Can Co-Founder and Integral Avant-Rock Drummer Jaki Liebezeit Dead at 78
Jaki Liebezeit, founder member of Can and one of the defining drummers of German psychedelic rock, passed away this weekend at the age of 78. A statement on the band’s Facebook page announced Liebezeit’s passing: “It is with great sadness we have to announce that Jaki passed away this morning from sudden pneumonia. He fell asleep peacefully, surrounded by his loved ones. We will miss him hugely.”
Liebezeit drummed on every one of Can’s studio albums, mixing deft precision and sturdy grooves with jazz-like subtleties and experimental, free-improvisatory detours. He helped define the band’s malleable, genre-flouting style as the animating factor on funky and ambitious tracks like “Vitamin C,” “Halleluhwah,” and “Dizzy Dizzy.”
Liebezeit’s sensibilities as a drummer were grounded in a jazz education: Before he joined Can in 1968, he had already played with Chet Baker, as well as German trumpeter and European free jazz progenitor Manfred Schoof. In addition to playing with Can, Liebezeit further contributed to the canon of ’70s and ’80s Krautrock music by playing on several solo albums by Neu! founder and multi-instrumentalist Michael Rother, including his celebrated and influential 1977 debut Flammende Herzen. Liebezeit’s two most high-profile contributions to experimental rock outside of his German cohort included turns on Brian Eno’s Before and After Science (1977) and Depeche Mode’s Ultra (1997).
Liebezeit also collaborated frequently with Public Image Ltd. bassist and composer Jah Wobble, who took to Twitter to praise Liebezeit yesterday, called him a “Wonderful person and best European drummer. King of Saxony lebewohl!!!”
Liebezeit also co-founded the fusion group Phantomband with fellow Can member Rosko Gee in the early ’80s, and drum ensemble Drums Off Chaos in the 2000s. He recorded up until the end of his life on collaborative projects with rock, avant-garde, and jazz musicians. His final release was a collaborative LP with British alternative-folk guitarist Robert Coyne from last summer, I Still Have This Dream.
Of his style, Liebezeit told an interviewer in 2014: “I can play a little bit like a machine but the difference between a machine and me is that I can listen, I can hear and I can react to the other musicians, which a machine cannot do.”
Watch a performance and interview featuring Jaki below.