Coco Schumann

Double: 50 Years in Jazz, 1945-1995

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Coco Schumann is a legendary figure in the roots of modern German jazz, and virtually unheard of on this side the Atlantic. Thanks to the long reach of Trikont, those of us who have heard his name bandied about by those in the know get a chance to hear a representative sample of the man's work. As a guitarist, Schumann is a mercurial character who floats somewhere between the territories inhabited by Jim Hall and Tal Farlow and the more groove-oriented mannerisms of both Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. What's strange is on the earliest of the stuff here, one can plainly hear Schumann's original influence, Django Reinhardt. The coolest thing in hearing the Django mark is that Schumann was using it in a quartet that was trying to play bebop -- which still sounded like gypsy swing, only played faster. The entwining lines of Helmut Zacharias's violin and Schumann's guitar on the three part "Helmi's Bebop" are enthralling. You can't hear Joe Venuti and Reinhardt, but it's almost as if you can hear him with Tiny Grimes from the early Parker bands on Savoy. Schumann was also dedicated to being a commercial musician who would always be able to work. Like Tommy Tedesco, this is his greatest strength and biggest drawback. A significant amount of the material found here is from Schumann's exotica years. Strange instrumentation, amplified vibraphones, lots of reverb on both guitar and percussion, choirs of mysterious voices, etc. And then there are those ethnic melodies masquerading as jazz. Most of this material is pure schlock (there is a photo of a Schumann record inside called "El Sombrero" with the guitarist wearing a sombrero -- heavy cheese factor). Unfortunately, this material makes up over half of disc two. But there is also the diverse jazz stylist who could take a tune like "Always" and transform it into something between a stinging, driving bop number and a German folk song. His "Mean to Me" is full of gorgeous vibes; Schumann's slippery chords fill in on the melody and an accordion plays the solos, all in high swing tempo. And then there's "Stripper Blues." This cut would be a standard lounge number if it weren't for the odd arpeggios the artist slides into the blues context of the tune. He's playing them in reverse, against the key signature and away from the rhythm section. While it's true that this set is a mixed bag, it does offer an awesome view of what Schumann was capable of as a bandleader, arranger, and a master guitarist. It's not likely to start a frenzied cult about the man or anything, but it's a nice slice of the German pop-jazz pie, to be sampled slowly and in bits.

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