FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


Wolfgang Burde


These eleven bagatelles by the Schlippenbach Trio can not be dismissed as unimportant musical trivialities. Just like 18th century bagatelles, or those of Bartok and Webern in this century, they are musical processes, modes of expression of a very definite and very individual character. They are concentrates which last but a few minutes; they are wide-ranging jazz conversations worthy of the name. Not only are Schlippenbach (piano), Parker (tenor and soprano sax), and Lovens (percussion) brilliant virtuosos of their instruments and techniques, but in each and every bagatelle they try to work with each other, or contrary to one another, in the creation of jazz. Every moment is alive with that creative spark, which Strawinsky believed to be essential for the making of good jazz. He added that "instrumental virtuosity is the main point of interest", and that ideas should spring directly from the instrument itself.

The spark which flies from these bagatelles is pure jazz power. It would be a mistake to compare this with the rut European Free Jazz got itself into in the late sixties - momentarily stagnating, unable to climax. What is surprising about this performance by the Schlippenbach Trio is the intensity and multidimensionality with which even miniatures like the first two bagatelles are expressed and illuminated. Schlippenbach's clearly depressive-recitative piano opening of this bagatelle-cycle "Areas" is reminiscent of Monk - quick-witted, self-liberating, brief virtuoso eruptions leading up to an anti-climax which brings "Morning-Ragas" to mind.

After this, in "Beelzebub's Tales: Revised" Schlippenbach and Parker bewitch us with ornamentation, with an inter-reaction of lines of music, with jazz-meanderings accentuated brilliantly and discreetly by Lovens, which seem to lose themselves ostinato in time and space.

This is followed by one of the most wide-ranging bagatelles: "The Forge: Rebellowed" - a fourteen minute process which is astounding not only because of its wide musical horizon and its great complexity of dialect, but also because of the smoothness with which structures consistently develop and gradually grow, one from the other.

At first tenor saxophone and piano converse composedly while Lovens introduces metallically ringing, bell-like accents. After four minutes these dialogues, admittedly now using every register, colour and mode of articulation, have become so intense that individual snippets burst forth in an eruption of sound. This is followed by Schlippenbach's monologue, complex poly-metric piano-excursion, and Lovens intervenes with comparative virtuoso expressions. Listen to Schlippenbach. The piano does not merely vibrate with metaphorical euphoria, or beat constellations of sound, but produces hard, sober figurations reminiscent of baroque musical figures, stripped of their trimmings. Lovens' beat-charged percussion and Parker's virtuoso tenor saxophone bring to a close a jazz process of thrilling intensity, complexity and spontaneous expression of consistency.

Then comes "Analogue Scale". This is a number which at first seems to live on Innuendos, brief phrases and randomly scattered expressions. The plot soon thickens to produce an atmosphere of astonishing sensitivity, which seems to be propelled by the sheer force of sound. Jazz is on the scene. Now the sounds can let swing, can reverberate or can converge to create morse-like signals. The soprano sax glides through tonal space, seems to whimper and complain, but manages to find its way back, unscathed, to minimal repetitions which are taken up by the piano and by Lovens. Lovens: that amazingly perceptive percussionist, who not only accentuates the instrumentalists' music, but also keeps redirecting it, and in so doing gives the process as a whole a new creative direction. This fertile transformation of metaphorical phrases to form new dimensions and new scope for expression, makes the Trio's productions stand out again and again.

Today European Free Jazz is full of possibilities- infectious virtuosity, charm, the apparent simplicity of a nocturnal atmosphere. We can enjoy the brazen expressiveness in "Elster-Werda Nocturno" and in the music of this trio, which has been working together since 1970 to produce its own cosmos. This is evident not only in their hypnotically beautiful expressions, but is fundamental in their ability to formulate, which is based on a flawless musical technique, thus leaving the way free for truly creative work.

Translation: Margaret Neuendorf

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