Music » Critic's Choice

Peter Kowald




A right-hand man of blustery Teutonic reed titan Peter Brštzmann in the 60s and 70s, bassist Peter Kowald long ago set out to broaden his horizons. The 1991 CD Duos (FMP) collects some of the fruits of that journey: pieces from the three vinyl LPs, Europa, America, and Japan, on which Kowald smoothly crossed geographical, stylistic, and generational borders with the help of demonic screamer Diamanda Galas, Japanese samisen avant-gardist Michihiro Sato, alto saxophonist Julius Hemphill, drummer Andrew Cyrille, cellist Tom Cora, and a slew of European heavies like Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, and Irene Schweizer. (Kowald's collectivist impulses have also served him well as a talent scout--in 1984 he put together the Sound Unity Festival in New York, which featured obscure musicians like David S. Ware, William Parker, and Charles Gayle.) He's got a wonderfully dark, woody sound, and whether he's plucking or bowing it's almost always heavy, a real gut-rumbling presence that's tough to coax from the upright bass. Of all his fine recordings, nothing tops his recently reissued 1979 and 1981 sessions with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith (a former Chicagoan) and percussionist GŸnter Sommer, Touch the Earth--Break the Shells (FMP). They're a dazzling show of carefully harnessed energy and uncanny intuition. But when Kowald trades the company of other musicians for the intensity of a solo performance, he's just as mesmerizing: in his 1995 solo set during the FMP festival at the Chopin Theatre, he appeared to summon some nameless creative deity, chanting, moaning deeply, slumping over his instrument and bowing it madly. He and the audience were both worn out when it was over. Kowald will play one solo set here, as well as one trio gig with tenorist Fred Anderson and drummer Hamid Drake, who are downright telepathic in their own right. Sunday (solo), 6 PM, Renaissance Society, Cobb Hall, University of Chicago, 5811 S. Ellis; 773-702-8670. Monday (with Anderson and Drake), 8 PM, Velvet Lounge, 2128 1/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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