May 19, 2024

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What you call free palaver: Günter Christmann is 80. Free jazz musicians have never found the right balance: Video, Photos

He was one of the early free jazz musicians, performed with Pina Bausch and played on the roofs of Wuppertal: Now the jazz trombonist Günter Christmann is 80. Free jazz musicians have never found the right balance. Musically they tended towards exaggeration, verbally towards understatement. Their aesthetic goal was the acoustic total. But when they improvised, they simply called it “playing freely,” and reacting counterpointed to one another meant “we palaver.”

You should only trust the tonal language, without prejudice and without the Chinese of the subject. They were right, although listening often became difficult. Everything could be accepted as a game, but not everything was musically useful. At least you knew that afterwards. Those who, as artists and listeners, had survived the long phase of sound discovery in the thicket of the free-jazz bustle were definitely wiser.

The trombonist Günter Christmann is one of those free spirits who eventually separated the chaff of the mere roar from the wheat of the exciting new musical sound. As a free jazz musician from the very beginning in Germany, he belonged to the Wuppertal and Berlin circles around Peter Brötzmann and Alexander von Schlippenbach, published his first recordings with Free Music Production (FMP), played for many years in the Globe Unity Orchestra (in the trombone trio Albert Mangelsdorff and Paul Rutherford) and has performed at various Total Music Meetings. One could hardly penetrate deeper into the nucleus of the new tones in jazz.


His recordings with the clarinetist, saxophonist and accordion player Rüdiger Carl, in a duo with the drummer Detlef Schönenberg and in the quintet of the bassist Peter Kowald at FMP are among the free jazz milestones of the early 1970s. The appearances with the dancer Pina Bausch in the Academy of Arts in Berlin and the later choreographic-musical works with Elizabeth Clark and Regina Baumgart were characteristic artistic crossings of those years. One could also experience Günter Christmann as an improvising individualist in Peter Kowald’s “Funfair Music”, where he played the alphorn with Paul Rutherford, standing on the roofs of Wuppertal like medieval tower trumpeters. His most notable compositions from this period include his solo music for trombone and double bass.

Günter Christmann received initial inspiration from traditionalists of New Orleans jazz such as Kid Ory and George Lewis, learned banjo, bass and violoncello before he found his way to the trombone and dealt with the new jazz of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. After long explorations of free jazz, since the early 1990s he has been primarily concerned with mixed media projects combining instrumental improvisation, musique concrète, film and light installations, belonged to Wolfgang Fuchs’ legendary King Übü Örchestrü and founded the improvisational ensemble Vario, made up of musicians dancers, actors and acrobats.

In the many years of his musical activity, Günter Christmann, a tireless experimenter, has developed a sophisticated trombone technique that includes circular breathing, multiphonics, playing with different reed mouthpieces, mutes and unusual sound materials. This Tuesday he celebrates his eightieth birthday.

Jazz-Posaunist Günter Christmann wird 80 Jahre alt

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