Saxophonist Hans Koller may not be a household name, but if the live performances from the middle of the last century resurrected on the newly released Hans Koller and Friends in the Legends Live series from Jazzhaus records is any indication, he deserves a lot greater recognition. Born in Vienna, Austria in 1921, he studied at the university, began working as a professional musician, and eventually served in the German army during the Second World War. Jazz, of course, was not much in favor in the Third Reich, but when the war was over and American musicians began touring through Germany and the rest of Europe, jazz not only became respectable, it became something of a musical steamroller.
Koller, like other European artists, seized the moment. They worked in ensembles with the touring Americans. They formed their own bands and demonstrated that while jazz may have been born and nurtured in America, there was now a wider world concerned with its continued care and feeding. The rising interest in jazz in Europe and Germany in particular is clear from the wealth of music, both from American giants like Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, and Cannonball Adderley, and German musicians like Albert Mangelsdorff and Jutta Hipp, coming out in album after album culled from the archives of Germany’s Southwestern Broadcasting (Sudwestrundfunk).
Hans Koller and Friends shows the saxophonist to great advantage. Not only does he play the kind of modern bop that was all the rage at the time, he has gathered around him a group of talented sidemen that can swing with style. These are first-rate musicians who can play.
The album begins with six numbers from a 1959 concert that have Koller working with trumpeter Roger Guerin, pianist Martial Solal, saxophonist, and a rhythm section of Fred Dutton on bass and Hartwig Bartz on drums. Percy Heath and Connie Kay show up on two tracks. Of the six songs, five are Koller originals. The sixth is the Jerome Kern classic “All the Things You Are.” Guerin and Koller both deliver fine solo work on “Benny’s Blues,” the set’s opener, as well as the next number, “Oscar.” “Mister B Blues” takes them in a funky direction, in contrast to the haunting theme of “Margaret Rose.” The tunes, for the most part, are vintage bop.
Four tracks from a 1960 concert featuring the Hans Koller Brass Ensemble conclude the disc. While the album doesn’t give the names of the ensemble members, it is clear that this is a quality professional group. The blues opening of a tune Koller calls “Ella’s Dream” is absolutely classic; it could come right out of a noir movie. Indeed, the mood is dominant through the whole number as the sax duets with a sweet trumpet. “O.P.” is a swinger that takes the ensemble in a cool direction. The album ends with “I’ll Close My Eyes,” a big band kind of tune from British composer Billy Reid.
Hans Koller and Friends is an album with a lot of fine music, the kind of music that leaves listeners wondering what other gems may be hiding in Southwest Broadcasting’s vaults.