Street Date 02/28/12
An avante-gard sonic mind melting experience.
Brains on Fire is normally the end result of most conversations with my father but here we have the title as an apt indication of where this enormous sound scape of virtuosity can take not only the musicians but the listener as well. A warning label should be places on the recording, "not ipod friendly."
Pianist and composer Heiner Stadler is not a familiar name as say Anthony Braxton or Carla Bley but his contributions are on equal footing if not elevated as compared to some content to continue milking the post-Coltrane free jazz experience. "No Exercise" opens this musical behemoth on disc one featuring a then 24 year old Jimmy Owens. Reggie Workman's bass introduction sets the mood for an organic yet diverse piece with interconnecting paths of reinvented form and functionality. A controlled sonic but oddly accessible fury commands attention. Roughly translated - a 12 tone row gone blues wild! A smoking large ensemble kicks off "Bea's Flat" which is a long forgotten orchestral based piece by pianist Russ Freeman. Originally written for Chet Baker, Stadler transforms this into a vast free jazz opus and shows a skill full adaption of changing meter and harmonics on the fly while allowing the musicians the freedom to literally work without a net.
Moving from disc one to disc two finds a slightly less avant-garde approach and instead a swing that is challenging and inventive. "Love In The Air" is beatnik free jazz on steroids featuring former Coltrane bassist Reggie Workman and a then virtually unknown 23 year old Dee Dee Bridgewater. "The Fugue No. 2" takes the more traditional form and pushes past the conventional and reinvents the form to fit the function of the sextet and their performance. If that even begins to make sense then you appreciate the title Brains on Fire...
Nuance is a term you will probably never see in a review of Stadler's work. Stadler's work and especially Brains on Fire is about as subtle as a car crash but in a good way. For a musician to accept and only work within a given form is to resign yourself to musical mediocrity no matter which idiom you find yourself. Heiner Stadler pushes the musical boundaries of convention to challenge his own creativity as well as the artists without ever disrespecting either. Complacency is a musical cancer and Stadler's dynamic reinvention of conventional forms is a cure.
Brains on Fire was recorded between 1966 and 1974 and while it is not for the musical faint of heart, it is music that can attack the listener both on a visceral as well as cerebral level. The music does not ask for your undivided attention, it demands it.
Tracks: No Exercise; Three Problems; Heidi; Bea's Flat; Love In The Middle Of The Air; U.C.S.; All Tones; The Fugue No. 2 (take 1/original master).
Personnel: Jimmy Owens: trumpet (1,2); Tyrone Washington: tenor saxophone (1), flute (2,3,4) Garnett Brown: trombone(1,4 on disc 2); Heiner Stadler: piano (1-5 disc one): Reggie Workman: bass( 1-5 disc one & 2 disc two); Brian Blake: drums (1); Lenny White: drums (2-4 disc one); Dee Dee Bridgewater: vocals(2 disc two); Joe Farrell: tenor saxophone (4 disc two); Don Friedman: piano (3 disc four ); Barre Phillips: bass (3 disc 4); Joe Chambers: drums (3 disc 4); The Big Band of the North German Radio Station conducted by Dieter Glawischnig and featuring: Manfred Schoof: cornet; Gerd Dudek: tenor saxophone; Albert Mangelsdorgg: trombone; Wolfgang Dauner: piano; Lucas Lindholm: bass; Tony Inzalaco: drums (1 disc two).
As always special thanks to Jim Eigo at Jazz Promo Services