Digital Recording, May 1989 at Studio 10, RIAS Berlin
Perhaps in part due to recording for a label, ECM, known for its soft edges, this album, the first by Alexander von Schlippenbach's large ensemble, is a good deal less raucous than one might otherwise expect. All three compositions (and there is a high percentage of written music here) - one by Kenny Wheeler and two by Misha Mengelberg - are only a step or three away from fairly mainstream big band jazz. Wheeler's "Ana" opens with a dark, stately theme, not dissimilar from some Willem Breuker works like "Marche Funebre" from In Holland, before opening into a mid-tempo, floating structure for both solos and written counterpoint. Once in a while a soloist, like baritonist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, catapults skyward, bolstered by a robust backing that briefly allows the ensemble to enter London Jazz Composers Orchestra territory, but more often the listener hears a competent work, if somewhat lacking in risk-taking and adventure. Mengelberg's "Salz" is, unsurprisingly, quirkier and packing far more punch, the band wending its way through the off-kilter chart led by Breuker's trademark bass clarinet howlings and buttressed by some wonderful comping and riff-arranging on the part of the composer, always an underrated pianist. His "Reef und Kneebus" is also all over the place structurally, barely bound together by Mengelberg's wit and some nice enough solo work, notably Gerd Dudek's agile flute. Still, some of the solo sections, like Ed Thigpen on drums, don't quite cohere organically with the composition and sound a bit perfunctory. In sum, the Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra's debut release is solid and reasonably enjoyable, but much less "contemporary" than one might have hoped.
All Music Guide