CHRISTIAN MUTHSPIEL'S YODEL GROUP
Forget about Lederhosen and other such peculiarities. Freed from touristic stereotypes, yodellers take on their own character. They shake off the picturesque or burlesque and become something authentic and original, not just an acoustic curiosity. Of course not all yodelling can qualify as art, but it draws on a mixture of virtuosity and playful creativity that can spur the yodeller on towards ever greater accomplishments. Yodelling is thus a vocal art which has its origins in the local traditions of the alpine region and which performs much the same function as flamenco for the Spanish and yoik for the Sami. It is an individual expression of emotion and time-honored cultural identity.
Yodelling is therefore not the exclusive privilege of the alpine people. Similar song forms -- without words and with marked and rapid movement between the chest and head voice -- also exist among the pygmies, as well as in Hawaii, in Vietnam and among the Solomon Islanders. In the musical folk culture of the alpine region it is particularly profound, however, and has a wide scope of sound structures that make it possible to create complex song forms that are musically refined, yet which produce an almost archaically simple effect. Yodelling establishes the melody lines and the resulting harmonic and rhythmic structures for many of the pieces in this repertory. Rather than just an ornament, it is an important element of composition. This is how the Muthspiel family has viewed yodelling, which they have nurtured. Their father collected, publicized, composed and performed yodels, complete with choruses. And now, it is against this background that one of Muthspiel's sons is presenting yodelling in a whole new connection.
Christian Muthspiel's Yodel Group began as a commissioned project for the Saalfelden 2009 Jazz Festival, where this music was heard for the first time. The musical components were so fine and the sound of the players so exciting that it was immediately clear this would not be a one-time-only event. After all, this was a venture involving two experienced form-anarchists of the New York scene, two luminaries of the Franco-Swiss avantgarde and two Austrian free-thinkers, in a joint effort to transcend the current pan-Atlantic stylistic clichés.
The result was a compendium of cultural crossroads in which the principles of yodelling gave new direction to existing melodies from various sources. When contrast is paired with fusion and difference with similarity, something special is bound to happen that you don't see every day. Here musicians representing a distinctive European rural tradition meet eye-to-eye with their urban American counterparts in a collaboration that is self-confident, courageous and creative, which shows just how well such a daring project can work.
Ralf Dombrowski (translation: Karin Kaminker)
A second CD by the Yodel Group follows their recent first CD "may" (MRE 031-2)
The Yodel Group was originally formed two years ago as a commissioned project for the 30th Saalfelden Jazz Festival. Since then, it has taken on life in the long-term as a band making regular tours. By virtue of these live performances it has evolved musically to such an extent that I thought the logical next step would be for me to compose a whole new program for the Yodel Group.
On the one hand, I wanted to work more with the possibilities offered by this unique ensemble, which by now has been "road-tested" and which has developed a unity through its live performances. I wanted to write a set of new pieces that are tailor-made for this group, and that are musically enriched by their experience of playing together. On the other hand, there were still a good number of yodels that I couldn't include in my compositions for "may" and which have been waiting since then to be translated from the age-old folk music idiom into the language of jazz. Also, the reaction of the public and media to the first program encouraged me to write a second program for us to record and perform live in upcoming tours.
Seemingly simple yet highly refined, alpine yodeling is an archaic form of singing or calling - of Jauchzen and Juchzen, concepts unique to this Alpine region, which can roughly be translated as a joyful kind of shouting. Since my earliest days, it was a central part of my musical upbringing and naturally ran as a recurrent theme in the soundtrack of my childhood. My father collected yodels and preserved them by recording them and writing them down. We yodelled in the mountains with family and friends. Even the "Musikantenstadel" hasn't managed to destroy this wonderful, verbally-transmitted a cappella song form.
In the course of my explorations into the yodelling traditions of the Austrian alpine region, I became aware of fundamental parallels between yodelling and blues and jazz. It is easier to translate the one into the other than you might think, in both the formal as in the melodic- harmonic context. So it quickly became clear that jazz musicians coming from places that had nothing alpine about them - namely New York and Paris - could also work with this material, naturally and organically, and use it as the basis for new improvisation.
It is my intention to take this traditional folk music form, that I have known well since my earliest childhood, and to stretch it in all conceivable directions; to translate it, to give it new musical arenas - in this case jazz - while conserving the original yodelling as the unmistakable source and driving force. Far from being a mere polemic or deconstructive exercise in making "Alpine Blues", this is a creative way to give new life to old material, to use it as the basis for new interpretation, for new music.