One of the basic tenets of European improv is to avoid the obvious, like quoting, hitting upon grooves, and reactionary interplay. Rudiger Carl's mind-rattling Cowws Quintet turns this notion on its head with its most recent album, Grooves 'n' Loops (FMP), the title of which indicates the kind of improvisations engaged in by this freewheeling group--accordionist-clarinetist Carl, guitarist Stephan Wittwer, pianist Irene Schweizer, violinist Phil Wachsmann, and the late bassist Jay Oliver (Barre Phillips has since replaced him). Guided by loose sketches written by Carl, the quintet in many ways delivers the ultimate postmodern pastiche, exploring music's long history through vibrant juxtapositions that are alternately jarring, serene, humorous, violent, and accessible. One can easily pick out decontextualized quotes--a surf lick here, a little riff of Mickey & Sylvia, a languid violin line, a funk groove--but the rest of the combo doesn't merely follow suit; it'll play off the lines, creating something unexpected or seemingly incongruous that ends up revealing something hidden in each element. If you think all European improv is dry stuff, Cowws Quintet will change your opinion fast. Also featured on the excellent program is a solo bass performance by Peter Kowald and a duet by the brilliant saxophonist Evan Parker and fleet-footed percussionist Paul Lovens. For more insights about the entire FMP festival, of which this is a part, see the calendar story in Section One. Saturday, 10 PM, Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division; 235-2334.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dogmar Gebers.