Paul Hubweber / Frank Paul Schubert / Alex Von Schlippenbach / Clayton Thomas / Willi Kellers

February 1, 2016


NoBusiness Records NBCD 74-75

An old-time, Free Jazz session in the best sense of the term, Intricacies is a distinctive no-holds-barred improv by five Berlin-based players who overcome any oxymoronic juxtaposition of the music’s definition. Recorded live in a Berlin nightspot, the two extended tracks and one encore also confirm that an interest in exploratory music isn’t confined to one era. Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach was one of the pioneers of German Free Jazz in the mid-1960s and still works constantly. Trombonist Paul Hubweber and drummer Willi Kellers are part of the next generation of players; while saxophonist Frank Paul Schubert and Australian bassist Clayton Thomas become involved just before the turn of the century. Like guild craftsmen who passed their honed skills on through example from one generation to the next, there’s no age gap here since each participant has worked with the others in many circumstances.

Although parallels exist between this quintet and saxophonist Archie Shepp’s various bands that contrasted his rugged sax tones with those from trombonist Roswell Rudd and pianist Dave Burrell, here it’s Hubweber who solos repeatedly and at great length. As his whinnying snarls and grating plunger tones splatter and splash all over the tracks like drips from an action painter’s brush, he nearly isolates himself from the others. Luckily Schubert’s soprano sax beeps draw him into closer cooperation on the title track. At junctures, such as on that track, the two move into more of a give-and-take, with breaks, pumps and shrills expanding into raucous avant-garde quasi-Dixieland as if they were actually Pee Wee Russell and Miff Mole. The saxophonist is also capable of producing what sounds like two separate tones emanating from a single reed line. When that exercise in oblique modernism arises, the pianist turns away from his key clipping, and keyboard pummeling to dynamic chording touching on stride and boogie-woogie – perhaps he’s channeling James P. Johnson, Soon a mercurial contest of rampaging percussiveness has evolved between von Schlippenbach and Kellers in a characteristic Cecil Taylor meets Sunny Murray fashion. By the final minutes as the trombonist’s staccato blasts are calmingly mated with uncompromising tenor saxophone growls, made more pacific as Schubert goes it alone. The ending isn’t without distinctive key stabs on the pianist’s part, but by example the saxophonist appears to have winnowed everyone’s overblowing tendencies into a satisfying conclusion.

Like a series of doodles in an artist’s sketchbook that sketch an idea from various angles, the even lengthier “Come to Blows” rushes through many more theme variations. Here the trombonist so stretches his kinetic blasts that multiphonic grace notes in the form of whinnies and whorls threatens to replace sonic unity. This time it’s Von Schlippenbach’s contrapuntal forays and vocalized yelps from the saxophonist that make the smoothing connection. A miniaturization of the narrative with singular string plinks from Thomas and a discursive hunt-and-peck equation from the pianist serves as an appropriate cooling off period until quivering polyphony from all concerned blanket Hubweber’s remaining tremolo blasts. An upward cry from the reedist, weaving the already suggested timbres into a more measured interface and a supportive climax is reached.

An obvious feast those whose craving for red-meat improvisation is best satiated with free-range blowing, Intricacies provides all the protein necessary for a full-course dinner. Those with different dietary concerns though may yarn for a vegetarian course to cut the musical cholesterol.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. Come to Blows CD2: 1. Intricacies 2. Encore

Personnel: Paul Hubweber (trombone); Frank Paul Schubert (alto and soprano saxophones); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano); Clayton Thomas (bass) and Willi Kellers (drums and percussion)