The '70s were a banner decade for free improvisation in Europe. Much of the free jazz of todayespecially recent material from the New York avant/free sceneowes huge debts to early European improvisers. Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach made great leaps at both the compositional level and the performance level, integrating a high level of structure into a setting fully embodying musical democracy. Schlippenbach's playing per se
spans the range from focused harmonic concentration to all-out glissando/clustering abandon. While the obvious comparisons to players like Cecil Taylor and Matthew Shipp may help to clarify Schlippenbach's structuralist musical vision, his approach can also be readily compared to Monk and classical composers as well.
In the company of masters like saxophonist Evan Parker, bassist Peter Kowald, and drummer Paul Lovens, Schlippenbach's music rises to a higher level. Parker constantly teeters on the brink of overblown textures and whistling overtones, building and releasing tension in coordination with the rest of the group. The unique combination of Kowald and Parker together creates a web of sound which frequently steps outside the bounds of conventional notation and enters into a range of timbre that approximates the human voice. Lovens's percussion also defies any sort of regular pattern, jumping from rhythm to rhythm with creative abandon.
Hunting the Snake, a never-before released record from a 1975 Radio Bremen session, is the only CD recording in print of the Schlippenbach quartet. For those listeners who have absorbed and appreciated the underdocumented genius of Schlippenbach in settings like his fantastic 1990 FMP trio recording Elf Bagatellen (with Parker and Lovens), this disc is a must-listen. For those curious about the free jazz innovations of the '70s, Hunting the Snake is a fine starting point. Regardless, it's great music, delivered from the heart with sensitivity and unbridled creative freedom.
Personnel: Alexander von Schlippenbach, piano; Evan Parker, tenor and soprano saxophones; Peter Kowald, bass; Paul Lovens, percussion.