In sports, when a starting player goes down with an injury, it sometimes gives a bench player an opportunity to contribute in special ways. When Brit bassist Barry Guy had personal issues that made his participation in last year's Evan Parker Trio tour impossible, German pianist Alex Von Schlippenbach stepped right in. While no one would call Schlippenbach a bench player and certainly Guy's presence on the tour would have led to great successes, the almost last minute replacement led to a tour of mammoth improvisational significance. In commemoration, two new CDs, one even a double, document the trio on three stops from a balmy late spring 2003.
Parker and Schlippenbach are simply giants in improvised music. Both were at the genesis of movements in their respective Britain and Germany and were integral in promoting the music at home and abroad, coming together in the late '60s as European borders fell under musical collaboration. This tour lineup is a mixture of sorts. Normally Parker and Guy play with drummer Paul Lytton as a trio under Parker's name and Schlippenbach plays under his name in trio with Parker and drummer Paul Lovens. The billing goes to Parker this time but much of the performances' energy and dynamism can be traced directly back to Schlippenbach.
The two-CD set on Parker's own Psi label are from dates in the late middle of the tour, recorded in New Orleans and Seattle. As this was almost a fully improvised tour, titles were given to the pieces after the fact, all taken from an unfinished work by Franz Kafka. Though all but two numbers on the discs are full trio tracks (there is one Schlippenbach solo from New Orleans and one Parker solo from Seattle), the two-hour long excerpts feature a group with a revolving leader, as each of the three takes full opportunity to lead the improvisations in different directions. The music has a marvelous urgency to it that paradoxically takes its sweet time to develop. All three musicians are equally capable of playing the "energy music" of American improv and the intellectual "creative improvised music" that is Europe's hallmark. That they do it seamlessly from segment to segment all while retaining their developed personalities is heartening. Unlike many other players of their generation who wallow in improvisation due to a dearth of creativity or have spurned it entirely, Parker, Schlippenbach and Lytton take it seriously and listeners will be struck with wonder at the results.
Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann Double Trio
The Bishop's Move
The final show of the tour took place at the venerable Victo Festival in Canada. The original concept was a double trio with Parker's group matched against Peter Brötzmann's Die Like a Dog (with bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake). The accuracy of the nomenclature may have been challenged with one bass replaced by piano, but the results are stirring. In essence this full CD (part of the annual slate of releases by Victo from the prior year's festival) is a meeting between three stalwarts of the mighty Globe Unity Orchestra supported by one of the hippest and busiest rhythm sections working today. Hard as it had been to imagine Brötzmann with Parker and Drake before seeing them, it was much harder to imagine how Schlippenbach's frenzied classicism and Lytton's cerebrality would jive with the whole proceedings.
The final score? Let's call it a solid nine innings. The recording is expertly done so all the nuances of Schlippenbach's heavy comps against Parker's pulsing bass are there. Even during the moments when Parker and Brötzmann go head to head, their approaches are different enough to tell them apart and give the music a multi-faceted edge. The drums do blend together for the most part but in a good, four-armed man kind of way. Of greatest interest across the 73 minutes is when the group reduces, the six becoming different combinations led by different players. That it all comes off successfully without, one imagines, much planning or discussion, is proof that even in the spontaneous world of improvisation, experience and relationships count for more than something.
Both these trios played here in New York within two weeks of each other during their Spring 2003 tours before coaelescing in Canada. If The Bishop's Move is any indication, it was an auspicious meeting and maybe can be repeated, Barry Guy allowing.
Tracks: 1. Rejoicing in Their Hearts Over the Journey; 2. Ask to Be Taken on As a Trumpeter; 3. This Blowing of Trumpets...; 4. What Memories of the...; 5. Perhaps this Was His Chance; 6. To Avoid Monotony; 7. No One Wanted to Be an Artist but Every Man Wanted to Be Paid for His Labors; 8. The Breath of Coldness; 9. Are You Strong Enough...; 10. I Had a Friend Among the...; 11. Down With All Those Who Do Not Believe in Us.
Personnel: Paul Lytton: Percussion, Drums; Evan Parker: Saxophone; Alex von Schlippenbach: Piano.
The Bishop's Move
Track: The Bishop's Move (73:30).
Personnel: Peter Brötzmann: Tenor Sax, Tarogato; Hamid Drake: Percussion, Drums, Djembe; Paul Lytton: Percussion, Drums; Evan Parker: Saxophone; Alex von Schlippenbach: Piano; William Parker: Bass.