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Kraan - Through-Bassball Recordings
[BAS 20032]

by Robert J. BAUMANN

Left to right are Ingo Bischof (keyboards), Peter Wolbrandt (guitar),
Hellmut Hattler (bass) and Jan Fride (drums).


I have often stopped to wonder why we listen to music. Are our ears so completely different that our reasons are, too. You could not find more diversity in the world than there is in music. Some listen to opera, others to jazz and still others to rap. Are they all approaching this music for the same reason?

My take on that is yes. Whatever it does to the listener emotionally or spiritually, music reaches us all for pretty much the same reasons. We want to be entertained by what we hear. There are differences in reaction just as there are differences in musical style, but when you get right down to it, the music gets turned on because of our basic human need to hear sounds.

I've always treated music as a form of reward. In buying a CD I am rewarding myself. In finding a new group, I am rewarding myself. Do you think of music this way, too? Is that why when you see a favorite artist with a new recording your immediate first thought is... I must have it.

I would wait for a pair of shoes to go on sale, or a shirt or pants... but let a favorite artist's work be placed under my nose and I behave quite differently. That  recording becomes an urgent requirement. I know that may sound terribly childish, but if I am honest about this perhaps you will believe me when I confess another honest truth. What is that truth? I'll get to that in a moment.

In life there are few things worth having and holding. Clothes wear out. Sooner or later my wife will grab that favorite shirt and toss it into the garbage bin. It will be so worn and useless that it will not even be worth donating to charity. My increasing waistline will force me to give away the pants I no longer fit into. Shoes? How many of you still have the shoes you were wearing in 1980? Do you get the idea?



Left to right are Ingo Bischof (keyboards), Peter Wolbrandt (guitar, vocs),
Hellmut Hattler (bass) and Jan Fride (drums).


A CD? Well, now there's another story. Right? Buy it and store it well. It will outlive you. The only hard choice you may have to make is deciding which of your evil relatives is worthy enough to cherish the music that you have. Until that dying breath, a CD will mostlikely be around for you to enjoy. It may well have a longer life than those old 78 rpm recordings I had as a kid. It may be around far longer than the 45 rpm single hits I bought when I was in high school. The LP? Ah, I do also think it will outlast the lifetime of that wonderful invention, too.

The point here is that what you buy today will surely be around for many years to come. Break down the cost of a $20 CD over 40 years and you get one heck of a bargain.

Which brings us to one particular CD I wanted to tell you about. I want to review it for you, but words could never let you "feel" what it is that music does. I will mention a web site where you can sample the ear candy for yourself and that may be more convincing than my own words. At the very least I want you to listen to the sound of this recording for yourself. All the web references will be detailed at the end of this rant.

Kraan is a band I discovered quite by accident. A record importer [Jem Records] was bringing European bands into the US on their foreign labels. I had already purchased an LP called "Let it Out". It was on a UK label named "Gull". Kraan also had released some of their work on Passport Records in the US. The music was bright and catchy, a mixture of fun with rock and jazz. These were innovative times in music and there was much crossover between such art forms. Jazz artist Larry Coryell was experimenting with fusion jazz at just around the same time that Kraan was exploring rock played a little jazzy.

When I got the Jem catalog I was able to get one or two more recordings. Clearly the band had been around for a while but, as a foreign band, there was not much information to be had about them. Liner notes? They died a long time before the 70's. I was just glad to find recordings like "Andy Nogger", "Wintrup" and "Flyday" thanks to Jem.

Jem took more than 3 months to deliver these LPs to me, but they were worth the wait. Everything I liked about "Let It Out" was found on these recordings, too.

When you listen to a slow Kraan song you find yourself moving to the rhythm just as readily as a faster song. You become a part of the music and it infuses itself. You are not an innocent bystander. You are involved.

Later on, I faced a crisis. LPs were on their way out. I had to move to Manhattan and our new apartment was smaller. My huge wall of records had to be sacrificed to those who still used needles. I kissed goodbye to all those Kraan recordings knowing I might never hear them again. One favorite release found by chance was "Bassball" a solo LP released by Kraan's bassist Hellmut Hattler.  I really treasured this concept album. It was hard to see it go. Hellmut Hattler was on the cover holding his guitar like a baseball bat. For a German band, Kraan was about as American as one could imagine. They always have been. 95% of their song lyrics are English, not German. Bassball was not the music of someone from Germany. It was as American as baseball itself.

The recordings all went to charity. I swallowed hard and accepted the ultimate truth that nothing really lasts forever. My opinion has since changed. It took the internet and CDs to make me think twice.

In the mid-90's I experienced Yahoo and the internet for the first time. I wanted to test it, to see what it could do. My first word on the internet was "Kraan". Not only was I amazed to find a web site dedicated to the band, but I also learned of recordings that were not known of in the USA. I was even shocked to learn that some recordings were available on CD but, having been issued a few years before my search, were now hard to find and almost all were out of print. Internet to the rescue again. I located a site in Australia and was able to get two such CD re-issues. I am told that these were bootleg. I was thrilled to have them. Old friends had come for a visit and were going to stay.

The Kraan web site run by fan Michael Bohn [see URL list below] was my lifeline to the band. I not only was able to get news about the potential for re-issues, but was able to email to band members as well. A few years ago a small German indie label called "Fünfundvierzig" re-released a whole list of the Kraan catalog on their label. What I did not have was now available to me for the first time. I think the resulting sales invigorated the band, which had drifted apart, into performing and recording again full time. "Through" is their first CD of all new material in quite a few years.

Here are my thoughts about each of the nine selections on the new CD [an asterisk indicates existence of an MP3 file for your listening pleasure. See links list below:

(Left to right) Ingo Bischof (keys), Jan Fride (drums)
Hellmut Hattler (bass), Peter Wolbrandt (guit, vocs).

*Unser lied- I saved time trying to track down the meaning of this in a German/English dictionary. I was fairly sure it did not mean that someone named Unser had told an untruth. It would make a strange title for a song. No, the literal translation from the German means "Our Song". As it was explained to me this is just as it sounds. Older folks tend to identify with one particular song during their life. When they hear it the immediate thought is "They are playing our song". Just that simple.

It begins with the haunting notes of a guitar that sounds almost like church bells. This is Peter Wolbrandt on lead guitar. Over the years Peter has learned how to coax every imaginable sound from this instrument. In this I liken him to the late and great Randy California, a guitarist who once played with Jimi Hendrix and later went on to fame with the group "Spirit". Both Wolbrandt and California like to hold down on the frets and let the guitar "wail". It gives such an instrument a "voice", if you will.

The theme for the song is established early and is repeated throughout. It is both melodic and rhythmic. As with most Kraan songs here, drummer Jan Fride, gives the heartbeat to the music being played. He is the tempo, the seasoning to all that is Kraanish.

For this nine song varied selection, things get off to a very good start.

Solemn sundown- Hellmut Hattler is all over this song, where the bass fills in almost as much as do the drums. Peter on vocals. Kraan is like some other fusion bands I've heard over the years. Spyrogyra comes to mind. Flim and the BBs. Yellowjackets. Uncle Festive. Full Circle. Only two of these bands are still around and of those listed here none have the longevity of Kraan. It is ensemble effort that makes a fusion band work. Here Kraan proves well why they are still vital after all these years.

*run sonny run- Mistakes get made in life. Sometimes all you can do is run from them. Peter vocalizes about choices made and not made. If the advice is about moving on, Sonny might be running, but the listener is hopping-skipping and jumping to this tune. Me? I'd diddy-bop to it. What's that? A kind of walk with a shaking head and a lively step, two forward and one back or whatever direction you choose.

slomocean- Slow motion? Yes, the tempo has slowed down on this song. It has a new age sort of meditation feeling to it. There is an ocean-like calmness to it, if you will, the sort that makes a cruise on still waters ever so relaxing.

soul keeper- When does a soul mate become a soul keeper? Perhaps when there is a bit more take than give. It is a song about a relationship that has turned into silence, one that has turned from "fantasy to piracy" as the song says. This song has Ingo Bischof's keyboard texturing front and center. I prefer it when Ingo plays straight piano to synthesizer, but here you get a bit of both.

urlaubsmusik- The translation here means "Holiday music". It is dance music, pure and simple. It feels like a samba to me, but I am at a distinct disadvantage having the dancing ability of your average adult walrus. A song like this leads me to think I could do a good job of faking it. Some people play air-guitar. I play air-Astaire. Too bad this one is not one of those MP3 files. It's a grabber.

now what (arewegonnado)- Peter sings about another broken relationship. "I don't know why but it's true, I didn't think much of you". Despite the despairing lyrics, the song began sounding like a boogie. It all crashes down when you hear the vocal.

*moxx- I have no idea what the title is in reference to, but I thought of the word "moxie". Moxie is one's inner drive or determination to accomplish something. The song is the liveliest one on this CD and it is just the sort of thing you'll enjoy hearing again and again. Listening to it will convince you to get this CD. It is the clincher of the album. If you had to ask yourself the question: How many musicians does it take to Kraan? This song is the answer---no less than four.

through- Through has two meanings. One is about passage beyond or penetration, the other is about completion. For example: The glazier, once through with his task, put his fist through the window.

Kraan's title song reminds us that this CD has taken us through 50 minutes of time. It leaves you hungering for a bit more, as do all the CDs by the band. It has been a few years since they last provided us with new work. One may only hope and dream that they will never be "through".

Missing from this mix are the horn players that have served the band so well. Joo Kraus and Alto Pappert are a part of some of the best Kraan recordings ever. The good news is that you can hear them on the older Kraan CDs. Joo Kraus also performed with Hellmut Hattler in the band "Tab Two".

The cover art was inspired by Peter Wolbrandt's first Kraan poster from 1972. It has a day-glo Orange look to it, much like all those "Hippie" black light posters from the 1960's did. Lyrics for four of the songs are included in the jewel box insert for the CD.

In his review of "Through" Pete Pardo said "Through is an enjoyable listen, a new direction for the band, and proof that no matter what the category, they can still write great music."

Listen to those MP3 files or better yet, buy the CD and you will agree. It is a band worth listening to. If nothing else, you will feel that having purchased it was a reward you've given to yourself. You can invent a reason for the reward just as I always do.

- . -

Kraan sites worth the time to visit:
The new unified label for all the projects of the band. This is the company that has released "Through". Future re-issues will mostlikely be on this label.
http://www.bassball.net/

The big baby of them all, Michael Bohn's all encompassing Kraan web site. This loyal and dedicated fan from Denmark has kept Kraan alive as much as any band member. Both he and a musician named Skiold Frederiksen were a Godsend to this Kraanaholic in the dark days before Kraan CDs were in my hands.
http://www.danbbs.dk/~m-bohn/kraan/

Renaissance man Hellmut Hattler's artwork on view. Hint: I secretly have used one of these paintings as a desktop photo. Don't let anyone know this, please.
http://www.artmeup.de/HHworks.htm

Those interested in Kraan's music in countries outside the USA should check out the Bassball.net web site. For the rest of us trapped in the good old continental USA, Alaska, Hawaii and Canada... please see the website below. It offers MP3 files for the songs that were asterisked above. Grodecki has some of the current releases by the band:
http://grodecki.com/merchandise

If you are looking for some of the band's earlier work, it is carried at CDNow.com . They do not have all the titles in stock, but they do carry a few older recordings.There are three band references now and just one for Hellmut's artwork. I hope that is OK. Most people will find the other sites from Michael Bohn's web site.

- . -

Note: The latest news for U.S. residents: the KRAAN albums "live2001", "berliner ring" and "through" are available NOW at www.waysidemusic.com

 

Special Thanks to Hellmut Hattler for the images.
E-mail to Hellmut Hattler:
hh@hellmut-hattler.de

E-mail to Robert J. Baumann:rbaumann@nyc.rr.com

© July 2003, Robert J. Baumann

   
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