Recorded by Holger Scheuermann and Jonas Bergler on April 10 & 11, 1998 during the 'Workshop Freie Musik' at the 'Akademie der Kunste', Berlin
The trio of Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano), Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones), and Paul Lovens (cymbals and drums) has been in existence in one form or another since the early '70s. This set was recorded live in 1998 during the Workshop for Free Musik in Germany. The liner notes by Markus Muller are full of the usual "we Europeans are the real free music masters" comments that truly equal a kind of cultural fascism (something you would think the Germans would be acutely aware of). This transatlantic competition - begun in part at least by no less a figure than Evan Parker in the 1960s - sometimes makes for interesting music, but more often than not leads to two groups of people competing for the same dubious crown of who can distance themselves the most from the gorgeous gift that is jazz. Actually, no one should care who makes it, as long as the music, free or not free, improvised or charted, is made with passion, soul, and a willingness to test limits without trying to pull one over on an audience. Frankly, that is the case here: three men who have played together for the better part of 30 years digging deep within themselves and each other and creating a wide open music where rhythms and counterpoint clash, chromatics and modal strategies collapse into one another, and all previously held notions of harmonic assonance are stabbed through and through with a violent yet sublime atonalism that cries out to the heavens with joy. Parker and von Schlippenbach are telepathic in their interaction on "Complete Combustion," but it is truly Lovens who the piece belongs to: It is he who challenges von Schlippenbach to hold true to the axiomatic notion of the piano as a rhythm instrument. His height-scaling cymbal work and triple rim shot accents into von Schlippenbach's huge chords create the body of the piece. Parker is an accompanist here, and seems content to accent the color and shape of the communication between pianist and drummer. On "Fuels 1-7," however, it is Parker and von Schlippenbach who weave tapestries of broken lines and collages of chords and broken harmonic equations. This pair is so quick to hear and respond it is literally impossible to tell who initiated what. Lovens is in the heart, as the transposer of both sets of ideas, keeping the flow from melting into a dissonance so pure it all becomes sound - which seems to be what Parker and von Schlippenbach seek. This extension of the will by Lovens creates a taught wire of tension that finally explodes into something that we can only call "incongruent sound making," which is gorgeously ugly and as intense as a hearty laugh. So yes, the Europeans have made a record that is brilliantly soulful and joyously chaotic, but no matter what they say, it still sounds like jazz to me.
All Music Guide
The schematic of a disassembled motor that adorns the cover of this disc offers an opportune analogy for the Schlippenbach Trio. Powered by a precisely tuned collective engine designed both for speed as well as supreme maneuverability these three Brahmins of improvised music once again take to the stage and clock a land speed record. Programmatically speaking the disc serves as something of blending of their two previous FMP discs, exploring both long-form improvisation (as they did on Physics) and the short-form (as on Elf Bagatellen) over a very generous seventy-five minutes.
For my money this trio is the most consistently satisfying setting for Evan Parker. Parker's technique and tone are an indelible set of sonic fingerprints, instantly recognizable and completely personalized. His work on soprano especially so. The fact that these three never meet more often than annually insures a seal of freshness on their creations and frees Parker from the sense of sameness that attends some his other more frequent aggregations. In addition the trio harbor strong ties to free jazz and reference Cecil Taylor's Unit with Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray circa 1962 as one of their original and formative influences. But unlike Taylor, whose clarity can sometimes collapse in an impenetrable density, Schlippenbach always seems to keep his notes free and visibly spinning in magnetic concentric orbits. Lovens, for his part, is the consummate free accompanist and is frequently rather felt than explicitly heard.
The disc's title piece starts out at a decelerated, almost balladic gait, with Parker suspirating throaty breaths through his tenor. Abruptly the pace quickens shifting to a boiling vortex of scribbled sounds. Parker bleats out scurrilous streams against a cascading brocade of percussion and Schlippenbach answers in the same instant with a supersonic torrent of clusters. Lovens wields his sticks like knives chopping precisely sectioned series from his skins and cymbals. He is a master at crafting microscopically detailed accents in quickly stuttered succession. Soon Parker drops out leaving Schlippenbach and Lovens to twirl in a terpsichorean embrace of cross-woven colors. Lovens' cymbals are a wash of intricate symmetries arising with the frequency of scattered raindrops or just as easily converging like the downpour from a cloudburst. Later it's Parker and Lovens in duality with the former slap-tonguing porous slippery multiphonics. The saxophonist's embouchure exhibits a pliability of musculature that would rival that of the most renowned sideshow contortionist. Still further in the piece he unveils his soprano and engages in one of his signature circular breathing solos that expounds a trance-like treatise of layered lines, continuing uninterrupted for nearly four minutes. Do not be alarmed if you find your mouth agape and your ears aglazed.
In contrast to the scope of the title piece the "Fuels" that follow are unavoidably anticlimactic, but even the most slightly pejorative term when applied to this trio must be tempered with deference to the collective brilliance on hand. These pieces offer bite-sized, easily digestible morsels that allow for even easier scrutiny across their comparatively concise durations. If in all this unremitting written applause it seems as if the bastions of my objectivity have been assailed and to a degree overrun by the music-they have. I have no doubt that yours will be severely compromised too if you open your ears to this ineluctable onslaught.