In Memoriam Gunther Klatt
EJN Administrator | Various articles | 2013-01-10
In Memoriam Gunther Klatt
Drummer Lala Kovacev performed at the Jazz Festival Balverhöhe with his Balkan Improvisations in 1981. As one of the major soloists, he shoved the the then twenty-four-year old Gunther Klatt onto centre stage and made everybody sit up and listen. A day later, the new comer with his own band 'Naima' came to be a spectacular success on the stage in that legendary rock cave, something he himself had not reckoned with. Lala himself - so to speak as mentor and talent scout - was on the drums and organized the first studio gig with JG Records directly afterwards. With the release of his first album as bandleader, 'The Horn is Back' (JG Records 9) in the year 1982, Gunther Klatt was to count as one of the most extraordinary aspirants of the German Jazz scene, whilst at the same time getting to be known as an enfant terrible in the complicated undergrowth of the music business. One particular circumstance made this come out all the more clearly, for in comparison with all the other boys fresh out of jazz conservatories, the autodidact on the scene that he was, made him all the more difficult to categorize. None less than J.E. Berendt in person bestowed knighthood upon him, when he described Klatt as “…the greatest discovery on the German Jazz scene in years!”
Referred to as „the hot horn from Munich „ from the very beginning, things started moving very quickly: he was named “Best Newcomer of the Year” at the First European Competition in Leverkusen in 1982, immediately after which he was sent to the E.B.U. Festival to represent Germany in Pompeii in 1983 with a tour of Italy to follow, as also becoming the Cultural Prize Winner of the Year in his home town, Munich. The resulting prize money made it possible for him to spend several months in New York - the Mecca of Jazz. At the same time, he performed on most of the jazz stages of Europe with the 'Balkan Improvisations' right through 1984 getting a name for himself. This musical environment not only promoted his getting to grips with uneven metric time signatures, but surely also his development towards more open rhythmic concepts. One of the gang was also always also his old buddy on the piano, Paul Grabowsky and with him, he never wasted an opportunity to get a hearing for his very own creative projects. And this was the brand mark of his musical route: nothing learned by rote, everything remotely mechanical was distasteful to him. It was the Dionysian that ruled him; this was his elixir of life - which was perhaps also a little bit obsessive. To me he therefore also counts as a typical example of those 'lost children' - the Post-1968 generation
The logical follow up was that Klatt expanded his band to include the American trombonist Marty Cook, releasing and publishing the resulting quintet album 'Strangehorn' himself. He trimmed this quintet down to his so called 'Trio Immense' again and again, performing with it at the jazz festivals in Frankfurt or Burghausen, as also touring India and Turkey. In the second half of the eighties, he provoked the greatest possible attention with the 'Elephantrombones' - his 'Trio Immense' expanded to include four trombones and form a septet - which in turn led to the release of that album 'Live at the Jazz Festival Leverkusen' on Enja Records in 1988. This band included among others Joerg Drewing, trombone, Jürgen Wuchner, bass and Andeas Krieger on drums, causing a furore at many jazz festivals including Ost-West Nürnberg, Jazz Festival Berlin, Munich and Zürich. Commercially however, the band - seven strong - turned out to be a flop - and the album was quickly taken off the market..
Towards the end of the 80ies and the beginning of the nineties, Klatt spent charting out the boundaries of jazz in the light of the motto 'Mainstream - no thanks!” … and came upon the ballad. Klatt developed his bias for ballads to a high form of the art of the duo. For this, together with the Japanese pianist Aki Takase, he was awarded the German Critics' Prize for jazz for the album Tutu CD 888 116 'Ballads of Duke Ellington' in 1990. Working on the same concept, he went on an international tour with pianist Tizian Jost in 1993, sponsored by the Goethe Institute, releasing the resulting album , 'Live in Mexico City' on Tutu Records (Tutu 888 184) in 1997. This album also received the highest accolades from jazz guru J.E.Berendt, who wrote the following letter on 30.10.1997 to Gunther Klatt, c/o Tutu Records “… perhaps this is the finest of your albums. You are such a great hand at choosing the right pieces. I listen to it and think - this is how it should be played and in no other way. And then I think of all the great tenor saxophonists who are no longer among the living … “
In between times, he went on tour with his U.S. line-up New York RazzMaTazz - including Ku-umba Frank Lacy on trombone and trumpet, Ed Schuller on bass and Ronnie Burrage on drums - or alternatively, John Betsch. This phase of work was recorded on the illustrious album 'FaMozzo' (Tutu CD 888 158). He faced the challenge of the crème de la crème of Afro-American Musicians and came out with shining colours, even if he came to be considered a traitor for this by local musicians. Willi Geschwendtner wrote about them in Jazz Podium at the time, “The band has a rare bite, their performance full of unusual vitality and enjoyment, less solos than collective statements with almost infinite mutually cross fertilizing horns, who don't seem to be able to do without one another for even a moment …! Moreover, a rhythm section of the very first cadre … complementing each other ideally and producing unsuspected musical variety for a quartet - a brand mark of the highest quality.”
Apart from which, Klatt put in quite a few bright spots of colour on his canvas - just by the by. His Australian colleague and friend Paul Grabowsky asked him to come to Melbourne especially, to work as main soloist on the soundtrack of 'The Last Days of Chez Nous' - a film with an international cast including Bruno Ganz - a film very well received by critics; he also performed so-called 'Bayerischer Stanzl' - Bavarian Verses - remarkable for their pithy lyrics and irregular time signatures - along with musicians such as Leo Gmelch on tuba and the trombonist Johannes Bauer: obscure curiosities, which permit the vague suspicion that the artist Klatt perhaps became to a certain extent a victim of the art market, which doesn't forgive you for being at the wrong place at the wrong time or delivering the wrong 'product' too often.
Towards the end of the nineties, more and more frustrated, Klatt began to withdraw from the jazz scene, only performing sporadically - in duo - like at the Berlin Jazz Fest in 1998. His escape route appears to have been the visual arts. From this time onwards, he concentrated - with some artistic success - on his other talents as painter, sculptor and stage designer, including for instance another of those 'spots of colour' which didn't really make waves - an exhibition of paintings of Venice, the play of intense colours bursting with almost overwhelming expressiveness, with the same sensitivity as his saxophone playing.
In art, whoever has something to say needs to implement provocation and Klatt loved his role as provoker. With jazz, it's primarily situational, it can be produced atmospherically and so throwing the gauntlet - whether to the audience or to the promoters or to his fellow performers - the open challenge was part of his stage personality. Such refreshing originality in the general run-of-the-mill “jazz tristèsse” didn't always receive unadulterated appreciation. With relish I remember the Münster Jazz Festival of 1988. The Tomasz Stanko Freelectronic were unable to leave Poland and had to call things off at short notice. They got in touch with me to find a substitute. So I got on the phone and managed to get the Gunther Klatt Quartet there by the next day. At 2 in the morning during his performance - at the crack of dawn - he let the festival promoters have it, using the term “Stand-in Band” every time he made an announcement, enjoying it more and more each time. Unfortunately the promoters didn't think it was that funny. “Well, that's the was he is, that's him - Gunther Klatt!” I propitiated with them at the time …
Gunther Klatt died after a long illness at the age of 55 on the 9th of December this year. Though he only put out six albums as a band leader, he can command a lasting place of honour as an original tenor saxophonist and instrumentalist. He seemed to owe more to those fathers of tenor saxophone - Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster or Sonny Rollins - with their melodic drive - than to the style of John Coltrane, who would have suited the spirit of those times far more. Not to forget his qualities as band leader and original composer. Deeply rooted in the tradition of jazz, Klatt dared finely chiselled, highly apt conceptual forays into free improvisational terrain. He was a bilateral thinker, a musician whose artistic bias was so fully congruent with his nature, that he was almost always working against the grain of conventions. Thus Gunther Klatt leaves behind impressive traces on the German jazz scene, even if they are too few - not really commensurate with his extraordinary talent.
Gunther Klatt Quartet. The Horn Is Back (1982) LP JG Records 9
Lala Kovacev Group, Balkan Improvisations (1982) LP RTB 2120992
Gunther Klatt Quintet: Strangehorn (1985), LP Eigen 01
Gunther Klatt & Elephantrombones (1988) Enja LP 5069; CD 5069-62
Gunther Klatt & Aki Takase, Art of the Duo Plays Ballads of Duke Ellington (1990) Tutu CD 888116
Paul Grabowsky Soundtrack “The last days of chez nous”, Melbourne (1992) CD DRG 12607
Gunther Klatt & New York RazzMatazz, Fa Mozzo 1995, Tutu CD 888158
Gunther Klatt & Tizian Jost /Art of the Duo 'Live in Mexico City' (1998) Tutu CD 888184