Among the brilliant young musicians emerging from the strong Munich jazz scene of the 80s flutist/saxophonist Beate Kittsteiner once was the best kept secret around. Although her music was appreciated by concertgoing jazz fans and by musicians as different as Don Cherry and Gerry Mulligan, for record collecting jazz fans without live experience her name was sort of a rumour: I remember an italian jazz buff telling me a story about an enthusaistic french jazz fan who tried in vain to pronounce the name of a really incredible Munich jazz lady he had heard playing excellently at least on a dozen of horns. He was exaggerating… but not much!
The situation changed in 1995 as „Guajira For My Moods“ (AWS 069505) turned the attention to the remarkably gifted lady who finally is achieving long overdue popular recognition. Unlike most musicians who get in the recording studio at rather tender ages her debut as a leader presented the mature achievements of a creative artist already in her thirties: an improvising soloist and skillful composer with a sense of flowing melodic line, a strong feeling for rhythm and a lovely tone. An all encompassing musician. The combination of classical education, experience in Modern Jazz and especially her curiosity and deep understanding not only of the Western musical heritage but of many moods, rhythms and scales from all continents, permits her to tell her own stories. Beate Kittsteiner whose name was misspelled in 1991 by a Japanese record company on a sidewoman-date with Mal Waldron as „Beat Kiffstiner“ shows again that she is very unlikely to be beaten by any flutist!
„Man only plays where he/she is a human being in the true sense of the word, and only where he/she plays is man a true human being.“
With this argument for the „homo ludens“ Friedrich Schiller could easily become the next patron saint of jazz! So it’s just fitting that the aptly titled PENTALUD opens the album. The Greek word „Penta“, known from expressions like „pentagram“ or „pentameron“. and the Latin word „ludus“ join together to the „play of five“ of a band that has definitely grown together. Beate’s „International Jazz Quintet“ consists of musicians „who play my music the way I feel it.“. Already featured on „Guajira“ were tasteful German Pianist Walter Lang, rock-solid Canadian bassist Rocky Knauer and Brazilian percussion-wizard Borel de Sousa with whom Beate started a promising duo-partnership. John Betsch has not only been the first choice of Mal Waldron, Steve Lacy and the late Jim Pepper, but has also been for years Beate’s musical companion and one of her best friends.
But „Pentalud“ also means Beate’s playful treatment of the fifth degree of the scale, which is by turns either augmented, diminished or natural. The head begins like an Indian raga and continues with complex, changing rhythms and vertical harmony in the B and C sections. With an inspired solo, Walter shows why he belongs to Germany’s most sought-after pianists, while Borel’s skillful tabla playing so far might have been a secret even to his biggest fans.
By trying to whistle or hum along with Beate’s haunting melodies, one realizes that in spite of their catchiness they are by no means easy. All of a sudden one notices unusual changes or meters. A case in point is MONTOONO. „Like all of my tunes, also this one is a little bit the other way around, a little different.“ Most Cuban montunos feature patterns with only a few changes. Are montunos too monotonous for improvisation? Jazz musicians not familiar with Latin music might think so. With an uncommon montuno Beate demonstrates that they are wrong. In a very unconventional way she spiced the third part of the head with interesting changes, replaced the sometimes squeaky sound of the Cuban flute by her alto flute and featured the bassist.
QUE PASA? What’s going on? Beate shows with a minor blues that her mellow, but muscular baritone voice now has come close to her unrivaled flute mastery.
„Waiting for the ringing of a phone is one of the most awful feelings I know. And writing this tune was my way of dealing with it.“ It is hard to believe that such an unpleasant feeling can inspire a dreamy ballad like WAITING, which on Beate’s bass flute sounds especially tender..
At the very beginning of her career Beate played with musicians like Karl Berger and Don Cherry in Woodstock. One of her oldest sambas dates back to that time. When Kenny Werner played the tune for her, he changed one single chord. Beate liked that little change so much that she dedicated the tune to Kenny and named it after his Jewish name, GIDALJA. In this lively tune, Borel plays the surdo, something of a Brazilian bass drum. He and John Betsch, who takes care of the higher register with his tasty cymbal work, complement each other excellently. And with his solo, John confirms Beate’s words: „John knows that my music consists to a large extent of Latin tunes, and, though always claiming not to have much experience in that style he proved the contrary with these recordings. Also, the combination of Rocky Knauer and John Betsch is one of the hardest swinging rhythm sections you can find in Europe at the moment.“
The third jazz album Beate bought as a teenager was one by John Coltrane. With COLD RAIN, a blues with changes that early Coltrane would have used, Beate pays homage on alto-flute to one of the last giants „who brought something new to Jazz. The search for something new is essential to most musicians. Without his pioneering work today we wouldn’t play the way we do.“
With the colourful title UMAGADUM Beate has created a rhythmical variant of the Songo interspersed with a Guaguanco. The composition with changing meters (6/4 and 4/4) features Borel on a vaselike Senegalese drum called Udu, which is made of clay and has two toneholes.
MERCEDES „Years ago we were playing some music. Years ago our friendship was great. Sharing every single moment, Everything happy – everything sad. What a pleasure just to be with you! Hear your laughing – see you cry. What a pretty and wonderful friend.“
Beate dedicates this song to the memory of Mercedes Rossi, a great pianist and friend who died young in 1995. She will be remembered by everybody who had the chance to listen to her playing.
The title SOMEBAIÃO is a play on words as Jazz musicians (and especially Beate!) like them and does not only refer to some baiao, but also to the samba. Compositions often change like growing up children. Originally conceived as a samba, the tune more and more took the form of a Baiao. Beate, who works regularly with Brazilian musicians, was inspired to this composition by a Brazilian fairytale about two lovers living apart. They keep in contact with each other with the help of a big bird on whose back they fly to each other in their dreams.
DR. PEPPER, a straightahead number with a slow B-section, was written by Beate for the great Indian saxophonist Jim Pepper, who in hard times always had some good piece of advice for Beate (or cured her soul like a wise medicine man). Beate’s light-footed
CALYPSO, which is based on a musical phrase composed by Burkhard Kienzler, leads the album to a carefree finale. The tune dates back to the time when she was in Woodstock, and therefore she doesn’t remember exactly why she combined the Trinidadian dance with the favourite dish of the Australian Koala bear. The rhythm section includes soundengineers clapping their hands. Good idea! Let’s clap for the Beatifying album!
Marcus A. Woelfle