Saturday, July 13, 2019

Albert Mangelsdorff - "Now, Jazz Ramwong"

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"A new album by Albert Mangelsdorff, A Jazz Tune I Hope (MPS), recorded in Germany in 1978 with Elvin Jones, Eddie Gomez, and Wolfgang Dauner, shows that overtones can be eventually assimilated in a rather orthodox jazz setting. He uses multiphonics to build up the themes, for rhythmic chording, and to simulate strumming. Most impressively, he uses them to color his solos, to amplify without distracting from the linearity of his ideas."
- Gary Giddins, Rhythm-a-ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation

In many ways, trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff [1928-2005] was the virtual inventor of modern German jazz. His post-war recordings make it possible to trace the emergence of a distinctive idiom, rather than a mere copy of British and American models.

Whatever the context, Mangelsdorff always managed to sound both absolutely responsive and absolutely himself. He was one of the great masters of his instrument, a pioneer in multiphonics, free playing and virtually any other context he's put himself in; but as far as recordings go, the price for that versatility seems to have been a discography which has never been firmly in print and available. At the moment, virtually nothing from his early years is easy to find which is why I thought perhaps it might be fun to revisit Now, Jazz Ramwong [Pacific Jazz PJ-10095], the recording through which I was introduced to his music.

The release of this LP coincided with Albert Mangelsdorff’s appearance at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival and his being selected by Downbeat's International Jazz Critics' Poll as the #1 new star trombonist for 1965. The Albert Mangelsdorff Quintet had also recently made a triumphal 10 week tour of all of Asia from Turkey to Japan under the commission of the German Goethe Institute

The initiative for the tour came from Joachim Ernst Berendt who has long been occupied with Asia music, and who accompanied the quintet through Asia.

Some of the many themes and songs from Asia’s rich musical traditions which Berendt collected on a previous Asian trip can be heard in Jazz versions on this record. Therefore, it is only fitting and proper that he gives us a first-hand report on Albert Mangelsdorff in Asia and the music on this record.

“Asia has all of a sudden become interesting to jazz musicians. Yusef Lateef, Tony Scott, Ornette Coleman, Cal Tjader, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Gerald Wilson, McCoy Tyner, Bud Shank, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley and many others have begun to use Asian themes or elements and sounds of Asiatic music. But many of them have done so only superficially. If the rhythm is supposed to be "exotic," it only too often becomes Latin American completely ignoring the fact that South America is just as far from Asia as the United States. Why then an "Asiatical" theme?

The Asian musician who most fascinates Jazz musicians is the famous Indian composer and sitar soloist Ravi Shankar -a soloist who ranks along with the greats of this century, an Artur Rubinstein or Charlie Parker. Bud Shank played with him, John Coltrane and Yusef Lateef have studied his recordings, and Gerald Wilson has dedicated a big band number to him.

In view of this interest on the part of so many Jazz musicians, it is surprising that up until now there have only been single “Asiatic numbers”  scattered around on various LP's. Albert Mangelsdorff was commissioned by the German Goethe Institute  to travel to, and play in, many of the countries of Asia, from Turkey to Tokyo. He gave concerts in Iran and and Iraq, in India, in Pakistan, Burma and Thailand on Ceylon [Sri Lanka] and the Philippines, mMalaysia, Hong Kong and in Vietnam -a  total of 50 performances in 65 days!

Albert's impressions of Asia are as many sided as its music - and that is even more diversified than the music of Europe. Asia is rich in magnificent musical traditions. The Indian and the Chinese music traditions are at the center of Asia's music; on the periphery there are the Arabic-Mohammedan (which extends into India), the Indonesian (with Bali as its center) and the Japanese. In Indo-China, where the two main cultures overlap, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam have also developed splendid musical traditions.

All of these musical  traditions have one thing in common, there is no harmonic structure. And that is exactly the reason they have become so important for jazz. The jazz musician of the 60's will, on the one hand, break out of the “harmonic tomb” of European music; but on the other hand, he wants to avoid the cold abstraction of the 12-tone or serial music. Asia is a perfect alternative! It is not without reason that the most interesting numbers on this record are based on "scales," in the manner in which these are used by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The improvising is "free," is "modal," and not restricted by any harmonic framework.

All this is particularly clear in The Theme from Pather Panchali by Ravi Shankar. I first heard this theme from Ravi in 1962 in the north Indian city of Jaipur when I saw the famous Indian film "Pather Panchali." Immediately after seeing the film, I bought the record and brought it along for Albert. Ravi Shankar took the main theme of the film from a Bengali folk song. Albert begins by presenting it in its original form, then Heinz Sauer on tenor sax, Gunther Lenz on bass -drawing Indian sitar sounds from the instrument  - and Gunther Kronberg on alto vary it in three different “moods.”  The moods are definitely Jazz moods, but they also conform to that concept of mood which Indian music defines with the word "raga." It is almost impossible to explain to a Western listener what a “raga” is: it is simultaneously theme, scale, mood, and melodic sequence.

We didn't meet Ravi Shankar personally while in India, but he was told about the jazz variations on his Pather Panchali theme. He thereupon had the quintet invited to his Ravi Shankar Music School in Bombay.

From New Delhi we flew to Thailand, the only country in the world which has a king who is also a jazz musician. King Bhumibol received us in the inner circle of his royal household, where even the ladies in waiting understood something about Jazz. He first listened to a concert by the quintet, and then called for his own royal Jazz sextet, and then proceeded to hold a jam session with Albert's men. I have seldom seen Heinz Sauer so charming; he forgot about his own musical concept and-in order to correspond to the king's style-tried to play a la Coleman Hawkins.

The number which made the greatest impression in Bangkok was a jazz version of the ramwong. The ramwong is the most popular Siamese folk dance which the girls in Thailand dance with graceful and acrobatic motions of their turned up fingers. The Bangkok Post wrote on January 23, 1964: "The quintet did a marvelous job transforming the folk tune...."

The ramwong which Albert chose to play is called in Thai "Nau Djay Ramwong," but because Albert was "making jazz out of it now," he called his version — much to the amazement of the Thais -Now Jazz Ramwong. It's an Asian My Favorite Things, ideal evidence for our thesis that it is in free improvisation that modern jazz and Asia meet.

Albert plays a German folk song from a time when many of our songs were "modal"- 13th century. Song Of The Three Angels (Es Sungen Drei Engel) was originally a fighting song and grew out of the battle against the Mongols on the Lechfeld Plain. However, as I noticed when announcing the concerts in Asia, because Germany has now become a prime peace loving country, it has come in the meantime to be sung as a Christmas Carol." Paul Hindemith wove the song into his opera "Mathis der Maler." Roland Kirk and Benny Golson took it from the opera with the mistaken idea that it was an original theme by Hindemith.

At first Albert didn't take to the theme at all: "It sounds too much like Christmas." But then, over the course of many months, he transformed it into a piece of music completely his own - a kind of "Old-German soul waltz” complete with all the collective improvising so typical of Albert Mangelsdorff. He says about it: "We forget about the angels. I'd much prefer to call it Song Of Us Three.

Heinz Sauer contributed a very effective original composition entitled Club Trois which along with Albert's original ballad, Ballad For Jessica Rose, Blues Du Domicile, and Set 'Em Up, constitute material that was part of the group’s repertoire before the Asia tour.

Albert would have considered the record incomplete without Blue Fanfare. This is the blues theme song with which he began all his concerts in Asia. It is a symbolic “Here’s where we came from, even if we are far away in Asia.””

- Joachim Berendt

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