November 25, 2008
Alexander Von Schlippenbach-Globe Unity Orchestra
Globe Unity - 40 Years
Intakt CD 133
Gold Is Where You Find It
Intakt CD 143
More than 70 years old, pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach is one more proof of Steve Lacy’s adage that “free jazz keeps you young”. A professional musician since 1962, Berlin-based Schlippenbach has maintained his level of creativity in various contexts, most prominently in the trans-European Globe Unity Orchestra (GUO) and his trio with saxophonist Evan Parker and drummer Paul Lovens.
Consistency may be another attribute of quality as well as metaphoric youthfulness, since these CDs – one celebrating the GUO’s 40th birthday and the other recorded in the year of the Schlippenbach Trio (ST)’s 35th anniversary – confirm that the pianist and his associates are still on top of their game(s).
Taking them one by one, death and disagreements have taken their toll on the GUO’s personnel, but the 15-piece aggregation – sans bass player like the ST – holds to the high standards set by its predecessors. Mixing older compositions with newer pieces, such as the pianist-composed title track, solo space is given to every band member, who range from GU veterans such as trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and multi-reedist Gerd Dudek to newbies such as American trombonist Jeb Bishop and French trumpeter/flugelhornist Jean-Luc Capozzo.
Some of tracks are practically bagatelles, with the real meat in the more lengthy explorations. Still there is period charm in the rhythmic punctuation, complete with screaming high-note trumpet lines – likely from Capozzo – that enliven “Bavarian Calypso”’s cacophonous polyphony. Plus “Nodago”, a reflective showcase for Wheeler, who composed it, proves that the old Woody Herman-Stan Kenton-style big band backing can be legit. Nonetheless, the late British trombonist Paul Rutherford manages to counter nostalgia here with a burbling multiphonic solo that contrasts contralto and basso tones.
A close cousin to the calypso is Steve Lacy’s “The Dumps”. Thelonious Monk-like in its interpretation it features oomph-pah-pah brass, slithering reed timbres and high-frequency rolling chording from Schlippenbach. Here Dudek expels a continuously breathed circular soprano saxophone solo with more grit than Parker brings to similar outputs. Bishop’s slippery slide positions and tongued pressure layer the backing along with Capozzo’s mouse squeaks and behind-the-beat grace notes, which are given further impetus by Lovens’ cymbal spanks and rim shots. In contrast, Dörner’s concluding knitted capillary tones appear to leech sound as much from metal stress and throat scraping as from what is pushed through the bell.
Another showcase, Wilem Breuker’s “Out of Burtons Songbooks”, from 1973, makes obvious the GU’s early style-spanning. The processional piano introduction could have been lifted from a chamber recital, while Schlippenbach’s subsequent exchanges with Dudek outline the sort of interdependent dissonance that seems a lot closer to Joe Henderson’s and Herbie Hancock’s work for Blue Note, then contemporary European experimentation. In-the-moment interface is thus left to Bishop and bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall’s whack-a-mole-like duet, where smears, vibratos and trills in all registers are immediately answered and intensified.
Still the GU’s 21st Century identity is made clearest on the pianist’s title composition. Fabricating the piece from drum pops, brass plunger tones, slurred reed chirps, zig-zag trumpeting and irregular triplets from the piano, serendipitously its resolution involves members of the ST. Schlippenbach is appropriately staccato and cross-handed in his playing; Lovens wallops cracks, drags and crashes his percussion; while Parker unleashes hummingbird-swift sliding, slurping and triple tonguing. Trombonist George Lewis’ side-to-side slurs and doubled tongue flutters extend the line still further.
Gold Is Where You Find It’s title tune provides an equivalently definitive description of the 21st Century ST. Coupled with the subsequent “K. SP”, it exposes the trio strategy of tick-tock wooden drags and positioned licks plus cymbal pops from Lovens; echoing strummed piano chords plus bowed, twanged and stopped prepared piano strings from Schlippenbach; and squeezed irregular note clusters and unstated squeaks and breaths form Parker.
Like the GU, the trio improvisations obliquely refer to antecedents as well as the future. For instance, there’s a section on “Three in One”, when Schlippenbach’s key-clipping is so obviously Monk-like – the American pianist is an admitted influence – that Parker’s continuously uncoiling chirps and split-tone asides start to resemble the tenor saxophone styling of Johnny Griffin. Meanwhile the pianist circles through a variety of chord and cluster coloration as cascading high-energy feints and fills share space with wriggling note clusters and off-handed patterns.
“Cloudburst” – not the Lambert-Hendricks & Ross vocal showcase – in instead a moody nocturne where circumspect tenor saxophone timbres meet rebounds, pops and temperate cymbal lacerations, with the tune accelerating in andante increments, until it climaxes in kinetic cadenzas from Schlippenbach as well as tough saxophone cadences from Parker.
Finally there’s “Z.D.W.A.”, the impressive group improvisation that begins this recital. Balanced on Lovens’ distinctive locution of rolls and rebounds plus irregular cymbal shattering, the pianist expresses himself in different styles and tempos. Moving from dreamy romanticism to rolling stride in his solos, bass pedal pressure and chord clusters gradually give way to playful double-timing. Similarly Parker’s tongue-slapping and tone-scraping attain his characteristic line-and-pattern extensions before downshifting with the others to cumulative silence.
Extrapolating Parker’s composition title “Three in One”, the Schlippenbach Trio has maintained its power over many years by sympathetically amalgamating each other’s skills. What’s more, even with a constantly shifting cast, the Globe Unity has performed a similar task. Perhaps then it’s this organizational flair, along with his choice of compositions, and situations that welcome new ideas, which accounts for the pianist’s musical youthfulness.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Globe: 1. Globe Unity forty years 2. Out of Burtons Songbooks 3.Bavarian Calypso 4. Nodago 5. The Dumps 6. The Forge
Personnel: Globe: Axel Dörner (trumpet); Jean-Luc Capozzo, Manfred Schoof and Kenny Wheeler (trumpet and flugelhorn); George Lewis, Paul Rutherford, Johannes Bauer and Jeb Bishop (trombone); Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky (clarinet, alto saxophone and flute); Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones); Gerd Dudek (soprano and tenor saxophones, clarinet and flute); Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano) and Paul Lovens and Paul Lytton (drums).
Track Listing: Gold: 1. Z.D.W.A. 2. Slightly Flapping 3. Amorpha 4.Gold is Where you Find it 5. K. SP 6. Monkey’s Fist 7. Lekko 8.Cloudburst 9. Three in One 10. The Bells of St. K.
Personnel: Gold: Evan Parker (tenor saxophone); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano) and Paul Lovens (drums).