3 LA CANAL 7:04
4 JUST CALL 5:41
5 JUDY 6:34

Rolf Kühn - clarinet
Joachim Kühn - piano, electric piano & Rolad synthesizers
Charlie Mariano - sax
Philip Catherine - guitars
Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen -bass
Bruno Castellucci - drums
Thilo von Westernhagen & Clas-Robert Kruse - additional keyboards
Herb Geller - additional sax & flute
Plus brass & Strings arranged and conducted by Rolf Kühn

Produced by Rolf Kühn in association with Achim Torpus
Recorded June & August 1978 at Rüssl Studio, Hamburg

There must be few places on earth as captivating and inspiring as the stunning island of Ibiza, considered by many to be the finest island in the Balearics. This jewel of the Mediterranean casts a magical sway over its inhabitants and its many European visitors. It is said that the island has a special mixture of people, among whom there is an ambience of tolerance and tranquility.

Located 79 kilometers, or about 50 miles, off the coast of the city of Valencia in peninsular Spain, Ibiza has long been celebrated for its historic grandeur, beautiful beaches, crystal clear water and nearly always perfect weather. Today, the jet-set know Ibiza as the club capital of the world, with a night life next to none and internationally famed DJs spinning their newest mixes to huge crowds of party people on the island.

Rolf Kühn had discovered Ibiza in the early 1970s and was immediately enchanted. He found himself a finca, something of a rambling country estate or what we might call a villa, and spent much of his summers there (his brother Joachim now occupies the finca year-round). He wrote “Made in Spain,” from the MPS album Connection 74, while there but wanted to explore the impressive landscape around his summer home in greater detail.

By 1978, Rolf Kühn had developed into one of the finest jazz clarinet players in the world. Where once, long ago, he might have been cast in the shadows of Buddy DeFranco or Benny Goodman, he had long since succeeded in developing his own voice and crafting a style that developed over increasingly more interesting albums on the Vanguard, Panorama, Brunswick, Amiga, CBS, Impulse, Intercord, Metronome, EMI/Hörzu, BASF and MPS labels.

Kühn began accepting commissions for film work in 1968, which led to more work in German TV, radio and theatre and while he continued to perform regularly with his group in his native Germany, the recordings started to become more sporadic. His previous release, Total Space (MPS), appeared three years before in 1975.

He had long desired to bring the orchestral writing he’d been doing for years in film and TV to one of his jazz records, something he’d never done before, and proposed the idea to MPS owner Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer. Always the artist’s advocate, Brunner-Schwer agreed to fund the project and Rolf Kühn began writing his tribute to the wild and pretty countryside that had moved him so much.

Recorded in two sessions in the summer of 1978, Symphonic Swampfire perfectly projects the wild beauty of the Ibiza terrain with a solid jazz fusion foundation, subtly caressed by a gently discordant orchestral counterpoint. The suite’s five pieces each coalesce to form a sort of fluid, yet unpredictable mosaic, brought out by composer Kühn’s natural gift for drama and a sincere talent for storytelling so evident in his solos.

The soloists, in particular, do a fine job of bringing Kühn’s vision to life and vividly breathing life into the vision. It’s remarkable how each player is able to not only make one engaging statement after another, but provide the suite with the requisite mystery and appeal of such an inscrutable and beloved place.

Rolf Kühn’s compositions leap and lope, twist and turn, explore new paths, then suddenly end. One senses this is exactly what he was going for. Yet there is an informal consistency that never throws the listener too far afield. The eponymous two-parter allows for much of the album’s best exploration from all concerned, particularly Philip Cathérine’s scene-setting guitar - folk music for another world.

The dark and moody “La Canal,” a small rural village on Ibiza, offers some of Joachim’s most notable work on the record. Rolf Kühn praises Charlie Mariano’s solo on the funky “Just Call” as “the eternal adolescence within the music” but there’s some of that sheer joy and love of life in all the performances here. The complex “Judy,” written for Kühn’s then-wife, German actress Judy Winter, also suggests the unknowable landscape of human emotions is fraught with much mystery too.

This work places Rolf Kühn in the vaunted company of jazz’s other brilliant modern expressionists like Don Sebesky and Claus Ogerman. Sebesky, architect of many of the classic CTI records - which Symphonic Swampfire’s structure resembles - and the trombonist who sat with Rolf Kühn in Urbie Green’s Orchestra in the fifties, was also recording his Three Works For Jazz Soloists and Symphony Orchestra at the same time.

Claus Ogerman, the German composer and arranger Kühn had met a couple of times in New York in the sixties, where Ogerman was working and living, had also issued the lovely, bracing and similarly simpatico fusion of Gate of Dreams the year before, in 1977. Other similar examples could be heard on Frenchman Michel Colombier’s Wings and the Introspection series Dutch composer Rogier van Otterloo created for flautist Thijs Van Leer.

While certainly very little orchestral jazz was still being made at the time of Symphonic Swampfire, the album stands strong as a beautiful signpost to the end of a majestic era. On the other hand, very little jazz fusion of the era sounded as solid and worth revisiting as Rolf Kühn’s tribute to Ibiza did and still does today.

Douglas Payne, September 2009