Having recently spent some time in Düsseldorf for work reasons, I am more than glad to be back in Berlin. I missed the light trickling through my shutters onto the dust on my keyboard, the fly screens on my windows, the cracks in my doors, the chinks in my chaos, the markers in my books, and the familiar faces at the obscure jazz concerts I love. People I’ve never spoken to, but we see each other around and nod, knowing we share something even though we’ve never shared a word.
Aufsturz is a club in the North of Berlin. Jazzkeller69 organises concerts there. Last night’s band was Die Glorreichen Sieben (The Magnificent Seven), but I didn’t really care who was playing. I really just wanted to get some jazz back into my system. By the time I had made diverse phone calls that could have waited until tomorrow, found a clean pair of trousers, talked myself into the hour-long journey there, and then finally made my way out and actually got to the concert, I’d missed the first set.
For the rest of the intermision, I got talking to a young English guy at the bar. He told me that the band had been playing some kind of country/bluegrass style of jazz. Really not my thing at all, so I was a bit sceptical about whether to stay or not, but I had already paid my 10 Euro, so … shame to waste it and I’m glad I did not.
The Magnificent Seven arrived on the stage, all four of them. Two drummers, a guitarist and a bass guitar player. They started off with three crazy rock-jazz renditions of songs from Pink Floyd’s first album Piper at the Gates of Dawn: Lucifer Sam, The Gnome, and Astronomy Domine. An unusual repertoire to say the least. All songs were written by Syd Barrett, who was lead singer and main songwriter of Pink Floyd until 1968. After he was replaced by David Gilmour, he had a short-lived solo career then fell into obscurity. His name was revived in 1983 after Roger Waters left Pink Floyd. The more loyal fans (like myself) preferred to re-explore the band’s past rather than follow David Gilmour into Floyd’s future as a superficial rock band.
I personally regard Barrett as as one of the most important songwriters of the 20th century and though I was touched to see a contemporary jazz band giving his work with Pink Floyd such extensive coverage, I was also sceptical about the idea of Barrett songs as jazz improvisations. Most of his songs are constructed of strict, obscure rhythms.
The fact that the Glorreichen Sieben’s repertoire (during the second set) consisted solely of cover versions brought up the question of the recognition effect. Being a fan of Pink Floyd, my memory of the harmonies of the original Syd Barrett tracks made it easier for me to come to terms with the disharmony of the improvisations. This actually served to reduce my enjoyment of the music (although it was technically brilliant) because I found it difficult to rise above my existing knowledge of Pink Floyd to truly appreciate the improvisations that the band were offering.
Their fourth track was an improvisation on the Neil Young song “Round and Round”. I personally have had little contact with the music of Neil Young and did not know this song until yesterday evening (and all Neil Young fans say: “what?”, but it’s true). For this reason I had no memory of the song to hold the disharmony of the Seven’s improvisation together. I enjoyed this track much more.
The band are fascinating to watch. They produce such unusual sounds that I found myself scrutinising their every move to find an explanation for everything they did. Why two drummers? was one of the main questions that I had. But this question was quickly answered: these two drummers could not be more different from each other. I watched them closely trying to find a role that to allocate them to, but found nothing clearcut. Of course I could see that Christian Lillinger was providing structure by means of rhythm and concentrated quiet brushwork
whilst Alfred Vogel seemed to be experimenting with as many sounds as could possibly be made with percussion.
But it would be unfair to try to categorise drummers or indeed any musicians in this way. I spoke to Christian Lillinger afterwards and asked him what he himself thought. He laughed and joked that somebody had to be act responsibly in that setup:
Conclusion: if this band comes your way, don’t miss them: