Donnerstag, 19. August 2021

Hannes Zerbe - Blech Band (1984)

Hannes Zerbe is a German pianist and composer, born 17 December 1941 in Litzmannstadt, Germany. He will celebrate his 80th birthday this december.

Initially, Hannes Zerbe graduated in electrical engineering at the Technical University Dresden.

Later on, he studied jazz piano at the conservatoire in Dresden and continued with studies of composing at the conservatoire “Hanns Eisler“ in Berlin under professor Wolfram Heicking. From 1985 to 1987 he was one of Paul-Heinz Dittrich’s master pupils for composition at the Academy of Arts (Eastern Berlin).

For projects and music tours, Zerbe collaborated with several musicians of the contemporary music scene with special emphasis on jazz (among others Charlie Mariano, Willem Breuker, Lauren Newton, Bernd Konrad, Klaus Koch, Dietrich Unkrodt, Gebhard Ullmann and Jürgen Kupke).

From 1975 to 1977 he was extraordinarily successful with the jazz quartett FEZ which he formed with trombonist Conrad Bauer, bassist Christoph Niemann und drummer Peter Gröning.

1979 he initiated the HANNES ZERBE-BLECH BAND, which was composed of not only jazz musicians, but also included musicians from symphonic orchestras (Staatskapelle Berlin, Komische Oper Berlin and Berlin Symphonic Orchestra). The ensemble comprised around 15 musicians and played own compositions as well as 20th century’s compositions (among others Paul Dessau, Hanns Eisler, Kurt Weill) and adaptations.

In addtion, Hannes Zerbe is composing for vocals, bigband, chamber music, symphonic orchestra, audio drama, theater and film.

Presenting different line-ups and projects, Hannes Zerbe appeared on many national and international concerts and festivals e.g. in Berlin, Leipzig, Moers, Nürnberg, Hannover, Münster, Bloomington (USA), Warsaw, Wroclaw, Prague and Bratislava.

"Blech Band" was recorded 9. - 15. Januar 1984, AMIGA-Studio, Berlin. It is a fascinating album by the avant-garde pianist / composer Hannes Zerbe and his Brass Band, an eighteen-piece brass ensemble consisting mostly of East German (DDR) players and three guests from behind the Iron Curtain: Dutch saxophonist Willem Breuker, British trumpeter Martin Mayes and West German tuba player Pinguin Moschner. Together they perform five pieces, one of which is an original composition by Zerbe, three are his arrangements of compositions by Austrian / Jewish composer Hans Eisler and Russian composer Alexander Mossolow and the remaining one is by German composer Paul Dessau. Of course these three composers were all "approved" by the DDR regime (Eisler even composed the DDR National Anthem) and the choice is by no means incidental.

The modus operandi applied by Zerbe is to play initially a straightforward part of the composition and then let the band enters a lengthy Free Form collective improvisation part, finally returning to the composition at the closing of each piece. This adventurous and highly unique approach proves very effective and the resulting music has a powerful impact. Of course Zerbe also pays tribute to the German Brass Band tradition, which was an important element of the German musical scene for centuries.

Why such avant-garde music was allowed to exists and was recorded by the  GDR state label is a part of the many absurdities that existed in the Socialist countries at the time, with the regime seeing art in general and jazz in particular a sort of pressure valve, which enabled the musicians to express themselves relatively freely, and using this as a tranquilizer of political unrest. As a result, some of the most advanced avant-garde music was created behind the Iron Curtain, with DDR and Poland leading the way.

In retrospect this is an intriguing document of the era and a piece of music which is every bit as challenging today as it was at the time it was created. For free jazz / improvised music listeners this is something none of them would like to miss!

As all the East European countries under the Socialist regime, East Germany, or DDR as it was known at the time, had only one state owned and controlled Music Company, which released most of its productions on the Amiga label. Among the many Amiga releases the legendary "orange J" series was dedicated to Jazz recordings, many of which were licenses from the West, but others were original productions, mostly of Jazz made in DDR. Some of these releases, like the one described above, were absolute gems.

Following the unification of Germany, the Amiga albums disappeared from the face of the earth and only in 2012 a German label reissued 15 Amiga Jazz albums on CD. They are all worth checking out!


A1 Metamorphosen I (Frei nach Teilen der "Suite für Orchester Nr. 6" von Hanns Eisler) 9:46
A2 Überlagerung 12:12
B1 Metamorphosen III (Frei nach Teilen der "Eisengießerei" von Alexander Wassiljewitsch Mossolow) 4:24
B2 Guernica 6:38
B3 Rondo Und Finale (Frei nach Teilen der "Suite Für Orchester Nr. 3" von Hanns Eisler) 8:35

(320 kbps, cover art included)

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