Like Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky before him, Gunter Hampel became a modernist icon, an artist as well known to the general musical public as he is to the cognoscenti. And as with Picasso and Stravinsky, people are never quite certain what Mr. Hampel. He made his name with The 8th of July 1969, Music from Europe, Freedom of the Universe (with his wife Jeanne Lee), Fukushima – Dionysian masterpieces that shocked and enthralled their audiences. Then, long before he turned 80 years old, the iconic multi-instrumentalist made yet another change of direction. From this volta-face of his career comes Bounce.
Although released as a CD and thus without the visual benefit that his last CD/DVD Gunter Hampel 77 and others like this release featuring his Music + Dance Improvisation Company, Bounce still manages to capture the essential feature of Mr. Hampel’s artistry, which is this: there can no music without dance, hope and an irrepressible joie de vivre. From the CD the listener may not see his dancers’ graceful movements as they create visual magic, but the balletic phrasing of Mr. Hampel – whether on flute, bass clarinet or vibraphone – is very much in evidence to delight the mind’s ear, almost endlessly.
That Gunter Hampel worships at the altar of originality but throughout all of his metamorphoses he has remained a classicist at heart. Perhaps an explanation is in order. He is, like those iconoclasts – Picasso and Stravinsky, but also Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus – someone who, above all things, loves precision, order and structure, and like everything about the music on Bounce, all his works have a consummate sense of poise. The twenty-two-plus-minute-long and profound work, “Smiling Energy” is an outstanding example of all of those characteristics, and the flute solo, which softly and surreptitiously intertwines with Johannes Schleiermacher’s tenor saxophone, is redolent of gleaming elegance and absolute sangfroid in a performance of exceptional poise.
That and the other long work, “Bounce” – a work that seems to explode out of the music of different coloured inks in their ordered hierarchy, each instrument with a separate part to play in the ordering of Mr. Hampel’s art. One is reminded of the definition of St. Thomas: “beauty is the splendour of order”. With the path that his music takes – somehow, not so strangely similar to Stravinsky – Mr. Hampel’s art seems to always be born of ballet, evocative of – even in its wildest abstractions – pirouetting, leaping in the air in room and auditorium in absolute disdain for gravity. He is aided and abetted by his daughter, the amazing voice artist, Cavana Lee-Hampel.
Listening to Miss Lee-Hampel’s distinctive vocalastics on “Approachable” and more so on “Bounce” one cannot help but feel the spirit of her mother the great Jeanne Lee is in the room with you. Of course, she inhabits the body of Miss Lee-Hampel, who has a singular and supple vocal style, in which she seems to caress each syllable as it slides down her throat, only to emerge again floating from her flaring lips. All the way you hear some of the finest dance music guided by the rhythmic honking of the saxophone, bass clarinet and, of course the drums of Bernd Oezsevim. “Magic Touch” is a classic example of this.
The album concludes with an interview (in German) with Mr. Hampel on which he has much to say in a rather short time. This is – as every recorded performance by Gunter Hampel – clearly something to die for.
Track list – 1: Kindred Spirits; 2: New Waves/2004; 3: Godzilla; 4: Smiling Energy; 5: Approachable; 6: Bounce; 7: Workout; 8: Magic Touch (Dedicated to Danilo Cardoso); 9: Interview with Gunter Hampel
Personnel – Gunter Hampel: bass clarinet, vibraphone and flute; Cavana Lee-Hampel: voice; Johannes Schleiermacher: saxophone and flute; Bernd Oezsevim: drums
Released – 2017
Label – Intuition
Runtime – 1:19:56