Friday, 19 August 2016

Brief review of the great unknown Austrian (fusionary) guitarist Karl Ratzer...

From our wonderful old friend wikipedia, the following almost useless information:

In 1972 he went to the USA , where he reached into the American music scene walk. Soon he was (later known as "in a project named" High Voltage " Rufus & Chaka Khan ") involved. For some time he lived in Atlanta . In 1977 he founded in New York a band with Jeremy Steig , Dan Wall , Eddie Gomez , Joe Chambers and Ray Mantilla . He made ​​recordings with musicians like Chet Baker , Bob Mintzer , Tom Harrell , Bob Berg , Joe Farrell and Steve Grossman .  In 1980 he returned to Vienna, but continued to work with international jazz musicians like Art Farmer , Clark Terry , Lee Konitz , Chaka Khan and Eddie Lockjaw Davis together. From 1999 to 2003 he was a visiting professor at the University of Music and Performing Arts active in Graz. In 2004 he joined the Vienna Music Institute (VMI), where he works as an instructor. Furthermore, he has performed with his own formations.

A quick overview of his huge and intimidating discography.
Don't worry-- like the April Orchestras, I've ploughed through it (like an overweight ox) and emerged with the best to present-- with one notable exception.

First, notice the 1972 album co-credited to Peter Wolf, I don't know anything about it but presume it to be the kind of hackneyed library jingles I don't have patience for.  (On the other hand, Peter made an outstanding progressive fusion library record, which everyone should hear, this one from 1975.  Both magic and a miracle.)

In 1978 Karl sets out on his own with the formidable In Search of a Ghost, distilling all the beauty of fusion we hold dear, the minor seconds so familiar from arpeggiated Mahavishnu songs, the dark atmosphere like Asia Minor, the force and energy and momentum knocking off all Newton's laws of motion in one unified field theory...  Consider the opener, Israela:

Immediately without any forewarning he moves up a minor second in his intro, without any hesitation, without any apology-- pure genius.  And you will notice he repeats that surprise in various ways throughout (sometimes up and sometimes down).  This album, you'll see, is full of goodies...

In the next album Street Talk the fusionary vision continues, with the title track presenting those now-characteristic fourth interval riffs (like McCoy Tyner did on piano) and really oddball chord changes:

On this record we note the first tendencies towards that fuzacky overlush easy listening George Benson type of style (think "Livin' Inside Your Love") that, albeit beautiful and I guess hugely influential when George did it, is a little out of place on these pages.  (I went through my first years of college and girlfriend with the two cassettes of The George Benson Collection so it does bring back fond memories...)

Subsequently in the 1980 Dancing on a String we have himself alone with himself a la Stevie Wonder.  Perhaps hamstrung by the six-string format we hear him revert to the blues and old jazz standards-- the former such a tired simplistic genre it usually makes me want to head to the nearest suspension bridge's most elevated point with or without a flatted note-- and the latter comprising songs that even when written in the age of Tin Pan Alley or rather Tin Ear Alley were never good, how much better could they be now after having been played billions of ways in every different key at every stupid annual jazz festival in every town of every inhabited planet?

One piece really stands out though, in the shockingly gorgeous song Sunrain notice how the self-effacing bass presents to us arpeggiated acoustic chords and a stunning, just stunning guitar-synthesizer playing chords up in the troposphere.  How I miss that sound in today's pathetic music scene.  Here the interest is not so much in any melody or riff but in the quite surprising chord changes, each time so unusual as to be totally unexpected and unpredictable.  This is why I love fusion....

And note too the solo by the fuzzy guitar later in the song.

Next year, 1981 offered Fool For Your Sake where, not surprisingly, the quality begins to seriously deteriorate.  Here both singing (by the artist) and easy listening tendencies come to the fore when they should have remained well locked perhaps in the big Rickenbacker guitarcase.  A sample:

1982's Electric Finger gives me the usually odd, but here predictable, difficulty of finding it awkward to present a sample. And I think that says it all.  So here's the first track:

Lastly in 1985, Gitarrenfeuer plumbs the abyss of eighties musical hell, with cover versions of such bubonic-plague-like tunes as I  just Called to Say I love You and that godawful piece of amplified cicada buzzing, Against All Odds-- (Phil, why??) and, if you can even get any worse, that medieval torture instrument rivaling The Rack or the Iron Maiden called "To all the Girls I've Loved Before"-- said to be the single worst song ever written, it was used once in psychiatric medical experiments, before the era of ethical review boards, to induce artificial temporary psychosis including suicidal ideations in young army volunteers in Tennessee.  I read just recently in The New Scientist that some who were permanently damaged by the experience are still at Walter Reed Hospital now having evolved the most outlandish mullets, with back hair more than 14 feet long!  The power of music...  No Sample here.

In the later albums (not presented or reviewed here) we see his style described as gypsy guitar, similar to the Frenchman Escoude we reviewed earlier.  This is a style that I entirely missed in those days, thankfully for my precarious sanity, I might add.  Of the remainder, 1982's Guitar album doesn't sound interesting as it's free or improvised (similar to Dancing on a...), Serenade is a bunch more cover versions, atrocious to me, and the only remaining of interest is 1986's For You.

Of note, finally, is the Karl Ratzer Group album called Fingerprints from the glorious year 1979, which I am not able to share.  But it's not expensive and I urge you to seek it out, the sound and compositions here are most similar to the late seventies output of the equally or more fecund Volker Kriegel.  All his hallmarks can be found there: the riffs made up of fourths and seconds, the original chords, the wonderful dynamic, that sense of excitement at the stunning newness of things...

So, to summarize, we have a few fabulous fusion excursions up to the non-arbitrary cutoff 1981, and indeed, this oeuvre does show us the tragedy of musical history as it passed from the creativity of the seventies to bland fuzak and simplicity thereafter, a stage out of which it has not yet escaped so far as I'm concerned.

Many thanks to the following blog for sharing these outstanding rips.  And a heartfelt thanks to Karl Ratzer for this superb music.  Another genius, tenured as resident professor of oblivion...


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thank you very much.
    Any chance to reup this one?

  3. Many thanks for this massive compilation, there's a lot to discover here.

  4. Thank you for sharing this very fine music, much appreciated!!!

  5. The download isn't available anymore........:( Julian any chance to reup? thnk´s in advance , (and i go to musik von daham for searching) watt a superb guitarist !

    new up