Mama Kuku

Association P.C.

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Mama Kuku Review

by Thom Jurek

Mama Kuku is the fifth and final Association P.C. recording (they were originally known as Association Earwax for two albums, and inexplicably changed their name). Led by guitarist Toto Blanke, this German supergroup stood outside the Krautrock and psychedelic camps and played their own fiery, non-academic brand of prog rock and jazz-rock fusion. The first half of this recording was performed at the Arkandenhof in June of 1973, and the final half, "Lausanne," at the Radio Suisse Romande during the same month. The legendary Conny Planck engineered the German gig, while Jean-Claud Blanc, Raymond Bernard, and Jean-Pierre Molliet handled the latter show. The original quartet: Blanke drummer Pierre Courbois, bassist Sigi Busch, and Joachim Kühn on Fender Rhodes, were joined by the king of early fusion flute, Jeremy Steig, for both shows. Originally released in 1974 on MPS, this date is a fiery example of both the tight compositional skills that the various bandmembers possessed -- they shared writing duties -- and Kühn and Steig also collaborated, displaying the symbiotic, rambling brand of free improvisation they were capable of. The five cuts on side one begin with the knotty, rockist jazz on the title track, beginning with a lovely upright bass solo by Busch that gets wiped for memory near the two-minute mark when Blanke and the band enter in earnest and move the entire proceeding to intricate wide-ranging changes and contrapuntal improv. Busch is amazing to be able to play above all this electricity and he does so seemingly without effort. The interplay between Kühn, Blanke, who is running through the scalar theme, and Busch is outrageous and exhilarating. Finally Steig enters and makes the thing funky for the last two minutes with a killer solo, with whomping cymbal breaks by Courbois and excellent comping by Busch and Blanke. "Bold 'N" Steig," a flute and Rhodes duo is pure vanguard jazz, and is done delightfully without excess. The engagement of the two players is breathtaking. Given that the track "Dr. Hofmann" is dedicated to Albert Hofmann, the man who discovered LSD, you can already imagine what sonic skullduggery is at work here -- the cool thing is, it works. "Ecnells" is a pure prog freak-out on all counts. But it barely sets the listener up for the second half of the record: a twenty-one-and-a-half minute improvisation called "Lausanne," live on Swiss National Radio. The first half contains a bit of noodling, with instruments feeling each other out, engaging one another in small groups and building tension before Blanke takes off in a wild solo that offers proof of his uncanny abilities as an improviser. The band just loses it after this and goes into complete jazz-rock meltdown form, leaving the listener exhausted and happy. Over three decades later, this single piece remains worth the price of admission as it summed up the entire German scene to that point, and led the way forward.

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