Machine kaput                 Konnex  KCD 5070

Thomas Borgmann - sopranino and tenor saxophones Christoph Winckel - bass
Willi Kellers - drums
Peter Brötzmann - tarogato, alto and tenor saxophones


  • Machine kaput           17:11
  • Nothing to decide      08:24
  • Keys+screws            31:22
  • First two tracks recorded in concert at Tacheles, Berlin, on June 29th 1995
  • final track recorded at Eldenaer Jazz Evenings, Greifswald, on June 30th 1995
  • Cover design (reproduced above) by Brötzmann


listen excerpts


>Die Musiker schaffen sich einen Raum, in dem subtile, konzentrierte Prozesse möglich sind, bei denen man sich fragen muß, ob sie wegen oder trotz des hochenergetischen Levels möglich sind. Jedenfalls wird kein Ton zuviel gespielt.(...)
Kurzum: Die CD ist nicht so gut, weil hier Brötzmann mitspielt, sondern weil sie vom Ruf der Heimat ist<
(SPEX 6'96)




Liner Notes by Steve Lake

Call of the homeland? Whose homeland may be the first question that springs to mind as this all-German band locks in on the (improvised) anthemic melody of "Nothing To Decide".

If you read these notes in New York (not impossible; despite the erratic nature of free jazz distribution), the music will speak of another time and place, its sense of assurance a matter of knowing, like the back of the hand, the territory Coltrane mapped out on Meditations, or Ayler on Spirits Rejoice.
I'm not certain that even a German listener would argue that these are intrinsically the sounds of the Ruhrgebiet and Berlin, although it has come to seem that way since Brötzmann and former comrades defined the soundtrack of the local jazz underground three decades ago.
Perhaps we could say that the quartet is claiming squatters' rights on an area that American jazz has, largely, abandoned.

The band's name, intentionally provocative, is wide-open for interpretation.
The term "Heimat" resists literal translation while trailing all kinds of ominous and/or humorous shades of meaning.
Heimat as the Fatherland, or as the rustic setting for the Alpine-kitsch movies of the 50s: either notion can produce a shudder in more enlightened corners of Deutschland.
Heimat signifying family values and everything familiar, cosy and cloying in the comfortable life...everything in fact that Brotzmann's Octet tried to machine gun away in the 60s. Heimat as a state of mind - now we're getting closer perhaps - a shared view of the world. This is the music we call home - for want of anything more permanent.

It's interesting that Peter Brötzmann, the musician the international jazz press has traditionally - and I think mistakenly - portrayed as archetypically "German", or even "Teutonic", has very seldom fronted a German band.
Work back through his discography and you find him with Swedes, Englishmen, Zulus, Dutchmen, Finns, black and white Americans, Japanese...virtually every Brotzmann band has been a kind of "rainbow coalition".
He was recently spotted frolicking with a cast of Moroccan sintir players; beneath the somewhat forbidding exterior lurks a grudgingly Utopian spirit, believe it or not.
Ruf der Heimat signals no late patriotic awakening. This is not Peter's band: he was the last to join, and his membership of the organization is part-time (then again, all jobs in free jazz are part-time).

Ruf der Heimat was born "as an idea" at a workshop at the Stakkato Festival, which Thomas Borgmann coordinates, in Berlin in 1992, and became a practical reality the following March.
The original line-up featured Thomas Borgmann, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, Christoph Winckel and Willi Kellers.
It continued for two years in this form, along the way recording its earlier Konnex album. Heinz Sauer was added for gigs in '94, bumping the group up to quintet size.
Peter Brötzmann first guested in November '94. Now the group has reached an interesting juncture whereby it exists in three variations - with Petrowsky, with Petrowsky and Sauer, with Brötzmann.
The rotating first saxophone chair is variously occupied by three of (let's say) the five most important saxophonists in Germany, whose playing styles within that vague genre called "free" could hardly be more dissimilar.
The playing of Borgmann, Winckel and Kellers is also differently calibrated to meet the expressive needs of the "star" reedman on hand.
It should be mentioned, too, that the group has also modified its germans-only policy periodically, and toured with Charles Gayle in 1994.
Paradoxically apt choice, perhaps, Ruf der Heimat hooked up with the famously "homeless" saxman...

Anyway, Thomas, Christoph and Willi each go back a lone way with Peter Brötzmann (Kellers first recorded with him in 1980) and understand that his major misgiving about European free music has always been what he sees as the irresoluteness and indecisiveness of its rhythms.
Brötzmann needs a less ambiguous beat. It takes some concerted horsepower, a driving jazz sense of rhythm at least, to get the physical heaviness of his sound off the ground.

Kellers and Winckel begin at a gallop and maintain a punishing pace; almost immediately Brötzmann is airborne, and Borgmann with him.
They remain up there, buffeted by gusts of rhythm from below, for the rest of the programme, like two big buzzards riding the air currents as they circle the homeland. Looking down on Deutschland? Hard to say, for the music itself seems devoid of cynicism.

If it is in the nature of any "avant-garde" to become finally incorporated into a mainstream, the absorption - some would say neutering - of free jazz has been a very gradual process. The "permanent staff" of Ruf der Heimat represent, having little choice in the matter, an aesthetic position somewhere to the left of the Total Music Meeting, which has become the almost-acceptable face of German free improvisation.

Borgmann and co still play this music as if it were a matter of survival, rather than an entrée into a refined "art music" scene.
The grubbier, funkier gigs on the alternative touring circuit remain their stomping ground. This work is still about the rent. Their last concert series, for example, included a gig on the threshing floor of a flour-mill in deepest Bavaria as well as the usual little clubs and broken-down bars.
Once in a while a festival slot or (as here) a radio recording makes the outlook temporarily less existential.
But as Charles Gayle says, if you start out with nothing things can't get worse.
In '95 Thomas Borgmann was, unusually, able to relieve the Berlin cultural authorities of some of their spare change to form a big band, Orkestra Kith'n'Kin, whose personnel includes Winckel, Hans Reichel, Dietmar Diesner, Lol Coxhill, Martin Mayes and others.
He also has a new trio with Brötzmann and the great American pianist Borah Bergman, which already has an album out (Ride Into The Blue).
Some light on the horizon, then.

Meanwhile, we have Machine Kaput, its title presumably alluding both to Brotzmann's revolutionary Machine Gun recording of '68 and to the so-called Kaputtspiel-Phase of late 60s German free jazz, the era in which the players hit everything in sight as loud and hard ana fast as possible in the interests of obliterating, so the partisan critics said, all bourgeois musical values.
The music of that period that is still worth listening to survives on its sheer intensity alone.

Brötzmann sings in a more controlled voice these days, the master of the idiosyncratic techniques he has developed on his horns, yet the passion of his playing, extraordinarily enough, has not been muted by time.
Kellers and Winckel, from the second generation of German free jazz players (many of us heard them first on records with guitarists Achim Knispel and Joe Sachse), play the music with an untypical forthrightness and refreshing absence of irony and "distancing" which ensures that Ruf der Heimat is not a pastiche of free jazz but, rather, das Ding an sich - and less anachronistic, I'd say, than the largely unconvincing neo-bop outfits beloved by the media.
(Those whose nostalgia extends only to the recent past might find, in Kellers's occasional appropriation of a disruptive, martial rock beat, a fleeting memory of Last Exit's line-of-fire).
As for Thomas Borgmann, Ruf der Heimat would not exist without his organizational energies, and you have to admire his temerity in pitting himself as a sax player against, successively, Petrowsky, Sauer, Brotzmann and Gayle: this is either asking for trouble in a big way or the best possible means to grow as a musician.
His stamina is to be applauded.
Far from being kaput, the "machine" that is Ruf der Heimat seems on its second recorded showing in remarkably good spirits.
There are flashes of an old-fashioned glee, a delight in the sheer size of the sounds lobbed across the stereo spread, that is cheering.
If Ruf der Heimat is outmoded - and some will say it is - it has only to stay on course until the inevitable free jazz revival catches up with it.

You have to be stubborn beyond all reasonableness, rather than fatigued, to insist on playing this music in the late 1990s yet its message remains upbeat, energizing, oddly innocent.
Further news from "home" is awaited with interest.

Steve Lake





© thomas borgmann | impressum