Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden | Frictions | Frictions Now | No Business Records

Michael Sell – trumpet | Dieter Scherf – alto saxophone, oboe, piano, shepherds flute, shenai, prepared trumpet, bamboo flute | Gerhard König – guitar, prepared guitar, flute, double flute | Wolfgang Schlick – drums, metal

Frictions was recorded on July 12, 1969 at Walldorf Studio, Walldorf and released as an edition of 300 vinyl records on a private label in 1969. The same year there was a second edition of 200. Frictions is an uninterrupted piece, which originally consisted of these compositions: Intro For Four (Scherf), Topology (Sell), Töne (Sell), Sounds For M (Scherf), Töne I (Sell), Ballad-Allintervallreihe (Scherf), Peaceless (Scherf). Frictions Now was recorded on July 9, 1971 at the same studio as Frictions. and released as a limited edition of 500 vinyl records on a private label in 1971. Both tracks composed by Michael Sell (GEMA), Dieter Scherf (GEMA), Gerhard König (GEMA) and Wolfgang Schlick (GEMA). Original LP cover designs by Wolfgang Schlick. Group photo by Hanns E. Haehl. Michael Sell photo by Michael Sell. Liner notes by Ernst Nebhuth. Remastered by Arūnas Zujus at MAMAstudios. Final design and booklet layout by Oskaras Anosovas. Produced by Danas Mikailionis. Co-producer – Valerij Anosov

Tracklist: 1. Frictions [37’32] 2. Frictions Now Part I [17’16”] 3. Frictions Now Part II [18’35]

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Today

if one thinks back to the beginnings of European or more exactly (West) German Free Jazz, the names of Manfred Schoof, von Schlippenbach, Brotzmann, Globe Unity, or Gunter Hampel immediately come to mind. Much less known is the existence of two more remarkable groups which set out to play and record the then-new music called -Free Jazz- at the end of the 1960s.

The “Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden” (FJGW) was one of those ensembles which today, undeserv-edly, are almost forgotten.

Dieter Scherf (alto saxophone -*1941), an engineer, and Michael Sell (trumpet – *1942), who had studied politics and chemistry, initially played Hard bop at the beginning of the sixties. Around 1965 both musicians developed a desire for an original sonic expression rather than continuing in music of American origin. The FJGW was eventually founded in 1968.

The other members of the co-operative group were Gerhard Konig (guitar – *1946) and Wolfgang Schlick (drums – *1941), although the thematic material, some of which was conventionally notated, was realised by Scherf and Sell.

Gerhard König, Wolfgang Schlick and Dieter Scherf

During and after his time in school, Konig took lessons in guitar, flute, composition, and piano. While still a teen, he worked as a free-lanced musician, and continued to do so while studying sociology, playing in several bands and founding his own trio. He joined the FJGW in spring 1969, having played in a Soul group only weeks before. After the group broke up he continued to work as an independent artist, collaborating with the writer Adam Seide and others until his premature death 20 years ago.

Wolfgang Schlick studied graphics until his final examination in 1963.

Exhibitions in Germany and abroad did not prevent him from playing banjo and guitar in Dixie and Swing groups. From 1966 onward he concentrated as a drummer and became a founding member of the FJGW. He died in 2014. At the time the FJGW was formed, Wiesbaden didn’t have a Free Jazz scene.

There was a small pool of like-minded musicians in nearby Frankfurt — Alfred Harth, Thomas Cremer and Herbert Joos from the ‘Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe’ (the other neglected group!), or the trumpet player Malte Burba, who 15 years later would become the main soloist of Sell’s compositions, were among the fellow artists.

Concerts by the FJGW could be heard mainly in the Jazz cellars and clubs of southwestern Germany. But the four young musicians also appeared in Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Poland (Warsaw, Krakow) and for the 7th Biennale in 1971 at the Parc Floral in Vincennes, Paris. July 1969 saw the group entering a studio for the first time recording the LP “Frictions”. As the established labels weren’t interested, the FJGW had to produce and sell their initial release themselves.

In a similar manner they recorded their second release, “Frictions Now,” in 1971, albeit without pre-conceived compositions thus freely improvising. In addition, an excerpt exists of a concert the group gave for the legendary 12th edition of the German Jazz Festival, shortly afterward issued on the LP “Born Free” (Scout, 1970). It was during this gathering of mostly Free Jazz musicians that Scherf, Sell, and Konig partici-pated in a meeting between the Art Ensemble of Chicago and a large group of mostly German musicians. An excerpt of this performance is also included on “Born Free”.

While diverse points of reference to the Free Jazz of African-American heritage are clearly au-dible in the music of the FJGW, distinct ideas and forms of musical treatment are evident. There is an emphasis on spontaneous interaction, and the music unfolds in frequent variations of the timbral textures (Klangfarbe), the intensity and the density of their movements.

In 1972 the FJGW came to an end.

Dieter Scherf, who in his youth had studied classical clarinet for three years, played in the group `Interaction’ in 1973, sometimes augmented by Albert Mangelsdorff. In 1974 he joined in a trio with the bassist Jacek Bednarek and drummer Paul Lovens, who was later replaced by the Turkish percussionist Bulent Ates. Both outfits recorded one LP for Scherf’s label LST Records. The trio’s release ‘Inside-Outside Reflections’ even saw a reissue in 2005 on Atavistic.

Scherf explained that “conceptional reasons,” as well as severe problems with his teeth and consequently with his embouchure, led him to withdraw from music. The musicians’ concert fees were miserable and it was impossible to make a living, so he went back into his studied profession, but worked also as a music teacher. Scherf, whose musical preferences are with “all good composers, but especially J.S. Bach, Indian music, Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Rollins, Bill Evans, Bud Powell, Lennie Tristano,” has performed only rarely in public since the dissolution of the FJGW. Today he makes music only for his private delight — “all over the place,” as he puts it.

Michael Sell - Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden

Michael Sell, on the other hand, has played more and more with his own ensembles since 1972. Early on he had established his label MISP Records. In addition, collaborations arose with Alfred Harth and with the “New Jazz Ensemble” (`Burning Flowers’ – Bellaphon 1975) In the course of the ’70s and ’80s, composition became more important in his work. Sell himself identifies the watershed in 1978. Until 1981-1982, the recordings with his own groups are still rooted in jazz, despite the growing compositional superstructure. But in the years to follow the transition to contemporary classical music became more evident during his concerts and on his mostly self-produced recordings.

Today Michael Sell is a singular phenomenon as a composer, not bound to any school, and highly original. What has remained from his years as a jazz musician is to write music — if possible, for musi-cians he has selected himself.

If you haven’t done it already, I suggest you push the play-button and listen to the sounds four young musicians had the courage to pursue more than forty years ago. We are in the need of such adventurous endeavours. Maybe more so today. — Ernst Nebhuth (with thanks to Ekkehard Jost for his permission to “plunder” his seminal work about European Free Jazz; especially his book “Europa’s Jazz 1960 – 1980” from which I took a tiny bit)

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2 thoughts on “Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden | Frictions | Frictions Now | No Business Records

  1. When an obscure buried treasure is reincarnated and unexpectedly arrives in your mailbox, it often looms as a source of interest. Case in point is this little known Wiesbaden, Germany-based experimental jazz group that formed in the late 1960s and recorded two limited edition LPs: Frictions (1969, Self-produced) and Frictions Now (1971, Self-produced). At the time, free jazz in West Germany was an embryonic idiom with the advent of saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, pianist, Alexander von Schlippenbach and other notables. But this quartet hustled and bustled in the regional Wiesbaden club circuit for a mere pittance and eventually disbanded in 1972 for various reasons, as the artists splintered into other persuasions and never flourished within nascent European avant-garde circles.

    Now condensed on disc, the albums unveil a paragon of improvisational flows, commencing with the multipart 37-minute title track “Frictions,” which is mesmeric journey, heightened by the musicians’ multitasking modalities and thrill-seeking impetus. From the onset, you experience the musicians’ dazzling interactions whether they role play as opposing forces or deep dive into a swirling eddy. With either Michael Sell or Gerhard Konig’s searching flute lines, and Dieter Schiff’s punctual block chords on piano, the band marches to a higher order via buzzing interludes and the hornists’ melodic phrasings that detour into mind-bending semi-structured escapades. Their enthusiasm and nanosecond-speed inventions intimate a dizzying speedway, coupled with a few nods to Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics and solemn digressions, engulfed in a myriad of disparate motifs seamlessly woven together.

    The musicians multitask by using prepared guitar, Eastern flutes, prepared trumpet and other instruments that augment the shifting paradigms while broadcasting polytonal choruses and wraithlike overtones. Along with a few brisk and unanticipated unison riffs, the quartet will encounter a fork in the road or a dead-end while switching gears then soar into parts unknown. They underscore the preponderance of this impressive work with countless reengineering processes sans any filler material. It’s an energized rush! But they temper the pulse and momentum on “Frictions Now Part II,” where Konig and Schiff employ their arsenal of flutes, contrasted by trumpeter Michael Sell’s bold phrasings amid some delightfully strange mini-motifs; cat and mouse romps, and asymmetrical beats. No doubt about it, this unit plotted intensely layered and shrewdly focused gambits with winding plots and joyful noise, encapsulated by the players’ strategic goals and irrefutable camaraderie.

  2. History is written by the victors. That holds as true for art as for war. When looking for pioneers from the formative days of free jazz in Germany, the names of reedmen Peter Brötzmann and Gunter Hampel, trumpeter Manfred Schoof and pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach are likely to spring to mind. But now the Lithuanian No Business imprint, acclaimed for excavations in the music’s more obscure American strata, turns its attention to some of the forgotten facets of the European scene. And they’ve hit pay dirt by unearthing 73-minutes by Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden, originally released on two limited edition LPs recorded in 1969 and 1971.

    Twin mainstays of the quartet were trumpeter Michael Sell, who has gone on to become a respected contemporary composer, and reedman and sometime pianist Dieter Scherf, who has been inactive since the mid ’70s. Guitarist Gerhard König and drummer Wolfgang Schlick left similarly little trace. Given the lack of money associated with the genre, it’s surprising that the outfit stayed together even as long as it did. But perhaps that is testament to the commitment and rightly held belief in what they were doing which lead to the pair of self issued discs which represent the unit’s legacy.

    Sell’s darting trumpet still bears the hallmarks of his hard bop antecedents and, like Freddie Hubbard on Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1961), can on occasion become somewhat repetitive. Scherf on the other hand parades a panoply of saxophone stylings from overblown squeals to multiphonics, with vocalized inflections and an attractive vibrato. On guitar König occasionally takes on the role of electric bass, but is at his most effective at the extremes of the guitar lexicon, while Schlick maintains a churning pulse, at times eschewing his cymbals to evoke a Teutonic Milford Graves.

    As a group they sound ahead of their time. That’s helped by the unconventional instrumentation and the swapping between instruments by everyone except Sell. The throbbing drums and guitar avoid steady meter. And while all anything goes between the composed segments, which take in tricky unisons and free-bop heads, the transitions convince as accomplished and natural. Some of the approaches are also novel such as the drone backing for a drum feature. However there are some aspects such as the post bop trumpet flurries and busy jazz rock guitar episodes which come across as dated.

    The multifaceted “Frictions” -a continuous 37-minute cut -draws on compositions by both Sell and Scherf which are interpolated regularly within the kaleidoscopic expression. It starts in a vaguely menacing bucolic mood, with Scherf’s tolling piano and Schlick’s rumble offset by animated flute, presumably from König. Thereafter changes come thick and fast, as the charts serve as launch pads for intense exchanges. Particularly exciting are the passages featuring alto saxophone and trumpet in parallel streams of consciousness.

    They abandon scores entirely for the second session two years later, but at some cost to their individuality. “Frictions Now Part 1” places even greater emphasis on spontaneous interaction, although Sell’s considered lines add structural elements. Simultaneous blowing of horns remains potent, but the free for all sounds more generic. “Frictions Now Part 2” seems fresh in its restraint, exploration of tone color, gradual cumulative development and textural variation with König on double flute, and Scherf on oboe and the piano strings.

    But notwithstanding any limitations, it’s a great find.

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