1978 Martin Kolbe & Ralf Illenberger: Waves
Shortly before the recordings for “Blue Moment” I had a chance meeting with another guitar player at the opening of a new music store in my home town. His name was Ralf Illenberger. We had a spontaneous jam and immediately discovered an incredible musical rapport. Our technical skills complemented each other and our musical taste was almost identical.
After I had finished “Blue Moment” Ralf and I met once a week; we could not meet more frequently as he was a student and I was preparing to graduate from secondary school. Every time we met a new composition emerged and we recorded it on my four track tape recorder. By bouncing tracks and layering lots of guitar tracks we generated an orchestral sound yet unheard. It seemed our collaboration created something much greater and more significant than the sum of our individual work. First we did not show the new pieces to anybody as if we had found a precious treasure we wanted to keep for ourselves as long as possible.
We could not resist the temptation to lump everything together although Ralf had just released an LP with another duo partner and my “Blue Moment” album had just come out and was waiting to be promoted with live gigs.
Shortly before, a new record label had been founded in Stuttgart. Amongst the founders were some of the most important names in German jazz, e.g. Wolfgang Dauner, Volker Kriegel and Albert Mangelsdorff. Also involved was Werner Schretzmeier, an almost mythical person within the alternative cultural scene in Stuttgart. A recording studio was involved as well. Mood Records immediately found success with an album of the “United Jazz & Rock Ensemble”, an all-star band consisting of the most prominent German and European jazz musicians. In addition to the aforementioned bass player Eberhard Weber, saxophone players Charlie Mariano and Barbara Thompson, and drummer Jon Hiseman were part of the band.
One day Wolfgang Dauner rang me up. I knew him from a movie soundtrack project some time ago. He suggested that I join Mood Records for my next album. I did not know what to think of that. On the one hand I was not a soloist anymore and it was not really jazz what Ralf and I played, on the other hand things looked quite promising with the Stockfisch label and I felt committed to them although there were no contract clauses that bound me to them. Moreover, Mood Records was distributed exclusively by mail order company 2001 and at the time I did not trust this form of distribution. So I declined the offer, yet with some regret.
Soon thereafter Werner Schretzmeier was on the phone. During a long telephone conversation he persuaded me to at least meet once, for example at the studio “Zuckerfabrik” where I had recorded the album “37 1/4” and had participated in several other productions. Ralf and I met sound engineer and studio co-owner Gibbs Platen and we went for a lunch. While eating lentils with noodles (a typical Swabian dish) he told us what Mood was prepared to offer: No limitations in studio time, provision of a powerful PA system, free usage of the Mood bus for touring, dreamlike royalties, PR support including all their media contacts. This offer was too good to refuse.
So we quickly came to an agreement, oddly enough without Mood having heard our new music. Our demos were enthusiastically received. Wolfgang Dauner offered to play on a couple of our tunes and famous bass player Eberhard Weber was to be invited to join in as well. Ralf and I wrote the recording contract on the old typewriter in the office of the studio; Mood Records just added some small points.
The recording sessions were intoxicating and things worked out even better than expected. The excellent studio technique and Gibbs' sensitive caring made everything calm and comfortable. We tried some tricks like driving the sound of acoustic guitars through a Leslie cabinet with rotating speakers or letting the playback run on half or double speed and then play to it in order to achieve an octave effect. And of course we layered lots of different guitar tracks for our special sound. Sometimes 16 guitar tracks ran parallel. Wolfgang Dauner showed up in the studio only every once in a while. He would listen to the finished tracks and disappeared again with a benevolent “right on”. He and Eberhard Weber added some inspired colours of sound to some of our tunes. The final result satisfied everyone involved in the project.
“Waves” received excellent reviews. It was nominated for the German record award and sold really well right from the start. The “United Jazz & Rock Ensemble” allowed us to play on their tour throughout Germany, very kindly not as supporting act but as guests in their program performing after their break. After that we went on our own tour playing almost every night for six weeks. At one place the local promoter received us with the words: “You seem to have a really good reputation running ahead of you.” Obviously there was some truth in that: Most of our concerts were very well-attended or sold out.