In the free improv Book of Lists the Schlippenbach Trio holds an enviable distinction. Together since 1972, they’re the longest running ensemble in the history of the music. This new UMS reissue augments their debut for FMP with an additional 20 minutes worth of material, making an already indispensable slab of music even more so. Yet another added extra is the trove of sessions photos included. It’s a trip to see Parker outfitted in paisley print shirt and sweater vest; full-on beard and circular spectacles, looking uncannily like Jerry Garcia. But what of the music? Corollaries with Kashmirian hair grease are anyone’s guess, but the sounds shed meanings of their own.
Lovens' asymmetric percussion style is in place from the start, shifting from trip-hammer strokes to hyperventilative tattoos. The virility of his stick play keeps things moving, but never in a predictable trajectory. Schlippenbach affects a similarly varied style, moving from dark, pedal- weighted chords to dancing right hand pirouettes. Parker chimes in on tenor first, trading in tight braids of multiphonics, his signature sound already in place at this early date. “Sun-Luck Night- Rain” serves as a perfect inaugural salvo, a snapshot of the trio’s collective style and an instructive roadmap for the interplay to come.
“Butaki Sisters” refracts light through another facet of the improvisatory prism as the three players experiment with extended pitch dynamics. Lovens’ bowed cymbals weave with Parker’s mewling soprano as Schlippenbach goes under the hood to manipulate his own instrument’s innards with what sounds like a bucketful of loose change, springs and sprockets. Isolating the advertised two seconds of Monk in “A Little Yellow” is something of a needle-haystack pursuit, but the wide-berth sound floor sculpted by the three has plenty to offer on its own. Parker moves from eructative breath sounds to churlish, moist soprano lines while Lovens’ slaps out a martial sortie of percussion noises including what sounds like a shaken sheet of metal. Schlippenbach fingers step between, crafting nimble strings of notes both diffusive and densely drawn.
“Ein Husten...” starts promisingly as Lovens’ lone gong punctuates segments of silence, but wheezing mutterings and hacking coughs soon intervene with lurching percussion chatter to derail the track into diffusive navel-gazing. Mere fragments in duration, “Von “G”...” and “Kliene Nüll...” contrast effectively with the lengthier excursions like “Moonbeef,” a tense circuitous journey that gains speed with locomotive momentum. The disc’s title piece begins as arguably the most accessible of the date, with Schlippenbach building robust, cleanly articulated chords in tight collusion with the rhythmic push of Lovens’ galloping sticks. Parker’s soprano trills pierce the track’s median and strip the music of any accommodating accoutrements. Four ‘new’ alternates close out the collection. Each mirrors the diversity inherent to their commercially issued counterparts.
Three decades later, Schlippenbach, Parker and Lovens are still going strong, both as a trio and as individuals, and their body of work speaks for itself. As the landmark entry signaling their continuing association, this session automatically earns historical importance. That the music ranks of such a consistently absorbing caliber almost seems like a bonus.
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Personnel: Evan Parker- soprano & tenor saxophones; Alexander Von Schlippenbach- piano; Paul Lovens-
drums. Recorded: November 1972, Bremen, Germany.