EMBRYO—STEIG AUS

More a collective than a formal band, Embryo were formed in Munich in 1970 by keyboard player Christian Burchard. It is as impossible to define their music as it would be to list all of the hundreds of musicians who have contributed to the Embryo story over the decades. However it is the early albums that are of particular interest to those dedicated to exploring the highways and byways of that loosest of loose categories, krautrock (or, as this lifetime appreciator calls it, Independent German music of the early and mid-70s). 

Steig Aus (1973), with its weird and slightly disturbing cover, is nevertheless a fascinating album. A collaboration between the German group and New York born jazz pianist Mal Waldron, it is an album of winding instrumentals and semi-structured improvisation that grooves to a European sensibility while being flavoured by North African spices and jazz insights.

After a couple of minutes of “Radio Marrakesch” (sic), the opening track morphs into a steaming Santana-esque jam (“Orient Express”) with a great solo from Waldron on electric piano.

“Dreaming girls” adds Edgar Hoffmann’s violin, presenting a plaintive yet assertive melody that is explored with dreamy intensity.

Side two is one long piece, divided (in that particularly proggy way) into discrete sections that are not visible to the naked ear. After the opening theme is introduced in Waldron’s “Call (Part 1), organist (and mellotron exponent) Jimmy Jackson hits some funky tones. Jackson also appeared on Embryo’s Rache and played with Klaus Dolinger’s German jazz-rock ensemble Passport. This section cooks like Jimmy Smith on acid. And it just keeps on cooking. The bass (session player Dave King and/or Jörg Evers) bubbles and bounces, while the multi-talented Christian Burchard steps away from the drum kit for a nice marimba solo. There’s a quieter section around the 12-13 minute mark that evokes Pink Floyd circa 1971 where keyboards swirl over the ever pulsing bass. The mellotron is an instrument I love dearly, and it’s nice to hear it in this jazzy proggy context, harmonising with the organ. My only criticism of this epic is the way it kind of ends with a wimper. Surely players of this calibre could have agreed on a way to close it out?

Quibbles notwithstanding, Steig Aus is a trip that will be enjoyed by fans early seventies jazz-rock or who have an interest in the wonderfully diverse world of krautrock. The title means ‘get off’—as in ‘disembark’—but when I reach the end of this particular journey, I’m just as likely to jump back on board for another ride.

21 comments

  1. My musical education continues! I agree with you we should ditch the term ‘krautrock,’ which is pretty derogatory when you think about it. I wouldn’t appreciate people calling my stuff ‘jockrock.’

    Although if they did it on the back of one zillion hits on Spotify (or however it is you make money from music these days) I guess I’d cry all the way to the bank…

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    1. You certainly wouldn’t coin such a term nowadays, and even at the time (early 70s, a UK music journo) it raised some eyebrows. But it has become a kind of brand name or genre designation despite its lack of definition and breadth of music encompassed. I’ve started putting quotation marks around it, which allows me to use it as a keyword but attempts to avoid endorsement. At least, that’s what I tell myself!
      Thanks for commenting Andrew.
      – Bruce

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Wow, this sounds great!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you enjoy grooving jazz-rock as well as the virtuoso kind, this is a good train to ride.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Some thoughts about derogatory term “Krautrock” – I’ve learned the word along with some great bands (Embryo was one of them) many years ago and had no idea about any controversities about it. For me, as no native english speaking person, the term bears no meaning except it’s useful as it depicts all this wonderful german alternative scene in one word as loose as it gets. And I think this state of unconsciousness it’s not uncomon for non english speaking countries, but of course I have no intention to offend anyone by using it and since I’m aware about it dubious origins I’m willing to adopt any political correct alternative as soon as it will be equaly widlely spread. Which is rather unlikely,since even some bands adopted the term and used it in their songs titles (ironic perhaps but still.) In the meantime the quotation marks seems to be good enough.

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  4. I listened to this album, and then Surfin’, albeit on tiny computer speakers, and liked both albums a lot, nice jams. The singer on Surfin’ reminded me a bit of Donald Fagen

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  5. You more than got my attention with this one. I’m listening to it and,yes I’m digging it right away. I will be spinning this a lot more. Good one Bruce. You the man! The proof is in the listening.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lots of ‘Bitches Brew’, ‘Get Up With It’ on this. Anything else off the top of your head? I’m listening to another one right now. He has a few to choose from and I would guess it’s all pretty interesting.

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    1. It’s hugely diverse music. Many have prominent world music influences. I only have three, but I like them all very much.
      As for influences, what do you think of this: ‘A Stoner Mahavishnu Orchestra’?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. oh yeah for sure. I was listening to some more. Like i said “interesting” output. Found some straightforward playing and some more off center. Liking it all. I never heard of it or just didn’t pay attention if I did. Music I will definitely spend some time with. I’ve been listening off and on all day. Nice to get stuff that grabs me like this. Thanks fella.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. F-king terrifying LP cover. Will I have to spend millions to get a copy?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect so, JAT. Unless you are willing to succumb to the silvery lure of That Which Shall Not Be Named.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. £30 for a 2009 reissue, approx. £150 for an original.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I too am a mellotron enthusiast!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Such a wonderful reedy sound. And a beast to manage, by all accounts.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh aye. Great artwork. Great tunage, too. You’ve got me listening to this Independent German music of the early and mid-70s on Spotify (this Embryo have a ton of stuff, eh?) and I’m liking what I’m hearing. That bass has got me moving!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great, J. Embryo’s Rache is another I enjoy muchly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I ended up listening to a fair bit of stuff while I did some work stuffs the other day. All very good.

        Liked by 1 person

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