Can in session tonight, and a tribute to drummer, percussionist and heartbeat of the band, Jaki Liebezeit, who passed away from a brief illness yesterday at age 78.
To say Can were an influence on the Progressive Rock movement is an understatement. To say Can had a profound effect on me as a floundering musician and journalist in the late 60s/early 70s goes without saying.
We’ve been fortunate, those of us who have been around the block a few times and who have witnessed changes in music and upheavals in Popular Culture, to have experienced a band like Can, who signaled a wave of new music coming from Germany, a place not many people considered a hotbed of any sort – unless it had something to do with Hamburg and the formative days of The Beatles.
But there was something going on, and Psychedelia had a lot to do with it. But in Germany, a lot of it also had to do with the growth and influence of Electronic Music on young musicians. One of the key figures, was one who made waves as early as the 1950s; Karlheinz Stockhausen – he was one of several forward thinking composers who freed up what was going on in the contemporary Classical music world, and who became key figures and influences for many musicians to take the essence of Electronic Music, along with the technical expertise of Classical, the passion of Rock and the improvisatory nature of Jazz and come out with what we know now is Progressive Rock.
It’s important to realize the founding members of Can all had backgrounds in serious music. During an interview I did with Irmin Schmidt, founder of Can in 1974, he said he had worked with the Berlin Opera in the 1950s as a young music student – and, as anyone who has studied Classical Music will tell you, it’s highly disciplined and at times, rigid. So when Stockhausen and this new school of Electronic Music came along, it freed everyone up. And Schmidt, along with Can co-founder Holger Czukay saw the possibilities of where things could head once the playing field was opened up to do so. And that’s where Jaki Liebezeit came in. Liebezeit had an intensive Jazz background – and it was this combination of Classical discipline from Schmidt, Free Jazz improvisation from Liebezeit and experimental Electronic music via Czukay and Schmidt, it became the meeting place and the springboard for what was to become the basis for one of the most influential bands of the 1970s.
Jaki Liebezeit was often referred to as “half-man/half-machine” because of his metronomic approach and his “ability to meld the murky with the cerebral”. He was the heartbeat of the band and an integral element in what was Can’s sound.
These two sessions – the last two for Peel from 1974 and 1975, come around the time the band were honing and perfecting their approach, in many ways making it more accessible, while still maintaining the experimental groundwork they were known for.
It’s not easy music if you aren’t familiar with it – but it’s rewarding and eye-opening and it’s loaded with possibilities.
Can were ahead of their time – they weren’t regarded as mainstream by any stretch, even though they did have one single which charted – they were still busy breaking ground. Their influence is still felt by musicians who may not even be aware of the debt they owe, and undoubtedly that influence will continue for a long time to come.
Which makes the loss of Jaki Liebezeit all that more profound. He was one of a kind in a band of one-of-a-kinds.
Have a listen for the next hour and enjoy.