Alexander von Schlippenbach

October 11, 2015

Globe Unity
MPS DL (EAN/UPC 4250644881299)

Listening to this crucial session from nearly a half-century ago from the vantage point of 2015, suggests just how timeless some Free Jazz remains. Conversely it reminds us how much of its time programs like this one are. Globe Unity – the performance and LP which birthed a long-running European Free Music aggregation – appeared historically in between two Jazz milestones, John Coltrane’s Ascension in 1965 and Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun in 1968. Unlike the octet featured on the latter or the 11 players on Ascension, Globe Unity consists of 14 musicians, a small big band with strings, brass, reeds and percussion represented.

Considering that the soloist are on the exalted level of pianist/composer Alexander von Schlippenbach, Brötzmann and cornetist Manfred Schoof – who would lead an even larger orchestra on the European Echoes LP a few years later – boiling excitement very much in the Energy Music/New Thing mold is rife throughout. As the reeds scream, snort and sputter fragmented textures into the stratosphere, other players are similarly animated. On “Sun” for instance, a gut-shaking saxophone solo from Brötzmann or tenor saxophonist Gerd Dudeck, is followed by a plunger riff from either Schoof or trumpeter Claude Deron that would be as at home in a Kansas City bar as a Köln recording studio. During the titular “Globe Unity”, von Schlippenbach begins pummeling the darker keys of his instrument with controlled freneticism, and on one of that track’s final sequences comes across as if he’s Cecil Taylor with the Jazz Composers Orchestra. Cutting through the massed output of the others, the keyboardist shatters the narrative with cross tones and contrapuntal patterning.

At the same time like a fellow sprouting shoulder length hair and love beads as well as a three-piece banker’s suit certain anomalies stick out. Overall while the aviary cries from the hopped-up reed section suggest amphetamine has been added to bird food, the cacophony leaves little space for Willi Lietzmann’s tuba blasts or even more buoyant clarinet or flute passages. In one way this band was, like the Ascension crew, very Jazz orientated with characteristic ensemble and solo sections alternating – that trope would quickly disappear. In another fashion Globe Unity was also wedded to the psychedelic-World Music melding of the time. “Sun” for instance, is rife with wispy toots and smacks from non-Western little instruments and ends with a percussion work out that sounds as if African-sourced congas and tablas are being used. More seriously, besides some J. Arthur Rank-style gong resonations throughout, one or another of the percussionists posses a set of chimes which he proceeds to peal at appropriate or inappropriate intervals throughout. Perhaps not surprisingly both percussionists ended up joining rock bands, Jaki Liebezeit in Can and Mani Neumeier in Guru Guru.

Some of the players here are dead, some MIA, and others have gone on to greater acclaim. Still period irritations aside, Globe Unity, the album, remains a major statement of European Free Music.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Globe Unity 2. Sun*

Personnel: Manfred Schoof (cornet, flugelhorn, triangle); Claude Deron (trumpet, lotus flute); Willi Lietzmann (tuba, maracas); Peter Brötzmann (alto saxophone, gurke); Gerd Dudeck (tenor saxophone, duck call); Kris Wanders (alto, baritone saxophones, zorna, lotus flute); Willem Breuker (soprano, baritone saxophones, ratsche); Gunter Hampel (bass clarinet, flute, pandeira); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano, percussion); Karl Berger* (vibraphone); Buschi Nierbergall bass, siren); Peter Kowald (bass, bells); Jackie Liebezei, Mani Neumeier (drums, percussion)