THE REPLY OF First BrassAllan Botschinsky and Marion Kaempfert
When the CD First Brass appeared in 1986, music critics and jazz celebrities fell over each expressing their enthusiasm. There were compliments from no lesser jazz musicians than Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones ('Magnificent') and Maynard Ferguson. Bob Brookmeyer praised the playing, the compositions and the arrangements separately. The Compact disc buyers' guide of that year summarized the unanimous praise of the music press with the words: 'This could be the most original jazz release of the 80's.' This aura has gradually become more and more mystical. First Brass never did become a stage phenomenon. Whoever tried to find concerts by the quartet (two trumpets/ flugelhorns, trombone and bass trombone/tuba) were out of luck except for the one and only live performance in Norway in 1998.
"It was not the idea to give performances", explains band leader-composer-trumpet player Allan Botschinsky. First Brass began as a studio project without bass or drums. The four brass players were not only soloists in the traditional sense but also played the rhythm section, using arrangements in which string and percussion instruments were imitated by the brass instruments. That meant, practically speaking, numerous takes dubbing over. Therefore a live performance was just not possible at least not without incorporating a large body of brass players to play the additional parts. But now, for this concert, Marines Brass, the brass section of the Marines Band provides the solution for the realisation of First Brass in a live concert.
Dissatisfied with modern music
What moves the musicians of First Brass? The liner notes of the acclaimed CD mentions 'dissatisfaction with modern music'. When asked, Botschinsky points to his producer-wife Marion Kaempfert - 'It was her idea.'
'I am an acoustic music freak and I love brass' says Kaempfert. 'I asked Allan once if it wasn't possible to make swinging music with an a cappella brass ensemble.' Allan said then: 'I don't think so' and went on to try it out. It was a challenge for him and I considered it a welcome alternative to the dictatorship of drum computers and synthesizers. Perhaps I am spoiled by the fact that I always have great musicians and producers around me. But I was concerned that much of what was supposed to be music was fake. It was overrunning the market and I was concerned by the fact that the audiences were accepting it. Don't forget: this was the middle of the 80's so you can understand what I think about it now. Technological developments have given amateurs many more facilities but that does not mean that talent and musicality have developed to an equal degree. My criticism is not with the composers and musicians who work with electronics but with marketing and the producers who have taken off with it. This has devalued music, art is dying, Napster is throwing everything on the street and that is being paid by the skill which the composers and instrumentalists have to offer. Of course there is good techno but its quality is determined by professionalism. And it is this professionalism which has been sold down the river. In this sense I consider First Brass to be a reply to this development. They are four specialists in their own area and they have reached a cult status by the quality of their work.'
With this same driving force behind them, First Brass climb on to the stage once more, 15 years later: no machines, more live music. Kaempfert: 'If you want to make a statement against artificiality, staging concerts is going to play a role sooner or later. In a live performance you are confronting the addiction to fabricated CD music. We wonder how it will turn out because on the CD the parts are played one at a time. In some pieces you hear the quartet play sixteen different parts, but still the result is almost like refined chamber music. On stage there will be a band almost three times as big and they have to try to bring over the same sort of intimacy. It will be exciting to hear how the extra players make their parts their own. Allan writes his compositions specifically for the individual members of First Brass: he does not write a part for any trombone player but a part for Bart van Lier.'
Here we come on to the repertoire. Arrangements - a Beatles classic or Brahms' Wiegenlied are not shunned by First Brass, but most of the pieces are by Botschinsky, subtly garnished with improvisations. During the concert in addition to the pieces out on CD there will be some of his earlier works as well as fragments of music he wrote for a German television film.
'I try to write good melodies and not just gimmicks' Botschinsky once explained. 'Because there is danger just around the corner in such a project as this' he now adds. 'An imitation of a banjo, for example, must be functional. It becomes a gimmick if you get bogged down in comical brass clichés: the sounds of cartoon films, the clown glissandi, a trumpet imitating a braying horse. This sort of thing can be fun but for me it is not enough for good music. I am satisfied with a composition if I think that other people will like it. And to achieve that I delve into all sorts of music. I am classically trained - I wanted to play the horn when I was young and then I discovered jazz. The trumpet appeared to me to be the jazz instrument par excellence.'
Imaginative and poetical
The music press has repeatedly compared Botschinsky's trumpet sound with that of Miles Davis - a splendid if not remarkable compliment because the First Brass repertoire is far more related to that of swing and other old jazz styles.
Botschinsky: 'You probably have to regard the later Davis not as a trumpet player but more generally as musician or the producer of sounds because he excelled in an untraditional way of playing. I am more influenced by Clifford Brown and Louis Armstrong than by Davis. And now I am going further back into history. After all my work with big bands and jazz combos, I concern myself now only with classical music. Not as performer but as a student and composer. In the things I write for symphony orchestra, for example, I don't necessarily have to be jazzy. It is of course unavoidable that jazz elements creep their way in, but they are not recognizable as such.'
There is no conscious alliance with the phenomenon crossover. Botschinsky: 'Of course you have hardcore jazz musicians just as there are classical musicians who better not play jazz. Why should you play something which you are not suited for? But the tendency is for musicians to become universal. All the members of First Brass are all-round - they play classical, jazz and pop and I use these qualities when I write a piece for them. An additional advantage in this group is that I know them very well. I know what they can do, where their boundaries are and then I try and go a step further. Yes, there is an element of sport in it. A musician wants mostly to realise his potential, why shouldn't I look for extremes once in a while? I can do that with these musicians. On the other hand you shouldn't do it too much. When I hear an exaggerated form of virtuosity, when it's only about fast licks, I think: you have computers that can do it faster. This pursuit of effects can be fun once or twice. But the human element is much more interesting: to do things which a computer can't. In every sort of music I listen to I want to hear the human element, the inspiration. There must be composers who can do that with computers, but it should be imaginative and poetical.'