sketches and ballads
If you know the score, you might actually think of the piece's title as a bit of an understatement. After all, it is made of 50 densely-written pages, which might cause some interpreters to lose track of sight. For Michael Wertmüller's composition Sketches And Ballads is full of seemingly unplayable rhythms, which hail from his extensive experience as a percussionist: complex 256th parts and 512th parts are no exception in Wertmüller's work. Even the visual appearance of it shows much of the dynamic and ferocity of his music. And these notations are really just "sketches." The piece was originally composed for the SWR to be played at the NOWJazz sessions of the Donaueschinger music days in 2010. The title's true meaning becomes apparent when Michael Wertmüller himself talks about his work. As it turns out, the term "sketch" is actually a reference to Miles Davis' Sketches Of Spain, especially because Wertmüller is very impressed by the density of Gil Evans' composition for Davis. Still, there is a deeper level as well. Although the score of Sketches And Ballads is written out in detail, it only fully unfolds its beauty and real meaning when the single particles are connected by free improvisation. This is one of the reasons why Sketches And Ballads clearly is a jazz piece -- the other reason being that the composed parts are really vibrating with a jazzy groove due to the free work of the musicians with the material and their jazz-like phrasing. The piece was performed by a sextet in October 2010 in Donaueschingen for the first time. The musicians were fronted by the trio Full Blast -- a critically-acclaimed group consisting of Peter Brötzmann (saxophone), Marino Pliakas (e-bass) and Michael Wertmüller himself on drums. For the realization of Sketches And Ballads, some friends joined the threesome for the performance. American saxophonist Ken Vandermark has often been linked to Full Blast and adds some special timbre to the baritone saxophone and the clarinet. German trumpeter Thomas Heberer is one of the most creative and versatile musicians in New York's Downtown scene; percussionist Dirk Rothbrust plays a wonderfully headstrong timbal. Although there are two percussionists involved, Sketches And Ballads only works with a few, very well-placed passages in fortissimo. The composed parts are strongly influenced by Wertmüller's highly sophisticated understanding of time. At the same time, there are also temptingly tender parts: the ballads which are almost tailor-made for Peter Brötzmann. The German saxophonist, internationally well-known for his distinctively raw sound on saxophone, clarinet and tárogató (a Hungarian woodwind), developed a seemingly more melancholic side. Brötzmann's touching sound acts as a counterpart to Wertmüller's fast-paced compostion. Michael Wertmüller accomplishes a lot with his piece: he provides the proliferating free jazz with certain compositional structures without holding back. Eventually the formally structured "neo free jazz" -- also incorporating intense rock elements -- still has the same core theme it used to have in the 1960s: criticizing the political state of affairs and social injustice that leave the masses paralyzed. Peter Brötzmann (tenor sax + tárogató), Ken Vandermark (baritone sax + clarinet), Thomas Heberer (trumpet), Marino Pliakas (e-bass), Dirk Rothbrust (percussion + timpani), Michael Wertmüller (drums + composition). Recorded live at the Donaueschinger Musiktage, 10/16/2010, recorded by SWR.