A young Alexander von Schlippenbach
  • Dagmar Gebers
  • A young Alexander von Schlippenbach

I don’t think there’s a European free-jazz unit that’s remained intact as long as the Schlippenbach Trio, the mighty juggernaut featuring German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, drummer Paul Lovens, and British saxophonist Evan Parker. I’m even more certain that no improvising group has remained so artistically potent for so long, balancing rugged individuality with collective endeavor like no one before.

The group first emerged to the world at large with the release of its stunning 1973 album Pakistani Pomade (originally released by FMP, but reissued in 2003 by John Corbett’s Unheard Music Series (with previously unissued alternate takes). That session dates to November 1972, but last fall the terrific Austrian label Trost shared an earlier live session from April of the same year, which was played at the Workshop Freie Musik festival in Berlin. First Recordings may not offer any radically fresh perspectives on the group’s creative dynamic or working methods, but it shows how powerful this trio was right out of the gate. The music is remarkable.

The performances are fiery and immediate, with less of the measured calm of certain passages that came later: Schlippenbach would eventually pull back and reflect his engagement with modern European classical music, while Lovens would go on to demonstrate his uncanny ability to extract new sounds and textures from his kit via his masterful extended technique. But there’s no missing the trio’s deep rapport and intuitive grasp of how to keep its spontaneous output logically flowing through wild peaks and valleys, fragmented narratives, and emotional crescendos. The bulk of the new release is filled with the opening piece, called “Deals,” a wildly veering and careening 38-minute epic in which the musicians occasionally flash their conventional jazz roots. Twenty-six minutes in, Schlippenbach launches into a solo section wherein he bridges the gap between Thelonious Monk and Keith Jarrett in just a couple of minutes, then Lovens charges in and disrupts the proceedings, ushering in a thrilling tug-of-war between tradition and chaos.

The album concludes with three shorter pieces in the four-to-seven-minute range, a practice that continued throughout the group’s career: extended improvisations were usually followed and complemented by less rangy ones—little morsels that focused more on a single motif or notion, rather than a bundle of them. You can listen to one such example called “Village” below, with the group hammering away, accelerating and decelerating, after an opening vocal incantation that sounds like fake throat singing.

Today’s playlist:

Anthony Burr and Charles Curtis, Alvin Lucier (Antiopic/Sigma Editions)
Christoph Irniger Trio, Gowanus Canal (Intakt)
Siba, Avante (Mais Um Discos)
Emmanuelle Bertrand and Pascal Amoyel, Dmitri Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1/Sonata for Cello and Piano op. 40 (Harmonia Mundi)
Julia Hülsmann Quartet, In Full View (ECM)