Evan Parker / Alex Von Schlippenbach / Peter Kowald / Paul Lovens

July 18, 2021

Three Nails Left

Corbett vs Dempsey CD 0068



Relative Pitch RPR 1117

Forty-five years separate these sessions featuring German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, demonstrating that a commitment to profound free improvisation deepens over the years. Not that the pianist, who was part of the some of the earliest mid-1960s Free Jazz experiments, wasn’t already a sophisticated keyboard explore when 1974’s Three Nails Left was recorded, Still when Forge was forged in 2019 his playing is no less forceful at 81. The first CD is also notable because it also features British saxophonist Evan Parker and German percussionist Paul Lovens, who have worked as a trio with the pianist since 1972. It’s unusual though as one of the group’s few quartet dates, this time adding German bassist Peter Kowald. The other is also notable since his German partners are drummer Martin Blume (b. 1956) and saxophonist Frank Paul Schubert (b. 1965). Interestingly both CDs start with an extended improvisation, with the other tracks much shorter,

In the first months of a collaboration that has lasted nearly a half century, the Schlippenbach trio members are already staking out their roles on the almost 24-miniute “Range”. The pianist accelerates quickly from stopped-key motifs to seemingly never-ending kinetic patterning and glissandi; Parker’s reed magic encompasses altissimo aviary twitters and embedded paced honks, while Lovens’ crash and clatters plus cymbal work straddles the bottom. Kowald contributes when he can be heard with spiccato slices and swelling squeals. At the same the group’s evolution can be traced in different approaches. Schlippenbach’s key tinkling still retains traces of the modern Jazz he started with, while Parker is fully involved with Free Music, stuttering nasal split tones and bent notes. Eventually Lovens’ drum rumbles and a piano interlude slow the exposition from allegro to adagio only to pick up again with kinetic plinks and pummels from the pianist and triple-tonguing from the saxophonist. Before the piece sinks into nebulousness however key clipping, cymbal shakes and a drum roll steady the ending. The other tracks fit the same mould, with moderated climaxes created from metronomic piano patterning and drum reverberations with much of the exposition intensity emanating from Parker’s screaming vibrations and sopranissio shrilling. Kowald adds the occasional sul tasto pull or wood-rending screech, but the counterpoint expressed otherwise shows why the band usually remained a trio. Parker fills part of “Black Holes” with the beginning of what would become his signature circular breathing, but at this juncture the blowing was more technical than touching.

Leap forward 40 decades and hear Schubert, who first recorded with Schlippenbach in 2011, able to express the technical expertise and emotion that Parker too now brings to his playing. He’s also able to wring passion from his narratives along with technical smarts that include barbed asides and theme fragmentation. With a second track a coda that’s one-eighth the length of “Merge” the sonic fireworks are best expressed there. Soon the saxophonist moves between lyrical and splintering with lip smacks and reed bites. So his nearly limitless variations evolve alongside percussion clatter and clunks and piano extensions in different keys and pitches or, as a challenge, follow a straight-ahead melody. At mid-point this broken-octave creativity intensifies so that piano key stabs and gong plus bolo-bat-like resounding being additional polyrhythms to the narrative. At that point until the conclusion, the chord formation judders in three parts to include spiky reed trills, disconnected drum rumbles and dissonant piano asides. Reciprocity is finally attained as the trio members, spurred with extended pianism, embrace theme references to define the ending. Free-thinking musicians retain creative invention for many decades. Schlippenbach confirms that on these exemplary discs and it’s likely his associates will do the same.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Nails: 1. Range 2. Black Holes 3. Three Nails Left

Personnel: Nails: Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano) Peter Kowald (bass) and Paul Lovens (percussion)

Track Listing: Forge: 1. Merge 2. Forgin the Work

Personnel: Forge: Frank Paul Schubert (alto and soprano saxophones); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano) and Martin Blume (drums and percussion)