TONART STRING QUARTET / OLE HOFFMANN:
4+1 Compositions by Harry Nitz
This CD features an ensemble derived from the improvised music pool of the Hamburg Music Initiative TonArt. 4+1 includes interpretations of graphic scores from Harry Nitz by the TonArt String quartet together with baritone saxophonist Ole Hoffmann and was realized in the opulent acoustics of the Hamburg church Gnadenkirche. No sax with strings here, but music which combines conceptual clarity and improvisational spontaneity in a unique fashion.
"For twenty years we played Free Jazz. Then it was enough." In 1961, Harry Nitz and a few like-minded musicians began to intone a counterpoint to the leading tones of the oldtime-stronghold Hamburg. The musician Harry Nitz who resurfaced in 1991 after a ten-year-hiatus had changed noticeably. The Free Jazz drummer Harry Nitz had become a multi-instrumentalist: a percussionist and vibraphonist with a penchant for filigree textures, a guitarist with an unconventional playing technique and a liking for radical electronic sound transmutations, a part-time concertina player, and above all, a conceptual thinker with a distinct preference for reductionist strategies. Nitz learned from past experience that the effusive practice of free playing can only benefit from a set of rules that counteracts the well-worn automatisms of excitation and relaxation. As a trained graphic artist, Nitz had the means to transform these aesthetic convictions into visual information with strong suggestive power. The stunningly clear and elegant scores for improvisers that Harry Nitz designed in the past ten years achieve a great deal, in spite of their simple and limited set of symbols. They establish a clear macro-form, define the total duration of a piece as well as the timing of who is playing when (and even more importantly, who is not playing in a given time frame). They also define the sonic materials, the tonal range and the basic playing techniques. All this establishes a framework of sonic textures which effectively prevents musicians from getting stuck in certain sound states or from resorting too easily to the well-known organic curves of tension and release. Yet these graphic scores leave ample space for the 'now' of improvisation, so that the music sounds new and different every time and is able, moreover, to adapt to the characteristics of the performance space.
In the Spring of 1997, Harry Nitz assembled the TonArt String Quartet to test his structural ideas with a small string group. 4+1 is a work in progress: in the course of the past three years, Nitz combined the sonic organism of the string quartet with various solo instruments, thus adding an element of dialogue to the homogeneous string sound. Yet this is everything but a 'solo with strings' concept - the guests have to follow the same restrictive rules as the quartet members. The recording on this disc made with very basic technical means in the Gnadenkirche (Church of Grace) of Hamburgs Karolinenviertel-district documents the second concert of the 4+1 series which has, in the meantime, generated offsprings such as a 4+4-concert with four former 4+1 soloists (Georgia Hoppe, clarinet; Ole Hoffmann, saxophone; Harry Nitz, percussion; Hermann Süß, trumpet) and an upcoming series of 4+2 concerts.
Peter Niklas Wilson, April 2000
Recorded live in concert at the Gnadenkirche, Hamburg, November 5, 1997 by Peter Niklas Wilson (direct to digital two-track) Mastering at True Muze Studio, Hamburg, May 2000 by Vlatko Kucan.