I was in Cologne, beginning of February, and friends took me to three concerts in a beautiful ’50s-era radio hall, as part of the WDR3 Jazz Fest. In one fantastic night we heard the Florian Weber Quartet & Louis Sclavis, Stefano Bollani & NDR Bigband, and Günter “Baby” Sommer, a drummer and household name all over Germany.
WDR and NDR stand for Westdeutscher and Norddeutscher Rundfunk (broadcast).
1st concert: Weber on piano and electric piano, Lionel Loueke on guitar, Thomas Morgan on standup bass, Dan Weiss on drums, and Sclavis on bass clarinet.
2nd concert: Bollani on piano, his melodies arranged by NDR Bigband’s leader Geir Lysne.
3rd concert: Sommer as solo drummer and story-teller. I would like to give a little more detail here since he seems to be a national treasure of Germany, and for those unfamiliar with his art I will attempt to translate the programme notes and hope that you’ll check him out for yourself.
To call Günter “Baby” Sommer a jazz drummer in the traditional sense will apply too little, just as to take him exclusively in connection with the stamp of GDR Jazz—despite or perhaps because the 1943-born Sommer’s early nickname is reminiscent of the former Louis Armstrong drummer “Baby” Dodds, he belongs to the generation of GDR musicians who made, about 40 years ago with some of their free improvised music, a furore in the GDR. As a sound artist in general and as a percussionist in particular, he is too versatile to play only jazz. So it goes with him, as always, an expansion of material with the increase of his drum kit, to get more opportunities for differentiation and nuance of his improvisational music. “The dynamic range increases,” says Sommer, “the use of rhythms and sounds will be more sensitive.”
Particularly evident are Sommer’s creative zest and spirit of discovery that are brought to light in his solo performances. From the second half of the 1970s he has often called his unaccompanied percussion concerts “listening-music.” At times as a player he even remained behind a curtain, invisible to his audience, to let them concentrate more on the actual musical production. His many drums and cymbals, with a variety of other sound makers such as gongs and shawms, organ pipes and tubular bells, are allocated to Sommer for the constant flow of his new ideas, releasing these in relation to the performance space and inspired by the listeners’ expectations, striking them at his concerts. It is fascinating to hear with what a sensitive sense he uses dynamics, how the structured breaks in his “percussion music” make sense: alive, organic and subtle at the same time.
I don’t know which person wrote the original German text so I’ll list writers credited in the festival magazine. Authors: Stefan Hentz, Dr. Bernd Hoffmann, Martin Laurentius (programme text), [and/or] Stuart Nicholson. Translated by Todd Harrop.