On January 10, the day when the world at large found out that the great Rush drummer Neil Peart had died, another fantastic musician also passed: German jazz and experimental keyboardist/composer Wolfgang Dauner, who was 84. Unsurprisingly, Peart's death overshadowed Dauner's, but the latter deserves his own passionate eulogy.
I've been a huge Wolfgang Dauner stan since I first heard his 1971 LP Et Cetera while tripping in Dallas, Texas, in 1997. That record instantly became my favorite ever, as it remains to this day. In my review of the 2010 reissue of Et Cetera in these pages, I referred back to that initial mind-altering encounter and called it "a disciplined yet free-ranging splay of astonishingly vivid sounds unlike any I'd ever experienced. Each of the five tracks pricked my ganglia in different, strange ways. Attempts to classify the sounds proved futile, but something extraordinary was flowing out of the speakers." The album's peak, "Raga," stands as the "Creator Has A Masterplan" of krautrock. The incomparable bliss and melancholy that the song summons make it an ideal piece to play at a loved one's funeral.
Backing up in Dauner's story, he started his own trio in 1963 with Detroit-born drummer Fred Braceful and German bassist Eberhard Weber; the latter would go on to record several crucial albums on the renowned ECM label. Rare for a European artist, Dauner drew comparisons to Miles Davis's—but perhaps it's not surprising given Bill Evans's influence on Dauner's piano playing.
Toward the late '60s, Dauner's music took on more freewheeling elements from the burgeoning psych-rock and krautrock movements, with even some non-cliché lounge touches sliding into the sound. Check 1969's The Oimels for a brilliant display of Dauner's facility with these styles, including an oddball cover of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life."
That LP also yielded the cult club anthem "Take Off Your Clothes to Feel the Setting Sun," a sitar-laced lounge-jazz beauty that was comped on Tommy Boy's 1997 collection Untouchable Outcaste Beats Vol. 1. This may be the Dauner track that most people in the U.S. know, but, wonderful as it is, it's an anomaly in his catalog. Rischka's Soul (1970) offers more in this vein of psych-rock commingling with soul-jazz, falling somewhere between Stark Reality and Brian Auger.
Free-jazz heads treasure Dauner for Free Action (1967) and the 1970 ECM full-length, Output. Both are fonts of distorted beauty and thrilling turbulence. The 1972 album Knirsch that Dauner recorded under the Et Cetera name featured a different, stripped-down lineup, with former Seattle resident and late guitar deity Larry Coryell and English prog-rock drummer Jon Hiseman sojourning into acid-rock and out-jazz realms with fearless inventiveness.
No matter what mode Dauner employed, he could not help manifesting extraordinary tones arranged in distinctive structures. Unique fusions proliferated in his oeuvre.
We are long overdue for a substantial reissue campaign of Dauner's best works—or at least a box set of his career highlights. It's a shame how obscure his name and how scarce his work still remain. But it's never too late for you to discover the multifarious wonders of his radical output... even if it means just falling into a YouTube or Spotify rabbit hole. RIP, sui generis genius Wolfgang Dauner.