Alex von Schlippenbach: Twelve Tones Tales & Wintereisse

Andrey Henkin By

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Alex von Schlippenbach
Twelve Tone Tales, Vol. I, II

Schlippenbach Trio

It's beginning to be a habit around here. About every year and a half, German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach releases a pair of albums that present drastically different sides of his musical persona. In January 2004, it was the first new Globe Unity Orchestra disc in 16 years (2002, Intakt) and a recording of a new quartet with bass clarinet, cello and drums (Broomriding, Psi). In May 2005, the offerings were the monumental 3 CD box set of Monk's entire compositional catalogue as played by a quintet (Monk's Casino, Intakt) and a new release by Schlippenbach's decades-old trio with Evan Parker and Paul Lovens (Compression, a/1/1). The new year brings another fascinating duo: another trio album by Schlippenbach, Parker and Lovens recorded live in Cologne in 2004 and 2005 and a stimulating-to-say-the-least double album of Schlippenbach solo, his first such album of his own material since 1972's Payan.

Twelve Tone Tales, Vol. I & II is an ambitious project. When Schlippenbach recorded Payan, he was still establishing his profile away from the Manfred Schoof quintet of the '60s and Globe Unity Orchestra (he would even go on to arrange two of the pieces from Payan for the Globe Unity Orchestra the next year). In 2005, when Twelve Tone Tales was recorded, Schlippenbach had a wealth of different experience under his belt, including a solo album of Jelly Roll Morton tunes and an increasing affinity for the music of Thelonious Monk. Schlippenbach composed all but six of the pieces on the two discs, the exceptions making the rule: three tunes by Dolphy, "All The Things You Are by Jerome Kern, Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle and a piece by classical composer Bernd Alois Zimmerman, whose music Schlippenbach had played in 1966 with Schoof's quintet. The jazz tunes are played programmatically at the end of the second disc, acting as a surprising coda to the cerebral material that comes before, a demarcating line if you will.

On both the outside material and the original works, Schlippenbach demonstrates an amazing facility for imbuing density with poignancy and space with intensity. It is the ultimate challenge for a pianist to play alone, to create complete stories rich in detail and compelling to the listeners. Schlippenbach's approach liberally mixes his early classical training, years of finding a voice within a maelstrom of other strong personalities and absorption of the fine tradition of another iconoclast like Monk. What might be the most laudable about the two discs is that the music is so different from track to track, often presented in short bursts but occasionally stretching and oozing into all available cracks.

The Schlippenbach Trio as a discrete unit has existed since 1972's Pakistani Pomade (FMP). But the components have an even longer history. Schlippenbach and Parker first recorded together in 1969 in Manfred Schoof's European Echoes group. The trio has released a handful of discs since that 1972 debut, all which deftly bridge the national gaps between what is usually criminally simplified into the term "European Jazz . What has set both Parker and Schlippenbach apart from their respective countrymen is that, in the most basic terms, Parker can play really loud and Schlippenbach can play really quiet. Winterreise has both in rich measure, the sounds of three men who have known each other a long time, can argue over the smallest things, make up and become nostalgic only to arrive to another topic worth yelling about. Though nominally Schlippenbach's trio, years have stripped away any pretense at leadership; these three musicians have far too much to say and far too much experience to share with each other and the audience to work in those terms. When listening to the disc, pay close attention to the two pieces, recorded almost exactly a year apart in the same venue (Cologne's The Jazz Loft) and remember back to the old dear friend you hadn't spoken to for a while and called. That warm comfortable feeling and remarkable connection are what make this disc special.

Tracks and Personnel

Twelve Tone Tales, Vol. I, II

Tracks: Vol I: Twelve Tone Tales; Devices and Desires; K2; Allegro Agitato; The One; Twelve Tone Tales II; Only Thing Left; Meo; Lok 03. Vol II: Twelve Tone Tales III; Bishop; Allegorese; Wildcat's Proper Hit; Born Potty; All Jazz is Free; Twelve Tone Tales IV; Off Your Coat Hassan; LES; Something Sweet Something Tender; Out There; All The Things You Are; Trinkle Tinkle.

Personnel: Alex von Schlippenbach: piano.


Tracks: Winterreise 1; Winterreise 2.

Personnel: Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; Alexander Von Schlippenbach: piano; Paul Lovens: drums.


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