New age records shouldn’t sound (or look!) as fun as German Büdi Siebert’s Hmm…, but I wager no one ever asked Büdi where his records should be classified. If I could compare him to anyone, it would most likely be Don Cherry, a similar artist who has no specific style but a magnificent taste in music. Straddling the line between krautrock, new age, ethno jazz, ambient, world music, and neofolk, Büdi’s musical style is way too sprawling to ever stay in one place, or in one mood, before moving on to another fascinating idea. It’s what made this positively shifty movement perfectly match the brilliant original album cover in musical tone. That’s the key to what makes his solo debut Hmm… also the peak of his career. Untethered to any sort of expectation, Büdi sort of just flailed about in Hmm… finding gems of inspiration through sheer perspiration.
A master multi-instrumentalist, Büdi Siebert had extensive credits backing up countless German art rock, jazz, and new wave bands. Before recording this album he recorded unclassifiable jazz music with the group Herrgottsax. I say uncategorizable because Seibold Seiergeschichts Sündige Saxofone with its wondrous mixture of environmental music, tape loops, cosmic disco and ethno jazz was way beyond its time. For his solo career, he could have chosen to travel more along that heady path but instead he chose to transform that sound into uproariously happy idea. It’s all mental to me because as complex and experimental as you’ll hear Hmm… is, it’s also as instantly relatable as good time, communal music and a logical evolution in his musical growth.
Enlisting a crew of experienced jazz musicians doesn’t mean pretentious snobbery, for Büdi it seemed that he needed that bit of dexterity to properly match his huge visionary scope. Tasking himself with arranging and performing the “Marimba, Steel Drums, Charango, Bass Clarinet, Rattle, Bass Drum, Talking Drum, Triangle, Angklung, Flute [Bamboo], Synthesizer [Oberheim-bass]” the choice bits leftover for the rest weren’t piecemeal leftovers but meaty parts that brought coherence to a wandering muse.
The first track “Hmm… Tanz der Körperlinge” sets the stage for the whole album. A literal “body dance”, this track is an interplay between multitracked, overdubbed vocal noises, hand/knee(?) slaps, and chant that gives way to sparkling bit of unplaceable world music rushing in, out of nowhere, with a sound that’s as indebted to ECM-style jazz as it is to Old World folk. Another highlight “Pienes Tanz” ties Latin American musical motifs with eastern drone music in ways that bring to mind the nicest bits of Hermeto Pascoal’s equally challenging/captivating Brazilian jazz. The ride continues until the end of the A-side with inspired reinterpretations of Gaelic or marching band music (listen to “Wenn erst die grauen Panther tanzen”), gorgeous floating reed (instrument) and marimba-led instrument balladry of “Schmerz laß nach” which sounds positively immense compared to the leaden density of classical, American minimalism.
The B-side, though, contains truly forgotten wonders of early ambient music like the entirely acoustic and reed instrument driven “Was ist die Zeit” which manages to sound unlike any German cosmiche or proto-ambient you’ll easily pinpoint. Maybe, it’s in this music, in tone and sound, that its closest cousin is Japanese new age music with its similar emphasis on clean, clear melodic weightlessness and rumination. “Lied über eine Liebe”, has its own intimate charm, belonging to the class of second-generation neoclassical bands that tie spiritual motifs with sonic meditative atmosphere. Then another highlight, the gorgeous pastorale “Noch leben die Wälder”, approximates true, in real life, naturalism through all sorts of human means by reproducing sonically the atmosphere, weight, and magnitude of temporal sound (bird sound, tree rustles, trickling water etc.) – in song – that finds a way to just get to some core being. It’s these second half of the album where Büdi ties the arc and briefly, dare I say it, touches the mystic.