Schlippenbach Trio

Bauhaus Dessau
Intakt CD 183

Obviously comfortable in their own musical skins in an assemblage that has now been together longer than the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ), members of the Schlippenbach Trio are still very capable of finding fresh and innovative avenues of expression. This CD, recorded in a Walter Gropius-designed Bauhaus-style auditorium in Dessau, Germany, confirms this.

Perhaps the reason for the trio’s longevity – 40 years and counting – is that unlike the MJQ, it isn’t the members’ paramount means of expression. At the very least, with tenor saxophonist Evan Parker involved in his own trio and electro-acoustic ensemble; with pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach with solo work and Monk’s Casino; and with drummer Paul Lovens often working with French bassist Joëlle Léandre and many others; they have plenty to occupy their off-time. Plus with the saxophonist in London, the pianist in Berlin and the drummer residing in Nickelsdorf, Austria they don’t even cross paths that often.

More seriously the band is fully committed to Free Improvisation. So when the three unite for a tour, not only do they have fresh perspectives, but also, unlike the MJQ – and despite von Schlippenbach’s name in the title – there’s no overbearing music director as John Lewis was with the MJQ.

That said from its first few notes here, the combo, which has been recording in this configuration since 1972, is as instantly identifiable as the MJQ was with exposure to Lewis’ piano touch and Milt Jackson’s vibe resonations. More understated beat-wise than the MJQ’s Connie Kay, Lovens uses wood blocks, small cymbals and drop cloths on drum tops to subdue and vary his rhythm. Von Schlippenbach is as capable as outputting kinetic note cascades as low frequency comping, depending on the music’s needs. Parker’s pressurized breaths, smears and balanced circular breathing create tones that can be linked to John Coltrane’s or Lester Young’s styles in originality and influence. Plus the absence of a bass player is a non-issue.

Make no mistake about it as well, and Europeanized as it may be, the Schlippenbach Trio definitely plays Free Jazz. This is especially notable in the later section of “Bauhaus 2” during the communication between the saxophonist and the pianist. As Parker’s melodic puffs turn to concentrated glissandi and mouth pops, Von Schlippenbach enhances his lines with single-note pulses – bringing to mind saxophonist Johnny Griffin’s partnership with pianist Thelonious Monk. Accompanying both with the restraint Frankie Dunlop or Shadow Wilson brought to Monk’s music, are drumstick-propelled cymbal scratches, press rolls and wood-block smacks from Lovens.

Developments, variations and interludes are even more prominent on the CD’s almost 41½-minute initial track. With the tempo gradually increasing and decelerating throughout, texture propelling is the result of contrasting dynamics, impelled by a combination of cymbal clatter and rounded ruffs from Lovens; von Schlippenbach’s rapid chord changes, two-handed pummeling and treble clef tinkling; plus Parker’s staccato tongue quivers and broken-octave overblowing. Formalist echoes of earlier Jazz peek through as well. While the saxman’s concentrated half-squeal, half reed bite may at points reference the New Thing; the piano player’s fortissimo chording sometimes begins to resemble Boogie Woogie or Stride. Eventually, after percussive key punching from von Schlippenbach and continuous undulating breaths from Parker, the saxophonist’s shaded reed yelps and bites coupled with the drummer’s rolls and segmented pulse move the piece to adagio from allegro. Ultimately the pianist’s hunting and pecking keyboard shading makes common caused with the others for a perfectly timed, triple-stopping finale.

Forty years of playing may mark a record for others. For the Schlippenbach Trio it’s merely a way to create more Free Music milestones.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Bauhaus 1 2. Bauhaus 2 3. Bauhaus 3

Personnel: Evan Parker (tenor saxophone); Alexander Von Schlippenbach (piano) and Paul Lovens (drums)