unique and contradictory —song-like, animal-like yet also like human speech combined with the rawest sounds of nature.

The second disc, recorded live at Nickelsdorf Festival in 2018, comprises three long tracks called Desmodromics, a reference, says Graewe to “the legendary Mercedes racing car from 1954. I always liked cars, machines, speed and steam. They mean freedom and mobility to me.”

There is combustive power in Butcher’s horn, with the quartet in complete “concordance,” playing while listening to each other’s every provocation and cue. Sanders is in the finest of fettles, the boom and rattle of his percussion in powerful unity with Graewe’s tolling notes, Butcher’s zoology of sounds and de Joode’s appropriated vibrations of the earth.

The album makes the listener yearn for live performance again. As Graewe says: “There are many groups waiting impatiently to perform again. Will it be the same? I hope not. It’s different every time and it’s going to be a blast after this terrible period of abstinence.”

Distinct Machinery is released on Random Acoustics Records.

 

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