Jazzensemble des Hessischen RundfunksAtmospheric Conditions Permitting
Subtitled "radio recordings 1967-1993", Atmospheric Conditions Permitting enters the archives of Frankfurt Radio (Hessischer Rundfunk) and retrieves material from 31 sessions featuring a total of 50 musicians. The resultant double CD amounts to a panorama of German jazz, primarily featuring the long-established Jazzensemble des Hessichen Rundfunks (founded 1958) as well as groups of overlapping personnel, such as the Albert Mangelsdorff Quintet and the Joki Freund Septet. But there are also appearances by guest musicians. These include an Alexander von Schlippenbach band deconstructing a walz, the Thomas Heberer-Aki Takase duo reworking a 50-year-old German pop song, and Bulgarians Milcho Leviev and Theodossij Spassov exploring the interface between Eastern European folk and modern jazz, with Spassov soloing persuasively on the kaval. Amongst the set's highlights is Paul Lovens' "Krötenbalz", an intricate and subtle improvisation on "selected drums, cymbals and wood" by Germany's foremost free percussionist.
Wilhelm Liefland was the literary voice of the Frankfurt jazz scene until his untimely death in 1980. The range of his critical writings has been matched by very few other "jazz journalists": one would probably have to go back to Boris Vian for a comparable grasp of jazz's social context and the ways in which it overlaps with the other arts. Liefland was also a poet - his texts here prompt freely associative improvising from Michel Pilz, Buschi Niebergall (also no longer with us), Bob Degen and the Jazzensemble's unofficial leader, drummer Ralf-R. Hübner.
The drummer has previously recorded for ECM on Eberhard Weber's projects (The Colours Of Chloe, Orchestra) and is, along with saxophonist Heinz Sauer, the principle composer/arranger in this collection. His often impressionistic writing establishes climates which the Jazzensemble's soloists - and friends such as Lee Konitz and Bill Frisell - are encouraged to embellish. Hübner's pieces are, in the words of HR producer Ulrich Olshausen, "brooding, sometimes angry reflections on the insanity of our times." "Fahrmann Charon" is the most intense of these, its "infernal character" underlined by Sauer's tortured alto solo.
Sauer, who was partnered with George Adams on the ECM album Sound Suggestions (ECM 1141), first came to international attention as the saxophonist in Albert Mangelsdorff's group, one of the genuinely pioneering bands of the 60s and 70s. Since 1978, however, the Jazzensemble has been one of the few contexts in which they have been regularly heard together. Both players are well-represented on Atmospheric Conditions Permitting. The trombonist shines particularly brightly on his own composition "Blues, Eternal Turn On" where he brings his multiphonic approach and his unique "chording" to bear on a gruff rumination on the source of jazz.
Heinz Sauer's writing for radio has often taken the form of "miniatures", relatively complex pieces between one and three minutes in length, and these are threaded throughout the double album. As a player, perhaps the most complete account of his inventiveness is to be found on the "Concierto de Charangojazz", an exhaustive 16-minute dialogue with South American charango virtuoso Jaime Torres.
Over almost four decades, the Jazzensemble des Hessichen Rundfunks has recorded more than 2,000 titles. No anthology could claim to be truly "representative" of such a vast archive but Atmospheric Conditions Permitting gives an intriguing glimpse into the nature of the work as well as an indication of the enduring vitality of the Frankfurt jazz scene...