Globe Unity Orchestra

December 3, 2001

Globe Unity ’67 & ‘70
Atavistic Unheard Music UMS/ALP 223 CD

Souvenirs of a time when “globe unity” meant more than the convergence of commercial or military interests, this CD of never-before-released tracks feature a small army of Euro improvisers luxuriating in the freedom promulgated by John Coltrane’s Ascension and The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra.

Formed in late 1966, following a Berlin Jazz Festival commission for founder/pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, the Globe Unity Orchestra (GUO) evolved over the years from this wild-and-wooly Energy ensemble to one that joined other European large groups in a concern for compositions. Besides, many might find that these two pieces, initially taped for German radio, more exciting than what came from the band afterwards.

The more than 34-minute, 1967 performance, for instance, finds the less than a year old, 19-piece GUO taking full advantage of the era’s heady musical freedom. Roaring up and down the score is a literal who’s who of (in-the-main) German free jazzers, some of whom like saxophonist Peter Brötzmann — here playing alto of all things — bassist Peter Kowald and vibist Karl Berger (as an organizer/teacher) went on to greater and more varied expression. Some like reedman Willem Breuker, trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff and brassman Manfred Schoof turned to more conventional playing. A few musicians have since died and others have been lost in the mists of time.

In a composition made up of many climaxes, ending on an extended Wagnerian flourish, and which practically knocks over the listener with its sheer power, von Schlippenbach seems to be the leader only by osmosis. It’s pretty much every man for himself, spurred and taunted by a massed rhythm section of three percussionists, two bassists, a vibist, a tubaist and the pianist smashing a gong when the spirit moves him.

Especially impressive are Schoof soaring into the ozone layer with his cornet and high D trumpet, and Breuker puffing out some deep-dish baritone saxophone blats. Halfway through as well, Gunter Hampel’s flute and Willy Lietzmann’s tuba join for a minuet that suggests a rhinoceros sashaying with a crow. Additionally, the pianist sounds best two thirds of the way through, when he unleashes some space boogie-woogie, rather than at other places where he still seems in thrall to Cecil Taylor.

However with such a large aggregation and so many short solo peeping out of the dense musical mass, at times it’s hard to ascribe proper praise where it’s due. Is it Gerd Dudek or Heinz Sauer who takes the hairy-chested, Coltranesque tenor saxophone solo at the beginning; and does Hampel or Kris Wanders contribute bass clarinet bottom elsewhere? With everyone trying to contribute his two marks worth, identification become difficult.

Three years later, with the band members’ hair and beards grown even longer and wilder, the Germans are joined by Czech, Polish, French, Dutch and a whole contingent of British musicians — most prominently saxophonist Evan Parker, guitarist Derek Bailey and drummer Han Bennink. With the section swelled by U.K. trombonists Malcolm Griffiths and Paul Rutherford, the almost 18-minute piece is more brassy and thanks to Dutchman Bennink and his German opposite number Paul Lovens, more percussive. Interestingly enough, though, except for some minor guitar feedback at the top and a small circuit of protracted saxophone excavating in the middle — which could come from any one of the five saxophonists — neither Bailey nor Parker seems to showcase any part of what would soon become an instantly identifiable persona. Instead the — at times — nine brasses assert themselves more than the other instruments.

Cleaner than many live recordings, but not sonically perfect, the disc boosts the GUO’s slim discography and offers a fresh and memorable look at the band in its formative, most experimental, years.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Globe Unity ’67 2. Globe Unity ‘70

Personnel: ’67: Manfred Schoof (cornet, high D trumpet); Jürg Grau, Claude Deron (trumpet); Jiggs Wigham, Albert Mangelsdorff (trombone); Willy Lietzmann (tuba); Gunter Hampel (bass clarinet, flute); Peter Brötzmann (alto saxophone); Kris

Wanders (alto saxophone, bass clarinet); Gerd Dudek, tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet); Heinz Sauer (tenor and soprano saxophones); Willem Breuker baritone saxophone, clarinet); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano, bells, gong, tam-tam); Karlhanns Berger (vibraphone); Buschi Niebergall, Peter Kowald (bass); Jacki Liebezeit, drums, tympani); Mani Neumeier, Sven-Åke Johansson (drums)

Personnel: ’70: Kenny Wheeler (trumpet, flugelhorn); Schoof (trumpet, flugelhorn, high D trumpet); Tomas Stanko, Bernard Vitet (trumpet); Malcolm Griffiths, Mangelsdorff, (trombone); Paul Rutherford (trombone, tenor horn); Niebergall (bass trombone, bass); Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones); Michel Pilz (flute, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone); Dudek, tenor and soprano saxophones, flute); Sauer (alto, tenor and soprano saxophones); Brötzmann, tenor and baritone saxophones); von Schlippenbach (piano, percussion); Derek Bailey (guitar); Kowald (bass, tuba); Arjen Gorter (bass, electric bass); Paul Lovens (drums, percussion); Han Bennink, drums, shellhorn, dhung, gachi)