Alexender Von Schlippenbach

September 26, 2005

Compression: Live at Total Music Meeting 2002
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Evan Parker/Mark Sanders/John Coxon/Ashley Wales
Trio with Interludes
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Free Music’s paramount concern is in constantly making it new. Incongruously, though, this freshness as often results from the faith improvisers have in the abilities of longtime collaborators as from musicians experimenting with new players and novel instruments. Compression and Trio with Interludes aptly demonstrate these opposing stratagems in discs featuring veteran BritImproviser Evan Parker. The first is yet another masterful performance by Parker on soprano and tenor saxophones and the two German musicians who have made up this trio since the early1970s: pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and Paul Lovens on selected drums and cymbals.

The other matches Parker and British percussionist Mark Sanders, with whom he has recorded in other circumstances, with John Coxon on Roland MKS 80, grand piano, harpsichord, National Trojan guitar and riveted tambour. Coxon and Ashley Wales make up the electronic remix duo Spring Heel Jack, which has put together some cut’n’paste sessions for Parker and other British and American improvisers in the past. Yet this sound investigation has Coxon and his somewhat idiosyncratic instruments joined with the other two to make up an improvising trio on seven tracks. Six intermingled interludes sound as if Coxon plus Wales on piano, bass drum, riveted tambour and flannel (sic) are performing their version of studio improv without imput from the other two.

Despite the 12 notated cues, Compression is one continuous performance from the 2002’s Total Music Meeting in Berlin and shows what can be accomplished when the improvisers involved know each other’s every move. Parker, von Schlippenbach and Lovens collectively do what they do best, and like, say, a Modern Jazz Quartet performance – although a lot less formal – you simply add another chapter to the volume that has been their collective legacy since the 1970s. Passing what in conventional music would be the lead role between the saxophonist and the pianist, Parker on tenor saxophone slashes through the polyphonic barrier with snarky hard blowing and split tones, molding themes and variations as he sees fit. Double-tonguing, it often seems as if two separate reed lines are being developed and harmonized, a technique he carries over to the soprano, though the smaller horn also encourages breathtaking circular breathing, shading every note as the swerving long-lined smears and arpeggios permeate von Schlippenbach’s and Lovens’ vibrant contributions. More melodic than he has been in the past, the pianist varies his touch from feather-light to anvil-hard at different points. Sometimes he comes up with recital-fashion low-frequency chording, other times his contrasting dynamics are such that he appears to be finding the sort of hyperkinetic contrasting dynamics that characterized many early Free Jazz keyboardists.

Improvising in broken octaves and polyharmonically hasn’t altered von Schlippenbach’s links to the tradition, however. If his cadences seem to arise from a prepared piano at points, his note clusters also take on the pulses of raggy Stride other places – his admitted influence Thelonious Monk was a Stride man himself. Logical internal swing is always present, and there’s a point right near the top where for a brief moment it sounds as if he’s quoting from “Just a Gigolo”, coincidentally a tune Monk recorded as a solo feature.Content to bell-ring and cymbal-resonate for propulsion, most of the drummer’s accompaniment centres on timed clatters and thumps. There’s also a point where it appears that Parker’s narrowness of tone has thinned to such an extent that it’s been reduced to pennywhistle-like shrills. But considering Lovens’ singing saw can produce similar timbres, very likely the carpenter’s tool made an unexpected stage appearance. As that pitch enters the sound field the result is sort of reductionist polyharmony. Whether voiced that way or with frantic polyphony, the end result impresses both the audience and the listener.

Equally impressive is the work on Trio with Interludes, though, to be honest, most of the interludes that clock in around the one minute mark could have been excised. With one exception, they’re reminiscent of commercial breaks on television dramas, interludes which display Coxon’s and Wales’ prowess with legato grand piano chording, sluiced electronic intervals or scraped steel guitar whines, but which are vestigial to many tunes’ plot lines. Far more germane is how Parker’s protracted circular breathing and harsh vocalized slurs, a well as Sanders’ wriggling cymbal licks and drum rolls are combined with live and processed oscillations for novel and imaginative textures. At points the cross-modulation and filter resonance causes Coxon’s analogue synthesizer to produce irregular, mosquito-buzzing timbres on its own. More commonly, sluicing or slurred reed tones match up with resonating plucks from the electrified harpsichord or float upon clouds of organ-setting resonances. Another strategy is when low-frequency, mechanized wave forms are replaced by squirming calliope-patterning from the keys – the better to mix with light snaps and back-of-brush taps from the drummer and in counterpoint with lips smacks and cheeky thwacks from the reedist. Some of the foghorn slurs heard may be Parker in the flesh, yet others are electronic interface, reflecting back his already-created saxophone lines into the mix.

While glottal punctuation, irregular body tube vibrations and tongue slaps can alternately collide with or maneuver through cymbal clacking and irregular ruffs from Sanders as well as the careening caffeinated runs from and fluttering waves of Game boy-like clamor from Coxon, congruence puts the tones to better use. On one, more-than-8½-minute track, the contrapuntal qualities are brought into highest relief. Sideboard distortions are patched with keyboard arpeggios so that the resulting warm bubbling tones meet head on with rappelling overblowing that produces skittering growls. When the drummer’s off-handed cymbal thwacks are added, the layering adds up to perfect cohesion regardless of its electronic or acoustic qualities.

Previously Parker’s electro-acoustic adventures have taken place in larger group contexts, but the seven trio improvisations here prove he can work in diminutive fashion as well. Furthermore, the dozen tracks of Compression demonstrate that his acoustic interface hasn’t suffered either.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing Compression: 1. Yes Bishop… yes, yes! 2. Variations on G 3. All the Things You Are (Paraphrase dvs/pi) 4. Tantrum 5. Ayre 6. Bang In… 7. Bird of the Year 8. Compression 9. Glow 10. Singles 11. Insistence 12. It had to be

Personnel Compression: Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophone); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano); Paul Lovens (selected drums and cymbals)

Recorded live at Total Music Meeting 2002

Track Listing: Interludes: 1. 4.14 2. 1.03 3. 7.42 4. 1.13 5. 8.33 6. 1.30 7. 7.02 8. .41 9. 7.53 10. 04.50 11. 2.48 12. 1.10 13. 3.22

Personnel: Interludes: Evan Parker (tenor saxophone); John Coxon (Roland MKS 80, grand piano, harpsichord, National Trojan guitar, riveted tambour); Ashley Wales (piano, bass drum, riveted tambour, flannel) and Mark Sanders (drums and percussion)