June 1, 2009
Aki Takase & The Good Boys
Live at Willisau Jazz Festival
Jazz Werkstatt JW 049
Alexander Von Schlippenbach
Another Timbre At14
Jazzwerkstatt JW 037
Extended Play: Alexander Von Schlippenbach and his band mates
By Ken Waxman
One European jazz pacesetter since the late 1960s, German pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach’s groups showcase different aspects of his broad interests. Together for over 35 years, his trio with saxophonist Evan Parker and drummer Paul Lovens features improvisers attuned to each other’s thinking. Predating that, The Globe Unity Orchestra herds outstanding Continental soloists into cooperative big band arrangements. His Monk’s Casino quintet – filled out by German players about 25 years younger than Schlippenbach, 71 – offers a unique take on Thelonious Monk’s oeuvre. Its members also score on individual projects, like these CDs.
Able to display the quirky kernel of Monk’s moods elsewhere, on
Friulian Sketches psi 08.07, Von Schlippenbach personalizes jazz chamber music, seconded by Amerian cellist Tristan Honsinger and Italian clarinetist Daniele D’Agaro, The 20 inventions are airy and pleasant, and never do the bel canto flourishes trump innate creativity. For example on “Capriccio” skewed Monkian tropes give way to broken-octave chording and strummed cadenzas from the pianist – both formalist and funky. In contrast the cellist’s tremolo squeaks open up into multi-string exhibitionism, while D’Agaro’s reed quivers with lyrical currents.
Moderato throughout, tunes are frequently jolted by the clarinetist’s high-pitched glissandi or liquid portamento. Take “Antifonia” where D’Agaro’s tones are matched by the pianist’s organic patterning plus a stop-time interlude from Honsinger. Altering their instruments’ tessitura as they play, the three keep the restrained sounds from becoming simplistic by including rhythmic plunks from cello strings and key fanning from the piano.
Simplicity doesn’t enter the equation on TOOT’s Two Another Timbre At14. Here the Bebop chops trumpeter Axel Dörner exhibits in Monk’s Casino are transmogrified into disembodied brass sound pulses, the better to meld with the quivering wave forms and undercurrents from Thomas Lehn’s synthesizer and the cries, retches and mumbles which make up the unconventional oralization of British vocalist Phil Minton.
Minton’s style of anti-singing, which encompasses duck quacks, yodeling, basso growls and strangled yelps, reduces vocal expression to its most basic. So does the trumpeter, whose expression mostly consists of flat-line air forced through the horn’s body tube, reductionist breaths and circumscribed grace notes. Abstract on their own, Lehn’s sound envelopes hold the improvisations together with pulsating signals and electric-piano-like sprinkles.
Evolving chromatically or contrapuntally, Toot’s soundworld is pointillist, but not cynosure. Despite Minton’s strident throat extensions, his gibberish sprouting is put into context when mated with the others’ outpourings. Purring timbres and ring modulator-like whooshes from the synthesizer create a connective undercurrent, while Dörner’s excursions into muted grace notes confirm the in-the-moment status of the improvisations.
Even more instantaneous is Aki and The Good Boys’ Live at Willisau Jazz Festival Jazz Werkstatt JW 049. One “good boy” prominent on this CD by Aki Takase – the Japanese-born, Berlin-based pianist – is bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall, who shares the front line in Monk’s Casino with Dörner. Serendipitously enough, Takase is Von Schlippenbach’s wife. Looser than the other CDs’ programs, Live cannily subvert American jazz and German folksongs. Takase’s compositions are harmonically and melodically sophisticated. They also have sufficient space for her keyboard forays ranging from high-frequency tinkling, to metronomic pulsing. Added are flutter-tongued, altissimo and vamping exchanges between Mahall and Amsterdam-based reedist Tobias Delius. Scattered among the tunes are four Mahall-composed miniatures which lighten the mood and extend the color palate. “Dreimal Durch” for instance, conflates an uneven pulse, spidery piano arpeggios and unison horn trills.
The bass clarinetist’s reed bites, spetrofluctuation and tongue slaps help define Takase compositions such as “Todays Ulysses” which also showcases her metronomic patterning and contrasting dynamics. Here, Mahall scooping concentric notes from his horn’s bottom causes Delius to unleash responsive honks and slurs.
In contrast to these exercises in group interaction, bassist Jan Roder – whose solid rhythm is the rock on which Monk’s Casino rests – goes it alone on Double Bass Jazzwerkstatt 037, unveiling multiple strategies as his modulated plucks alternate with metronomic inventions plus abrasive bow scratches. “Naŭ” captures slaps, pulls and thumps. “Ses” deals with staccato, strident and subterranean double-stopping – one texture resembles pooch barks, another is airily melodic. Then there’s “Kvar”, which uses crumpled paper placed among the strings to create rattling noises that upticks to sul ponticello creaks. The piece concludes with adagio note clusters executed with guitar-like facility.
Each musician excels as a stylist on his own. Toronto can experience them together as Monk’s Casino at the Church of the Reeder as [art of the TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival on June 26.
— For Whole Note Vol. 14 #9