Zentral Quartett

Zentral Quartett

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Founded in 1973, this formerly underground East German quartet exemplifies the perseverance of a people who refused to kowtow to totalitarianism. Originally calling itself Synopsis, the group changed its name in 1984 to Zentral Quartett, a playful reference to the Central Committee. First released in 1990 with very limited distribution, this CD is arguably the best of the group's several recordings to date. What distinguishes the piano-less and bass-less collective is its mix of free jazz with rollicking melodies, hymns, and toe-tapping rhythms. These are avant-gardists for whom the center holds, and for whom humor combines with consummate artistry to produce something that transcends the parts. All four players contribute equally, whether writing compositions, taking solos, or just adding to the group sound. Conrad Bauer is deliciously raunchy on trombone, in one of his best representations on disc, while Ulrich Gumpert strokes the piano keys with killer chops, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky chimes in on reeds and flute, and the inimitable Günter Sommer rocks. These fellows don't take themselves or their music too seriously, and they are all the better for it. Who else could perform so radically and yet be so irresistibly accessible? If free jazz is to expand its base, this may be the way to go.

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