Christian Lillinger / Elan Pauer / Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky

June 20, 2011

White Power Blues

Euphorium EUPH 025


Eldorado Trio

Clean Feed CF 193 CD

Taking as a starting point the trio instrumentation used superbly by piano experimenters such as Cecil Taylor and Alexander von Schippenbach, these CDs demonstrate improvisational concepts plus a balance between older and younger players. Skillful improvisations, the results produced are completely divergent, if equally significant.

Both recorded live, each session differs from the get-go. A Leipzig meeting, White Power Blues – an apt if somewhat politically incorrect title – celebrates a meeting between 75-year-old reedist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky and two improvisers at least 40 years his junior: pianist Elan Pauer and percussionist Christian Lillinger. Petrowsky, along with trombonist Conrad Bauer, pianist Ulrich Gumpert and percussionist Günter Baby Sommer created noteworthy advanced Jazz in the former East Germany. A Sommer- protégé, Berlin-based Lillinger with his own Hyperactive Kid trio and backing players such as saxophonist Henrik Walsdorf, has become a lively, energetic drummer. Meanwhile Pauer ranges over the keyboard while touching on a multiplicity of sonic impulses. In short, the two extended tracks are no-holds-barred Free Jazz.

Twenty years’ Petrowsky’s junior, French soprano saxophonist and bass clarinetist Louis Sclavis was formally trained and over the years has flirted with melodic sounds related to folk music, both real and imaginary. His partners here, both Americans – keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey – are long-time associates of innovative players including saxophonist Tim Berne and bassist William Parker. Although the alchemist gold references in the trio’s name may be a fantasy, the musical balance among the three is a certainty. Overall the CD’s eight tracks are mid-length, more formalist and poised than those created with sometimes over-exuberant playing of the New Old Luten Trio.

Superficially the main difference between the German trio’s improvisations is length, with the second almost twice as long as the first. Equally high-powered, agitato and staccato, the shorter “Vitalistic Hymn” is both a prelude to the title track and a mantra for self-determinism. Petrowsky for one doesn’t let the strictures applied by politics, geography or aging shape his playing. Moving among alto saxophone, clarinet, flute and quarter-flute, his flutter-tonguing, a capella twittering, sturdy split tones and whistles migrate with him. Of course there are more pressurized spits and tongue bubbles from the clarinet, reed-biting and circular-breathed squeaks from the sax, and fog-horn-like vibrations and basso-like breaths from the flute. Rattling and clipping the keys, stroking and stopping the piano’s inner strings and occasionally pummeling its woody frame, Pauer demonstrates his skills here. For his part, Lillinger’s strategy encompasses rugged whacks, steady clip-clop and tinting his beats with quivering gongs and clattering cymbals.

Rigid drum top smacks and cymbal skimming with drumsticks keeps the more-than 36½ minute “White Power Blues” percolating. With thematic shifts from the exposition, variants and the finale also reflecting the reedist’s horn-switching, glottal punctuation in the form of side-slipping lines and split tones share space with duck-like quacks and continuous screeches. Unexpected legato patches show up as well.

At one juncture Petrowsky sounds as if he’s improvising on “Perdido”, other times snatches of Bebop heads pop up, then as quickly are swallowed by the swirling and layered Klangfarbenmelodie. Dynamic feints and an assembly line-like collection of percussive tones come from Pauer; who marks tune transitions with aleatory keyboard pumps. Additionally Pauer’s surging glissandi sometimes alternate with the prodding and strumming of the piano’s internal strings. By the final variations, the saxophonist lets loose with a reed-shredding fortissimo cry. The pianist plays what could be termed Zombie boogie-woogie, with multiple note piling, but without walking-bass rhythms; while the drummer smacks and pounds kinetically.

It’s worth noting that in person, with his hair-flying and body moving every which way, Lillinger is an energetic and almost overwhelming player. Such is the cumulative vitality of this trio nonetheless, that at times his playing is almost submerged by the sheer staccato muscle of the three improvising together.

Moving from White Power to Eldorado, Rainey doesn’t overpower Taborn or Sclavis with his equipment either. His motivation is seamless adherence to what the others are creating, and to help the results without drawing attention to himself. From the very beginning Rainey’s rim shots, press rolls and other movements are perfectly timed, and as spectacular in their execution as Lillinger’s are in theirs. But the American’s playing is more in-the-pocket, easily connecting with, but also muting, Taborn’s frequently staccato chording and Sclavis’ timbres which run from squeaks to snorts.

Eldorado Trio also exposes a wider variety of moods than those on the other CD. “To Steve Lacy”, for instance, with Sclavis appropriately playing soprano sax, is a lament built on a moderato line stretched to near breaking-point, until succeeded by reed bites. Taborn’s comping brings in languid urbanity while Rainey’s drags and rolls are suitably unforced. Similarly, “Lucioles” is a chamber-like fantasia with Taborn creating dancing pianissimo lines so consonant, that the outcome is nearly equal temperament. The clarinetist’s continuously breathed tongue flutters are similarly crepuscule, as the drummer equals the stylized playing of his partners with hand pumps and brushes on drum tops. Although contrasting dynamics, splintered cross tones and protracted glissandi show up on the CD, no matter how atonal and contrapuntal the construction appears, the linear nature of the tune is never sacrificed.

To stretch a metaphor perhaps, it’s true that love making can be either hard and fast or slow and sensual, without either being correct. So too is the interaction of a double-bass-less trio. As with intimacy, some may prefer the aggressive style of the German band, others the more mannered style of the Franco-American aggregation. Adventurous types may be inclined to try both.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: White: 1. Vitalistic Hymn 2. White Power Blues

Personnel: White: Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky (alto saxophone, clarinet, flute and quarter-flute); Elan Pauer (piano and percussion) and Christian Lillinger (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Eldorado: 1. Let It Drop 2. To Steve Lacy 3. Up Down Up 4. La Visite 5. Summer Worlds 6. Lucioles 7. Possibilities 8. Eldorado

Personnel: Eldorado: Louis Sclavis (soprano saxophone and bass clarinet); Craig Taborn (piano and electric piano) and Tom Rainey (drums)