paul rutherford | gunter christmann



Emanem 3305

Paul Rutherford / trombone.

Recorded: July 2, August 20, and December 17, 1974.



FMP 0120

Gunter Christmann / trombone, Detlef Schonenberg / drums.

Recorded: February 24, 25, 1973.



FMP 0260

Gunter Christmann / trombone (solo on three tracks), bass (one track), Detlef Schonenberg / percussion, Harold Boje / synthesizer (four tracks). Recorded: March 3, August 8 & 16, 1975.

It was Roswell Rudd who, in the last decade, reopened the investigation of the trombone. He not only extended the instrument’s range and range of possible effects, but utilized those effects to the fullest to create an at times abstracted, at times melodic, but always essentially dramatic art. Its strength lay in that and in its implied technical openness; in the latter respect, Rudd has probably influenced every trombonist to come since.

One of the earliest attempts to go beyond Rudd was made by Chicagoan Lester Lashley who, on Roscoe Mitchell’s Sound (Delmark DS 9408, recorded 1966), made forays into some less charted areas. But his work actually added little that was technically new to the instrument, and even his phrasing now seems not that far removed from some of what Rudd had done (hear, for example, the New York Art Quartet, ESP 1004, recorded 1964).

By the early Seventies, some new advances had been made. Albert Mangelsdorff, in the context of playing with Peter Brotzmann (Elements, Couscous, The End, FMP 0030, 0040, 0050, recorded 1971) brought a distinct “energy” component to the instrument. But while this incorporated new sounds unique to the trombone (produced, for example, by singing into the instrument or by double-tongueing), it drew for its aesthetic more from the work of saxophonists (Albert Ayler, for example) than from other trombonists. As such, it also contained within it the same impossibility of growth beyond a certain point that by the end of the decade faced those saxophonists who had relied in large part on this approach. Mangelsdorff himself has since moved on to other forms.


The first advance to suggest both a technical and formal expansion of the instrument was made by Paul Rutherford. Recordings on which Rutherford appears in early 1969 already indicate this (von Schlippenbach’s The Living Music, MP 0100, or Manfred Schoof’s European Echoes, MP 0010) as does a May 1970 recording (Groupcomposing, ICP 6) where he is featured more prominently. Probably the first full blown exposition of his style, however, is with the group “Iskra 1903” (Iskra 1903, Incus 3 & 4, recorded 1970 & ’72, especially improvisations 1 and 8 ). He slides from one end of the instrument to the other, utilizing an extremely wide range of sound, with a rasped punctuation and an unusual amount of pitch distortion. He slurs, double-tongues, and fluctuates his breath; employs various embouchures; slows down, speeds up; and makes frequent use of mutes to create all manner of dynamic shading and shifted emphasis within sounds (pitches) as well as between them. So that as well as the obvious technical advances, Rutherford’s work implies a whole different way of approaching time and rhythm and organization of sound.

His solo album Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie, featuring him in six free improvisations, is a true “tour de force.” Perhaps even more than Derek Bailey or Evan Parker, Rutherford has let the concept of free improvisation imply an extremely open form of free association of sound and context. His pieces are truly “pieces” in that they are entirely open-ended, employing an organic logic of the moment, allowing the mind/body (and instrument) to follow any tangent wherever it will (and to cease following whenever it will) rather than limiting itself to the demands of a more forced (and easily definable) structural unity. This is in addition to an even more extended musical vocabulary and greater technical virtuosity, as a part of which Rutherford also employs certain percussive devices (the banging of mutes on the bell of the horn, occasionally stomping his feet) simultaneous with the actual playing of the trombone. At least as of now, Rutherford has taken the instrument as far as it has been taken, and the conceptual implications of his work go well beyond any consideration of the trombone as such.

More easily accessible, though still highly exploratory, is the work of Gunter Christmann. What makes his work more accessible is that he is in the first instance a great dramatist; this establishes a more obvious connection with traditional instrumental approaches. Like Rutherford’s, his work is freely improvised, and he makes use of a wide range of new sound production techniques. He likely employs as many of these devices as Rutherford, but with a good deal less internal shading, and the purposes to which they are put are different. That is, Christmann tends to exacerbate the effects of any area of sound in which he works, utilizing contrast between these areas (with less fluctuation within) as a means toward a “climax” of one sort or another. Compared to Rutherford’s work, there is a greater sense of “development,” of forward movement, less sense of suspension of sound or whole areas of sound. But this is a matter of degree, for this would still be considered fairly abstract music compared to much of what is now accepted as “avant garde.” Special mention must be made of Christmann’s three solo pieces (on Remarks) which are far enough removed from any conventional instrumental sound that they might easily pass for electronic music.

Complementing Christmann most of the time is Detlef Schonenberg, and he shares equally in creating the music. He is an original player who flows with and moves in and out of Christmann’s work, functioning as a type of roving “orchestrator.” He uses an expanded drum set, though without a snare, and with the use of gongs and several wooden devices. His work has a heavy “bottom,” and he sets up a frenetic, tense underpinning (though often keeping a basic “beat”), using the cymbals for contrast and looseness (“swing”).

On Remarks, Christmann and Schonenberg are joined by Harald Boje (who has also played with Stockhausen) on synthesizer. He approaches his instrument rhythmically, for what it can add texturally and, if in so doing he doesn’t actualize a great deal of (what would seem to be) the potential for electronic instruments, he is sympathetic to the feel and flow of the music, and is able to contribute to it.

Christmann’s work is likely of greatest interest on these records, however; for it, along with Paul Rutherford’s, helps define the state of contemporary trombone.Rutherford’s stylings set the standard, though; his playing likewise suggests a great deal about the state of contemporary music.

Henry Kuntz, 1976


Paul Rutherford biography:

Paul William Rutherford (born 29 February 1940 in Greenwich, South East London) is a British free improvising trombonist. He initially played saxophone but switched to trombone. During the 1960s he taught at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He is a major player in the British free improvisation scene and part of the European free jazz scene. He was one of the first to use unorthodox playing techniques for improvisation. Rutherford was one of the first to use trombone multiphonics, i.e. he sings into the trombone and blows at the same time.

paul_rutherfordbypetergannu.jpgIn 1970 Rutherford, guitarist Derek Bailey and bassist Barry Guy formed the improvising group Iskra 1903, which lasted until 1973. (This formation was documented on a double-LP from Incus, later reissued with much bonus material on the 3-CD set Chapter One (Emanem, 2000). A film soundtrack was separately released as Buzz Soundtrack.) The group was later revived with Philipp Wachsmann replacing Bailey, a phase of the group’s life that lasted from roughly 1977 to 1995; its earlier work is documented on Chapter Two (Emanem, 2006) and its final recordings were issued on Maya (Iskra 1903) and Emanem (Frankfurt 1991). Iskra 1903 was one of the earliest free improvising groups to omit a drummer/percussionist, permitting the players to explore a range of textures and dynamics which set it apart from other contemporary improvising ensembles like SME and AMM. The group’s unusual name means “Spark” in Russian; it was the title of a revolutionary newspaper edited by Lenin. The “1903” designation means “20th century music for trio”; occasionally Evan Parker played with the group (Iskra 1904) and Rutherford also at one point assembled a 12-piece ensemble called, inevitably, Iskra 1912. Rutherford has played with Globe Unity Orchestra, London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, and the Mike Westbrook Orchestra. He is perhaps most famous for solo trombone improvisations. His album The Gentle harm of the bourgeoisie is a landmark recording in solo trombone.


selected Paul Rutherford recordings:


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