Picks and Pans Review: The Man in the Elevator

updated 06/05/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/05/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Heiner Goebbels/Heiner Müller

Anyone getting on this elevator should be prepared for an unsettling and zany ride to the outer limits of musical imagination. Based on a text by Heiner Müller, who has been called the most important German playwright since Bertolt Brecht, the piece—a kind of pop opera—puts listeners inside the head of a modern Everyman on his way to see the Boss. En route he loses track of time, forgets which floor the Boss is on and ultimately steps off the elevator into a phantasmagorical realm where neither time nor place have meaning. Goebbels, a rock and roll experimenter from Frankfurt, divides the Man in the Elevators tortured soliloquy into German and English fragments, then reconnects them over a kaleidoscopic musical collage that includes elements of rock, free jazz and South American folk music.

Some of New York's finest avant-garde musicians—Don Cherry, Arto Lindsay, Fred Frith, Ned Rothenberg, Charles Hayward and George Lewis—keep the elevator hopping as Goebbels shifts genres at breakneck speed. The music is strangely lyrical and played with impish humor. The album may leave you laughing because of its wacky take on modern life or crying because of its apocalyptic imagery. In either case, it is likely to sharpen your listening habits. (ECM)

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