Robert Riegler Bass Doublings

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Rosenrot The Music of Werner Pirchner#



Robert Riegler and „Rose-Red“: the seed germinates


Now that they are no longer around, the traces they left are strikingly obvious. Werner Pirchner and Harry Pepl, two truly original landmarks of the Austrian music scene: their legacy reaches well beyond the work of their famous “Jazz-Zwio” collaboration.

Both the vibraphone player and composer hailing from Tyrol, passed in August 2001, and the Viennese guitar player who followed him in December 2005, have affected the next generation of jazz musicians directly, as impulse-generators, partners in talk and play, as encouragers. Maybe too Robert Rieglers path would have been a different one, had he not met Harry Pepl and Werner Pirchner in the 80ies. It was Harry Pepl who noticed Rieglers talents very early on, when the latter was still studying at the Musikhochschule in Graz and took very sparse interest in the work of fellow bassists, with the notable exception of Jaco Pastorius, preferring to listen to Glenn Gould and to perform Bach Violin Partitas on the electric bass instead. Having become a Pepl protégé of sorts, Riegler landed a spot in Pepls legendary “Air Mail” formation, subbing for Mike Richmond in a band that also included Wolfgang Puschnig and Wolfgang Reisinger. As for Werner Pirchner, he picked Riegler, 22 years old at the time (1986) as a duo partner, one year after the “Jazz-Zwio” was disbanded.


Robert Riegler still remembers the first encounter in Pirchners home in Thaur, close to Hall in Tyrol, very well. He was nervous, given that he was about to step into the shoes of Harry Pepl himself, so to speak. The tunes were pretty demanding even by the young virtuoso bassists standards, and Werner Pirchner, ever the hard-to-please perfectionist, was less than impressed by the outcome of this first rehearsal. However, the project was pursued and a number of memorable concerts followed, among which the “Jazzbühne Berlin”  on the 29th of June 1986, the Vienna Akademietheater, and, lastly, on the 13th of March 1988, at the German Jazz Festival in Frankfurt/Main, where Albert Mangelsdorff himself joined in with the two Austrians. The concerts are deeply etched into Robert Rieglers memory; to this day he fondly recounts not just the collateral anecdotes, but also the musical memories:

“ His songs have deeply affected me, they offer so much room for improvisation – try composing like that. Also, I have learned that music can be political”, is how Riegler sums up Pirchners influence. The latter had also garnered a reputation as a idiosyncratic contrarian, following his “Halbes Doppelalbum” (Half Double-Album) in 1973. “Without Pirchner, there wouldn’t have been any head start for me in Vienna. Pirchner offered me an opportunity, and I think I seized it.”

 Werner Pirchner remained on Robert Rieglers mind, even though the vibraphone player forever put down the mallets after that Frankfurt concert, frustrated by the income limitations an instrumentalist faced, and turned to composing exclusively, and even though the contact become more infrequent between Pirchner and the bassist who went through highs and lows of his own, joining Matthias Rüeggs “Vienna Art Orchester” and firmly establishing  himself in the austrian jazz scene in the meantime. Following news of Pirchners ailing, Riegler intended to visit with him but was preempted by Pirchners death. Their relationship, however, did not end here: Riegler kept nurturing the desire to pass on some of what he had received from Werner Pirchner, a desire that was not fully satisfied in the Christian Muthspiel Trio, founded in 2005, which was cast after the last of Pirchners concerts line-ups (vibraphone, bass and trombone), and whose homage to Pirchner and Harry Pepl appeared on CD in 2007 (“Against The Wind”). Riegler was originally cast as bassist in this trio, but had to reschedule following an invitation to the Solo Bass Competition in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, initiated by Steve Bailey and Victor Wooten, where he was to be the sole European of the four finalists.

Prior to that, however, tapes of the first Pirchner-Riegler rehearsal in the year 1986 resurfaced, featuring tuned like “Rosenrot” (Rose Red), from a soundtrack to the play “Schneeweisschen und Rosenrot” composed in the late 60ies, “The Carter” which was part of the “Jazz-Zwio” repertoire at the time, as well as Rieglers “Die Grüne Gustav”, penned in 1988 for the album debut of the Vienna Art Orchester trumpet player Bumi Fian, a recording the bass player directed in its entirety.

Rieglers decision to use excerpts of the historic recordings, notably solo vibraphone introductions by Werner Pirchner, as take-off ramps for contemporary music-making, thus building a bridge between past and present, come across as a highly symbolic creative move. It is Pirchner himself who sows the seeds, only to yield to the following generation – to a Robert Riegler, who sound just like a guitarist again on his octaver-enhanced bass, and to his unconventionally cast “Bass Doublings” band: with Helge Hinteregger, who enriches yet undermines the musical structure with his keybord-triggered samples; with Raphael Preuschl and Herbert Pirker, young and promising talents out of the “Jazzwerkstatt”, about as old as Riegler was when Pirchner took him under his wings. The gnarly Tyrolean is present, thus, when the seed he has sown finally germinates. The unorthodox blossoms on this disc would have no doubt made him smile.


Andreas Felber