Manfred Schulze is a name almost completely unknown to jazz, free improv, and new music fans, but it shouldn't be. His pioneering work with the Brass Quintet began in 1969 and continued until the early '90s -- whenever he was well enough (he suffers from a terrible illness), creating possibilities for groups such as Rova, the World Saxophone Quartet, New World Saxophone Quartet, and many others. Schulze heard, in his inner ear, the base elements of the German vocal tradition as idealized by Bach, the jazz, and the free jazz dimensions of everyone from Sonny Rollins to Ornette Coleman to Cecil Taylor, as well as the new European classical tradition of Hindemith and Webern. His vision was of a music composed but improvised upon, and was far ahead of its time -- and treated as such. Only some of his peers paid him the attention and accolades he deserved. The three pieces here, "Viertens," "B-A-C-H," and "Number 12," represent the complete recordings of the Brass Quintet from 1985 and 1986. "Viertens" is an organized improvisation where three different modes are introduced at once and the improvisation takes place between them. There are straight lines of swinging bop drawn through the lines but also tone rows intended as atonal counterpoint. The work does have a sense of humor, though -- in its last measure the reeds pop and burp before ending in a unified "A-men." "B-A-C-H" is a different animal altogether. Short harmonic phrases overlap timbres at the end of each phrase, all of them written in shorter and shorter durations so the overlap becomes a constant timbral statement. It is written as a cantata for saxophones and trombone. Sopranino, soprano, alto, flutes, baritone, and trombone whisper to each other in harmonic bliss where tonality is even-tempered before the dynamics of the piece begin to shift and the phrases become longer and longer as held, while single notes and other voices -- namely the soprano and baritone -- begin to separate from the fray and modally enter a different space. This is where intervallic invention becomes key for Schulze as modulation takes place in tonal clusters as a signal to change durations -- there is no meter. "Number 12" also begins with minimal tenets, but quickly transfigures itself into a free jazz blowout where all the brass instruments vie for dominance in a mix that is as dense as it is exciting. The unleashed atonality that takes place after the first 15 minutes is like Blake's vision of heaven and hell loosing itself on Earth. The music is thunderous and cacophonous, full of fury and passion, but also of great warmth and tenderness. There is never contempt in Schulze's music. The Brass Quintet of 1985 and 1986 was perhaps the most stable group Schulze ever assembled, and the evidence is present in this wondrous recording.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek