If like me, when it comes to German jazz guitarists the only name that comes to mind is Volker Kriegel, it may be self-serving to call him the best German guitarist, or even the best-known German guitarist. Nonetheless, if you take into account his jazz fusion work with the Dave Pike Set and later the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble and add his compositional creativity to his guitar mastery, “best German guitarist” doesn’t seem like all that much of a stretch. This is a self-taught guitarist who clearly knows his way around his instrument.
Nowhere is there better evidence for Kriegel’s artistry than in the two-CD set of his music newly released in the remastered Lost Tapes series from Jazzhaus. This is a collection of 29 previously unreleased songs selected from four recording sessions beginning in 1963 and running through 1969, the year Kriegel joined with American vibraphonist Pike. Indeed, on the eight tunes from the last session, he is working with the Dave Pike Set rhythm section. This new material showcases both the guitarist’s straight-ahead jazz chops as well as his movement in the direction of fusion.
The 1963 session has Kriegel playing in a trio, and includes jazz standards like “Saint Louis Blues,” John Lewis’s “Django” and Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning,” as well as that old standby “Autumn Leaves.” This is followed by a 1967 quartet session featuring vibraphonist Claudio Szenkar. It has five Kriegel originals—including “Tea and Rum” and “Morandi”—and Milt Jackson’s “Connie’s Blues,” which concludes the first CD.
The second disc begins with a 1968 quintet set which adds Emil Mangelsdorff on flute. Three of the tunes are by Szenkar. There is a playful exploration of the Beatles’ popular “Norwegian Wood,” highlighting some effective give and take between the guitar and the vibes. The 1969 set, which concludes the second CD, is another quintet with Fritz Hartschuh replacing Szenkar on vibes, and Gustl Mayer on tenor. The highlight of this session is the Kriegel original “Soul Eggs.” The fusion influence is there in “I’m On My Way,” a piece by Hans Rettenbacher, who has taken over on bass. The album ends with Frank Zappa’s “Mother People.”
There may have been a better German jazz guitarist playing in the middle of the last century, but if there was, he’d have to have been a powerhouse, because Volker Kriegel’s Lost Tapes: Mainz 1963-1969 sets the bar very high.