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Fear Death By Water

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Album Review

Austere Austrian composer/bandleader/flügelhornist Franz Koglmann long ago staked out a decidedly Eurocentric stance vis à vis jazz and creative music, melding elements of American cool jazz with European art music, and preferring moods of "melancholy decadence" to fiery expressionism. There have been plenty of homages to American jazz icons in his past work, though, as well as plenty of swinging, engaging music, so it's a bit simplistic to view Koglmann merely as a European elitist catering to the tastes of the highbrow art gallery set. Listeners in the States might take a moment to consider whether Koglmann's art represents inclusivity of the highest order, bringing together elements of "America's classical music" (that is, of the sort practiced by an American with the last name Ellington) and the art music of Europe. And Americans might also consider how well-suited Koglmann's Fear Death by Water is to their own place in the world circa 2003, the year this modern opera was recorded during its world premiere at Museumsquartier in Vienna. The libretto by Christian Baier is based on The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot's epic poem whose social context is the years following World War I. There are six characters in Fear Death by Water, representing social forces and witnesses to cycles of despair that continually repeat throughout human history. But the theme of this work does not concern itself with bearing witness to war, learning from past mistakes, and preventing war's recurrence, but rather an insidious forgetfulness and memory repression that doom humankind to the continuous repetition of horrors that consequently stretch both backward and forward through time.

Here, Koglmann uses his Monoblue Quartet (augmented by drummer Wolfgang Reisinger) not merely as an intimate Euro-cool ensemble, but almost sarcastically as a "dreary beach combo" complicit in societal brainwashing. Fun is to be had while listening to this outfit; never mind that the kids have wandered off and their lifeless bodies will wash up on the beach later. Curiously, experiencing Fear Death by Water on CD might provoke the home listener to identify a bit with the pleasure-seeking, myopic archetypes of Belladonna (Birgit Doll) and the Man with Three Staves (Alexander Waechter). After all, Koglmann's music as performed by the Monoblue Quartet and the 11-piece modern chamber group ensemble xx. jahrhundert, and sung/spoken by the five very capable vocalists, is quite enjoyable, effectively encapsulating many of the currents that have run through both his large- and small-ensemble work in the past (including some electronics from Martin Siewert that seem to hark back to the early days of analog experimentation rather than today's digital/laptop fixations). "Nichts Passt zu Nichts" (Nothing Fits) is a case in point, recalling some of Koglmann's fine jazz-classical writing for his Pipetet of years past — great music likely to bring a smile to home listeners until they examine the booklet containing the libretto (helpfully printed in both German and English) and realize that, when performed live, the music was accompanied by "projected images of war and other atrocities." With a world in turmoil in 2003 and beyond, the timing of Koglmann's opus seemed particularly apt, but of course he and Baier brought no advice or warnings that they expected to be heeded. They weren't even melancholic, or decadent, in their realization that "What was tomorrow/Will be yesterday."


Born: 1947 in Mödling, Austria

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Most of the recordings of award-winning modern composer, trumpeter, and flügelhorn player Franz Koglmann (and of his works) can be found on the Hat labels (Hat Art, Hat Hut, etc.), although this may change since Koglmann founded his own label, Between the Lines, in 1999. Born near Vienna in 1947, Koglmann learned to play the trumpet and flügelhorn and, by 1973, had founded his first record label, Pipe Records, which released a few albums by Steve Lacy and Bill Dixon. In 1972 and 1976, Koglmann won...
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Fear Death By Water, Franz Koglmann
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