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Berlin's Wolfgang Fuchs liberates music from its usual standards and riffage

Wednesday, May 8 2002
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Since emerging from Berlin's new-music scene in the mid-'70s, reedist Wolfgang Fuchs (above right) has left listeners grasping for words to describe his work. Fuchs' fragmentary runs and ability to hit both ends of the sonic register at once (pairing a basement-rattling bass bleat with a rough-edged ring several octaves above) prompted one music critic to dub his sound "electronic." The description fits, considering how his ethereal whispers are as at home in the processed worlds of analog synth, laptop, and guitar as among the "natural" winds of saxophone and clarinet. Also, rather than play melodies Fuchs paints with tones, a style that's led to him accompanying everything from the experimental films of Hans Richter to the great silent works of Erich von Stroheim. Just as he plays a range of instruments, Fuchs explores sound without a center, and his work in extended improvisation -- from a variety of solos, duos, and trios to his tentet, King Übü Örchestrü -- cracks open music's evocative possibilities.

This freedom makes Fuchs an irresistible figure to local improvisers like Damon Smith, who credits much of his development on bass to Fuchs, and drummer Jerome Bryerton, who left punk rock behind by accompanying Fuchs' solo records. Last year, Smith brought Fuchs out to record with Bryerton and himself in a drum/bass/horn trio, a format Fuchs had not recorded in since 1979. It's deceptive to call the resulting CD, Three October Meetings, the most straight-ahead of Fuchs' recent fare, since the group doesn't play songs. Instead, each musician generates vectors of sound that disappear into and emerge out of the others' parts, creating a seamless web in which the ring of bowed cymbal is indistinguishable from the screech of overblown clarinet.

This weekend's performances serve as the linchpin of a rare West Coast tour bringing Fuchs to the masses. With the help of Smith and Bryerton, the German master will attempt to liberate music from the usual standards and riffage.

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Aaron Shuman

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