"Karta" is a Sanskrit word meaning "higher power". For Markus Stockhausen, in the present context, it signals a music greater than the sum of its parts: "The outcome of this recording took us all by surprise," he says. The participants had never previously played as a quartet, yet some of them share a lot of history. In the case of Arild Andersen and Terje Rypdal, that history goes back more than 30 years. Other inter-relationships are of more recent vintage...
In 1996, German trumpeter Markus Stockhausen and Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen were individually invited to Athens to work with three Greek composers - Minas Alexiadis, Vassilis Tsabropoulos and Vangelis Katsoulis. From this encounter, two fixed trios have evolved: Andersen's trio with Tsabrobopoulos and John Marshall, recently heard on "Achirana" (ECM 1728) and the trio Andersen/Stockhausen/Héral, joined on their first recording by guest Terje Rypdal.
On that first Athenian meeting, Stockhausen and Andersen played in an ensemble with six Greek players. They were promptly invited back to tour and record with Vangelis Katsoulis (a composer whose background is in theatre and film music) and the interest generated by this visit prompted yet a third Greek tour. "By this time," Stockhausen notes, "Arild and I knew each other pretty well, and decided we should work together more often. We felt we had a lot in common - including the fact that we were both members of an extended ECM family." In 1997 they began to play duo concerts. In March 1998, Markus Stockhausen found French drummer/percussionist Patrice Héral while playing a session with Moroccan Sufi singer/oud player Dhafar Youssef , and knew at once this was a musician who'd work well in a trio setting. Arild Andersen: "Patrice joined us on a gig and the music worked immediately. I hear Patrice as a European equivalent to Nana (Vasconcelos) in a lot of ways. A similar openness and curiosity, a capacity as both a percussionist and a drummer, a strong sense for unorthodox grooves and also a personality that's refreshingly easy to get along with."
Stockhausen/Andersen/Héral has been a working unit since April 1998. (For a brief, experimental period, Austrian guitarist Martin Sievert was a fourth member of the band.) At the suggestion of producer Manfred Eicher, Terje Rypdal was added to the trio for its debut ECM recording. The musical results convinced all participants of the value of doing work together so, henceforth, Rypdal will be a guest with the trio whenever his own crowded schedule permits. (Some concerts with this augmented line-up have been scheduled for Fall 2000).
Although Andersen and Rypdal were of course charter members of Jan Garbarek's "Afric Pepperbird" quartet and though the bassist played on Terje's ECM debut album in 1970, they've played together only infrequently since then. Rypdal worked for a period - not documented on record - with Andersen's band Masqualero after Jon Balke left the group, and in the 80s both Arild and Terje were reunited in one of George Russell's Nordic line-ups, but for the most part these pioneers of Norwegian jazz have gone their own ways in recent decades. So there was a measure of creative tension, "positive tension" Markus Stockhausen calls it, prior to the session in Oslo's Rainbow Studio.
Stockhausen: "We came with material prepared that Arild and I had written and ended up using very little of it. At the start of the session I said, 'Before we begin working on pieces, let's just play' and that's what we did. We improvised for one and a half hours straight, and out of that we subsequently took seven sections which form seven of the 11 pieces that are now on the record. Only four pre-arranged compositions now remain; Terje easily fitted into them, but I think the main music that evolved was a quartet music that was very spontaneous, referring to our different backgrounds but also really creating something new, a kind of synthesis I haven't heard before. A lot of deep listening, a lot of 'instant composing', as Gary Peacock likes to say. I was amazed at the way Terje would harmonise my improvised melodies. And he would lay out chords, in the improvising that I could follow..."
Arild Andersen: "Terje and I just clicked right in. It was as if we'd never stopped working together. There are pieces that have like a half-way walking bass sound combined with Terje's guitar chords, and are in some ways an extension of the kind of things we were doing with Jan (Garbarek) all those years ago. The same is true of 'Legacy' with its Miles Davis references"
Andersen is adamant that the connection with Stockhausen and Héral is one of his main priorities now. "I feel fortunate that I'm in two groups which between them allow me to play all of the music I'm interested in." The "Achirana" trio with Tsabropoulos and Marshall gives the leader room to invent within the 'piano trio' jazz tradition which includes the innovations of Bill Evans. "In the group with Markus I get to explore free playing, rock textures and rhythms and jazz feeling, also electronics, which is another area that's important to me."
Electronics, yes. One of the unique aspects of "Karta" is that each of the four players is extending his sound by electronic means. One of the staples of Andersen's set-up is a machine, fairly antique now in electronic hardware terms, called the Paradis Loop Delay, a 120 seconds sampler. "I can play as many layers as I want, and also go back in layers if I want to change something." Andersen's employing a blended signal for much of the distance - acoustic sounds combined with the Paradis delay system and also a TC Electronics box used for different reverb settings.
Rypdal, of course, has his trademark sounds, in part the result of a signal path that goes from his Stratocaster to his Marshall amps via Marshall, Boss, and Yamaha pedals and an old Roland echo unit. Stockhausen's working with harmoniser, echo, reverb and wah-wah pedal, and even Héral has a small machine, a Boomerang Phrase Sampler, a Texan unit which can create loops up to four minutes in length and play reverse leads live. Musically employed, all of these are more than "effects". The plot is thickened by their utilisation and the sound of the ensemble broadened exponentially. "I've never experienced free playing in the studio in this way," Andersen says. "We were able to play rhythmically together, as well as 'out' together, and to mix up the known and the unknown."
What's certain is that Rypdal responds to this high-tech sound environment with great creativity. There is a lobby that holds, not unreasonably, that some of the Norwegian's most outstanding playing has been on the recordings of others. Freed from responsibilities of band-leading and providing repertoire he can "just blow", as jazzmen used to say "Karta" features some of Terje's most liberated playing on record and can thus be placed in that part of his discography that includes his far sighted contributions to, for instance, Tomasz Stanko's "Litania", Barre Phillips's "Three Day Moon", Edward Vesala's "Satu" or John Surman's "Nordic Quartet".
Stockhausen and Andersen have had completely different experiences as players but are both highly disciplined musicians with a strong sense of self-sound. Arild Andersen has, of course, been with ECM since the very beginning of its history and has made many exceptional recordings as a leader for ECM with contributions from musicians including Kenny Wheeler, Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, Ralph Towner, Nana Vasconcelos, John Taylor, Alphonse Mouzon, the Cikada String Quartet, and many others. He has furthermore played with Stan Getz, Paul Bley, Sam Rivers, Don Cherry, Chick Corea, John Abercrombie, Gary Burton, Sheila Jordan, George Russell and many others. He is recognised world-wide as one of the great bassists of our time.
Markus Stockhausen has recorded for ECM with Ralph Towner, Gary Peacock, Rainer Brüninghaus, with his own group Aparis, and with his father, the great contemporary composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Markus first appeared on stage with his father at the age of four, and has been playing regularly in Stockhausen Sr.'s ensembles for the last 30 years. The experience has made him a unique improviser. His concept of "jazz" is informed by the rigorous demands of contemporary music. A prize-winning virtuoso, a disciplined performer, he moves with ease between the "free" and the densely-notated. "Karta" features his most "jazzlike" playing on disc to date, particularly on the track "Legacy", offered up as a tribute to Miles.
Patrice Héral from Montpelier is, at 35, the youngest member of the trio. He has worked with Barre Phillips in France, with Dhafar Youssef (whose band also includes Markus Stockhausen), with the Vienna Art Orchestra and with saxophonist Nicholas Simion in a project with Tomasz Stanko and Ed Schuller. Héral also has a growing reputation in the worlds of mixed media and music theatre, and has provided music for numerous theatrical productions.