LP Review: Attila Zoller - Jazz Soundtracks

Attila Zoller - Jazz Soundtracks
(Sonorama L-76. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

Sonorama is a small, intriguing, independent German record label specialising in funk, soul and jazz — particularly the latter. They have begun to accrue an impressive catalogue of reissues of rare European jazz recordings, the most recent of which is this startling LP featuring the Hungarian-born guitarist Attila Zoller.

Zoller, who died in 1998, is often compared with Lee Konitz’s guitarist Billy Bauer. His early work, following his escape from Soviet occupied Hungary, was in 1950s Germany with Jutta Hipp and Albert Mangelsdorff (both of whom appear on another LP session from the period reviewed here though, sadly in a guitar-less setting). At Konitz’s urging, Zoller moved to the USA in the late 1950s where he studied with Jim Hall — an education which shows fruitfully in his playing. Zoller would go on to become a teacher himself, and among his pupils was a young Pat Metheny.

When he wasn’t busy working as a sideman for Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins or Benny Goodman, Zoller was exploring free jazz with Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman at the Lenox School of Jazz. Zoller’s subsequent 1966 album The Horizon Beyond is regarded as a crucial example of the transition from cool to free jazz.

Back in Europe, the guitarist’s work on film music won him the German Oscar (the Deutscher Filmpreis) for best movie score of 1962. That film was The Bread of Our Early Years (Das Brod der frühen Jahre) and it is one the jazz soundtracks featured on this fascinating and immensely enjoyable album. Subtitled Original Music from the Arthouse films of Hansjürgen Pohland 1962-67, the LP is drawn from tapes discovered in the archives of the director Pohland (actually, rescued from the side of the road where the moving men dumped them). Pohland was a major figure in the German New Wave cinema of the early 1960s.

If all this sounds like you’re in for a dauntingly avant-garde musical experience, you can relax. As the needle hits the first track, Pilenz, what rises from the grooves is an immediately engaging West Coast sound with Zoller’s guitar reminiscent of the fat, hip, dancing tone of Wes Montgomery. Later, on Light Wind, it has an altogether more urgent quality, plangent and searching. This track also features some classic 1960s Hammond organ which wouldn’t have been out of place on a session by the Doors.

The same soloist may be responsible for the excellent rich, racing hipster Hammond on Cold Fusion, — a classic bop track where Zoller wrings Charlie Parker changes from his guitar — but it’s impossible to know, because the names of the excellent sidemen on these sessions weren’t recorded anywhere. So the reed man who gives Mahlke its melancholy, Jimmy Giuffre-style beauty remains anonymous, as does the amazing duo providing funky muted trumpet and mouth harp on Mousetip Strut, and the combo who provide the insistent, hypnotic, Indian raga-like sound of Family Bricks.

The playing of these unknown jazzmen is so outstanding that I got in touch with Ekkehart Fleischhammer at Sonorama, hoping that he might have found some information that wasn’t included in the liner notes. Sadly not: “Sorry, but there really is no trace at all, not on the tapes, and not in the mind of the film director and producer!”

Attila Zoller created this soundtrack music by improvising with his sidemen in front of a screen where the film was playing, while it was recorded live. Reportedly, he didn’t even use a stopwatch. Which makes the extraordinary music on this LP all the more remarkable.

Pat Metheny says “Attila is one of my heroes.” This is a chance to discover a forgotten jazz guitar hero, and on excellent sounding vinyl to boot. It is also available on CD.

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