Gunter Hampel - “Survivor” (Birth records 059 Double CDR)

From Aural Innovations #22 (January 2003)

During the heyday of the 70s NYC LoftJazz movement listeners could frequently hear Gunter Hampel and the Galaxy Dream Band at a variety of venues. From 1968-1980, Gunter had released over 30 full length LPs for his Birth Records label, recording with Free Improvisers including the Reedsman/ Composer Anthony Braxton, Drummer Sunny Murray, Saxophonist/Composer Marion Brown, Clarinetist Perry Robinson, Trombonist Marty Cook, Guitarists Boulou Ferre’, Derek Bailey and Bill Frisell, Percussionist Stoumu Yamah'ta, Composer Mauricio Kagel, Saxophonist Peter Brotzman, Trombonist Steve Turre and the late master Vocalist Jeanne Lee.

Gunter, for those unfamiliar, is a German who has mastered all of the Saxophone/Clarinet/Flute families, and is generally acknowledged as the most startling Vibraphonist in Jazz since the great Milt Jackson. He possesses a flowing, four Mallet technique that sounds like breaking glass, or running water! He is a gifted pianist as well, and his compositions and playing are influenced heavily by the work of Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Albert Ayler!

Since the mid-1980s, he has traveled between NYC and Germany, giving concerts and individual and group instruction focusing on the Composer as performer. On September 11, 2001, Gunter was visiting NYC to perform a concert at NY’s Knitting Factory that night. While riding his bicycle in downtown NYC, he ended up 100 yards from the World Trade Center when each Tower was hit in the largest successful attack on the US in this country’s history! Last year he released “Survivor”, a musical documentation of his experiences that day!

The CD was recorded live with the Galaxy Dream Trio (Nils Wogram: Trombone, Christian Widner: Alto Saxophone, Gunter Hampel: Vibraphone, Bass Clarinet), at the Apex, in Goettingen Germany on October 25, 2001. It was recorded on a TASCAM DAT recorded with 2 Schoeps P48 microphones, and issued as a 2 CDR set. The cover features photos of the tragedy shot at the scene by Gunter!

“Since Then” opens with a swinging head played by the three horns, then fans out into a group improvisation and progresses into a duet of Alto Sax and Vibes, each player digging into the idiosyncrasies of his instrument, with Gunter playing Bluesy Triplets behind the horn. He then moves into a Vibe solo, the notes ringing out, coming like molten glass as Hampel plays with both the dynamics and the intonation of the notes themselves, before handing off to Wogram’s Roswell Rudd-influenced work on the slidey horn. The other two reappear back in the ¾ swing meter, refraining the head briefly before another excursion by Gunter’s Vibes, then a free collective, although the players are so attuned that their responses to the material each puts in are automatic, fit harmonically and melodically and utilize the proper dynamics. The Head is restated formally after a short obligati by Gunter on BassClarinet, and they take the tune out to enthusiastic audience response.

“Inside the Frozen Zone” deals with life under Martial law. After the attack, the security forces in NYC closed down the Isle of Manhattan from 14th Street South to the tip of the land opposite NY bay! No one was allowed in or out without displaying both personal documents and Militarily issued passes, and No cars were allowed! The piece begins as a wind trio, with Flute and trombone utilizing harmonics/altered timbre and variable pitch while Alto holds down a pedal tone. Each instrument explores it’s own ranges in solos, which evoke the isolation many NYC’ers felt in the aftermath of the attack! “Whose Controlling Who” actually opens with a dancy lilting melody, which is bounced back and forth amongst the three horns before Gunter switches to Vibes, and just knocks out the competition with subtlety and a learned care, which many make pretense at, but so very few achieve!

Disc two opens with “JazzLife”. An obvious autobiographical reference, the tune is a display of Gunter’s mastery of BassClarinet. He has a brawny tone, and the references to Eric Dolphy are clear in his playing, but he remains “his own man” on this difficult horn! Weidner plays effectively here as well, with a spiraling solo, and a robust collective involving all three horns.

Throughout, Wogram’s playing is really quite impressive! He has an array of “extended Trombone techniques”, from double-tonguing, to Manglesdorf influenced multi-phonics, to a down-home New Orleans style growl and spit!

“EarthForces Up The Microscope Orbit” has another swinging/lilting head. These players never really blast out, but rather pay very close attention to dynamics! Gunter’s Vibes and Widener’s Alto work in tandem, handling both melodic materials as well as voicing different intervals of the chords being used. Once again, the piece follows most within this trio’s conception, but these players are so erudite that one never tires of hearing just three instrumentalists, who can cover all spectra the music utilizes. “Up” is the shortest tune here. It has a nice ascending melodic line, short, to the punch solos, and a brief free section used as a bridge between melodic ideas.

The incidents of September 11, 2001 have left a telling mark on the world, but the effects of these days on NYC residents are more profound than can be understood by those who weren’t here on that awful day! Gunter’s impressions of the experience of seeing 2800 people die have been turned into a meaningful musical experience, which embodies beauty, idealism and hope for a better, more peaceful future, without the hype, jive and bullshit that has come from a certain NJ Bob Dylan/Van Morrison imitator who lives 50 miles away!

This is great stuff, and a good place to begin checking out the work of one of the “Fathers” of the international FreeJazz community that grew up in the 1970s!

For more information you can visit the Gunter Hampel web site at:

Reviewed by Doug Walker

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