Conrad Bauer

Between Heaven and Earth

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    9
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This all-star trio (all of whose members hail from the former German Democratic Republic) played together on-and-off for 15 years, ending only upon Peter Kowald's death in 2002. This is the group's final studio session and it captures the trio at its best, with intensely swirling layers of sound interlaced with innovative, creative improvisations. By the time this was recorded, this remarkably cohesive unit played with a singular defining vision that stamped it with an individual voice. Conrad Bauer, as the only horn, dominates, his full-bodied trombone never too abstract to sport earthy gutsy strings of notes filtered by a super-charged technique that includes multi-phonics, circular breathing, and so-called "false" notes. His lower range has never sounded better on disc, as evidenced by some gorgeously developed playing on, for example, "Travelling" and, even more so, on "Loving." From the ethereal, even surreal, "Wondering" to the more aggressive and busy "Looking Out," virtually every track is filled with wonder. Peter Kowald's bass shines in his triplicate role of supporting Bauer; interacting as part of collective improvisation; and soloing alone. A uniquely emotional performer who developed a substantial facility on the acoustic string bass, Kowald's sense of discovery is preeminent, and connects head-on with the highly underrated Günter Sommer's percussive intrusions which with a seemingly endless array of instruments color almost every moment. More than most percussionists, Sommer's musicality marks him as an equal third wheel, whether through his marimbas on "Suffering" or through rubber band dirge-like effects on the opening "Being Born." An important album for aesthetic and historic reasons, Between Heaven and Earth is a reminder of how compelling this trio could be.

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