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- Live in Kabul 1976 by Hartmut Geerken
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Hartmut Geerken is what you might call a modern-day renaissance man. Not content to settle for just being an artist and art organiser, he's also a prolific writer and academic, not to mention film and stage actor, and spent nearly 20 years of his life living in Cairo, Kabul and Athens as an employee of the Goethe Institute. Truly an interesting feller, and I like his cheeky moustachioed face too.
On this double LP, Holidays Records have unearthed a full live set from Kabul, 1976 - with pianist Geerken's multicultural troupe featuring the alto sax of Fritz Pfeiffer, guitar by Maqsud Schukurwali and drumming by Ghafur Rasul, and my first impressions here are just how accessible this is compared to some of Geerken's more difficult work. Opener 'The Beginning: It's Just Before the End of the World' is bouncy and melodic, funky guitar and piano interplay with Latin-influenced polyrhythms that make an even livelier reappearance on party-tastic closer 'The End: There Should Be One)' which takes a stripped-back almost P-funk-esque groove and then splatters a load of totally spaced out sax all over it. So tasty.
By side three things do enter into more freeform and experimental territory. In 'The Journey of Mister Licec through the Outer Darkness Area of Ar Nus and in Honour of Boletus Polyporus Pactiae plus Freeing Up the Blind Man's Heritage and Meeting Somewhere in Anthony's Land' (the track titles here are a bit of a mouthful) Hartmut's attacking his piano strings with mallets and plonking irreverently away on his piano keys over unsettling radio loops and interference, gradually becoming more frenzied until he's bashing out a relentless stream of notes like a drunken Lubomyr Melnyk. He tires of this eventually though and settles into some simple lounge-jazz riffing which contrasts really satisfyingly with the preceding atonal splatter. Then the sax joins and things get smokier still, proper bar-room sleaze, but with some clever jazzy rhythmic shifts. You keep thinking they're going off into freeform territory and then suddenly he'll kick back into one of his riffs and everything is anchored again. Structurally it's baffling. I can't help but smile at the audacity of it.
I think that track in some ways encapsulates the charm of Hartmut Geerken, and the spirit of this recording. On one hand here's the serious intellectual and boundary-challenging artist of high renown, on the other there's the cheeky twinkle-eyed showman having the time of his life. If you're already a fan, it's essential listening, and if you're not familiar with Geerken's body of work, I would recommend this as a starting point. It's truly fantastic, and a fascinating counterpoint to everything you've been hearing about Afghanistan lately.
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