The Madness of Crowds, liner notes by Harry LachnerHarry Lachner, München 2011, translation: Isabel Seeberg
To begin at the beginning. There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown. A screaming comes across the sky – these are all opening sentences: Dylan Thomas, Elias Canetti, Thomas Pynchon. Sentences, telling of the world theatre in micro format, of the masses and their inherent tendency towards panic, or of the sounds which herald a catastrophe. They seem familiar, yet they still reach us as if from far away – from the dark-room of the collective memory, from the disconsolate labyrinth of premonition. And this is also where Charles Mackay is located, author of the book "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds", the book Ingrid Laubrock's title refers to en passant and yet in such a meaningful way.
Appropriately soft, the first tones resonate, a slow step-by-step approach into an area of consciousness in which these sounds then, even more self-confidently, gradually take up – again drawing themselves back into the reverberant space in the distance for an instant. Allusions, sketches methodically tossed in: It is as if the night of silence was lit up by sounds, in which the present moment and the recollections find each other. These are imaginary spaces, lost in reverie, which Ingrid Laubrock, Liam Noble and Tom Rainey create – finely graded dispersions of sound, a constant shifting of background and foreground, oscillating movements between nightmarish drawl and insistent surge.
This vast sense of form from which the trio creates its pieces out of the free improvisation bound to the moment, was already to be admired on the first Sleepthief album. There, a kind of music arose, in a wonderfully multi-faceted sound culture, which defied any attempt at categorization. Here the artistic passion with which the three musicians committed themselves to a kind of poetry of intentional evanescence, offered more than just a glimpse into a world of infinite possibilities of playing and of combinations. Now, "The Madness of Crowds" seems a more risky proposition, lacking any routine which could have developed in the meantime. On the contrary, this risky game of nonchalance, this wandering along the edge of the abyss is implicitly based on trusting the individual's courage to change constantly and to reflect upon collectively developed ideas. There is no compositorial safeguarding here which could serve as emergency stop and escape: the only thing that counts in this risky business is that instant shared by all three.
It is this staggering splendour of the moment, as Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote about Jazz, which constitutes the core of improvisation, this high art of forgetting; concentration upon a kind of intuition which only achieves its aesthetic legitimation through a breach in the intellect. "All sorts of people have emotions and premonitions. What distinguishes the artist from them is the fact that he is able to formulate his feelings. Formulate them with the help of clear consideration. I know very well that magic is the essence of art. However, this core can only be made visible by the utmost clarity, by rationalization of the means. If I want the audience to feel something, I myself have to stay cool." This is how the (fictitious) Jazz drummer Mondor, already in 1965, in a draft by Alfred Andersch, formulated a kind of problem which has retained its elusiveness right up to the present day: the contradiction between emotion and intellect. An antagonism, Ingrid Laubrock supremely manages to reveal as purely putative.
Jazz, conceived as a predominantly improvised music, is a deliberate way of being homeless. These days it is looking for a reference system in the imaginary, refusing a simple reduction to spheres of influence which can be succinctly formulated. And as improvisation is, by its very nature, an oblivious transgression of memory; a transgression happening within the freedom of the imagination – thus becoming the most complete expression of a kind of individuality which feels itself entitled to defy the movements and rules of the masses. Those mechanisms of collective mass insanity as described by Mackay and Canetti, and the structures of power which manifest themselves within them, are dealt with by the trio through its more deliberated as well as intuitive multi-linguistic playing: a finespun network of prevailing paradoxes, a flowing together of competing ideas – a movement of concentration and divagation, exploration of lyrical reach and sudden eruptions. In this trio, music manifests itself as a free circulation of streams of sounds and ideas, which once again – as is often the case in improvised music – with playful ebullience tells of the utopia of open individuality. The kind of ebullience which can only arise out of a determined and indefatigable commitment.