|Vibist/reedist Gunter Hampel is certainly a legend of free music, having recorded with virtually everyone associated with the European and US schools. For further reading of his exploits, interested parties should check out the detailed bio (5 pages in tiny type) at his Web site. It all began with The 8th of July 1969, a Euro-US sextet summit with Anthony Braxton, Willem Breuker, Arjen Gorter, Steve McCall, and Jeanne Lee, a relatively early document of these all-stars and essential listening for those interested in the era.
The aforementioned date also marked the birth of, well, Hampel’s own Birth label, an early DIY effort that still exists today in its third decade. Since this initial release, Hampel has also recorded a variety of projects for Birth, the majority of which (save two records) are his, including various trios, quartets, quintets, and large ensembles, most notably the World Community Orchestra and New York Orchestra. His latest teams him with two (unknown) youngsters, saxophonist Johannes Schleiermacher and drummer Bernd Oezsevim, with a focus on front-line horn dialogue.
The trio, dubbed the Gunter Hampel European Trio, demonstrates its communicative abilities on this seven-composition, almost 80-minute session, recorded live at a Köln loft in December of 2004. Hampel turns in triple duty here, adding his impressionistic vibes, probing bass clarinet, and clarion flute to the proceedings. Schleiermacher, Hampel’s right-hand man, sticks mostly to tenor sax, with a gruffish tone that favors quick spurts that dart around his musical compatriots. Finally, Oezsevim seeks to add both texture and rhythm to the session, spending most of the record laying down jagged rhythmic patterns for the two main soloists, except for an extended foray on the longest cut of the session, “Emission Workout”.
Hampel’s compositional style demonstrates an interest in free-spiritedness that is to be expected given his generational affiliation, yet he also favors the melodic journeys that some of his contemporaries lack, as evidenced in several full-blown head themes. For instance, “Emission Central Travellin’” is the trio at its most concise, with Hampel’s melody spurring his bass clarinet interjections with Schleiermacher’s tenor, while Oezsevim sets a stern off-kilter swing groove. “Emission 2004” also features tandem interactions that goad Schleiermacher’s burnished tenor lines and, eventually, Hampel’s moody vibes. From a more slowly brewing angle, Hampel’s meditative flute introduces the 15-minute “Emission Friday” before Schleiermacher’s alto budges its way in alongside Oezsevim’s drums, edging Hampel out for a tasty duo excursion before Hampel’s flute returns for the closing third.
Hampel’s protracted pieces, like the extended stay of the aforementioned “Emission Workout”, contain both sides of Hampel’s musical personality, a spacious “get to know me” approach, as well as a rhythmic vamp for the front line’s elastic discussion. Another lengthy piece, “Emission Wheel + Smiling Energy”, commences in a ruminative fashion as a nice showcase for Hampel’s bass clarinet and Schleiermacher’s tenor amidst Oezsevim’s colors that eventually presents the trio’s most energized moments. Ditto the aptly titled, “Who Are You, If You Can’t Be Yourself”, certainly a testament to Hampel’s 30-plus years of creativity in this music and his partners’ willingness to follow his muse.
The only real negative comments that might be pitched towards this release is that it is a LONG session. It’s not that it fails to maintain one’s interest, but more that it depends on your stamina both in terms of length and tolerance for unusual instrumentation. All in all, though, it demonstrates that Hampel continues to make compelling music no matter who sits at the table.