Hartmut Geerken & the
Art Ensemble of Chicago,
Zero Sun No Point
(Leo, 2001)

"Zero Sun" and "No Point" are a pair of multimedia performances of the usual mind-boggling complexity, conceived and orchestrated by Hartmut Geerken and utilising, among other things, electronics, audience participation, aleatorics, spoken texts, world musics and a quantity of jazz. These recordings, combined as Zero Sun No Point, represent the maverick composer/multi-instrumentalist's only meetings with the full Art Ensemble of Chicago, as well as some of the late, lamented trumpeter Lester Bowie's final performances.

The two pieces -- one to each disc -- are refreshingly different, "Zero Sun" being the more performance-oriented, least jazz-oriented of the two. Much of the music is driven by the need to make evocative sounds rather than joined-up improvisations, although there are some excellent thoughts from all concerned. The main focus here is, instead, the layering of snippets of tests by one Salomo Friedlaender, read out by members of the audience.

I'm not familiar with Friedlaender's work, although from what is quoted audibly here it appears to be an unremarkable example of the kind of mysticism that was in the air in the inter-war years, a hankering for the Romantic certainties of a century earlier combined with the Structuralism of Levi-Strauss or Jung. It seems to have inspired Geerken, however; this is an hour of chaotic, wild sound art that occasionally erupts into ecstatic group playing.

It has to be said that the sleeve notes are a touch over-enthusiastic. They grossly overstate the early influence of Sun Ra, allegedly "the most important pioneer of Free Jazz," and the idea that a man born in 1871 might be "regarded as the inventor of the grotesque tale" is, frankly, pure Gothic fantasy. But such flights of fancy are tempting only because the music here is impressive enough to inspire them.

[ by Richard Cochrane ]
Rambles: 11 May 2002

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