Alexander von Schlippenbach's 70th Birthday Year

John Eyles By

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In the year which saw him turn seventy (on April 7th 2008), pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach released these three very different recordings which amply demonstrate that he is still at the peak of his powers whatever the context. The year also saw Schlippenbach tour the UK with drummer and percussionist Eddie Prevost, and a record of their Blackheath duo concert (entitled Blackheath) was released on Matchless.

Schlippenbach Trio
Gold is where you find it

Recorded in June 2007, Gold is where you find it is the first album from this trio since the wonderful Winterreise (Psi, 2006), which was recorded on tour in 2004 and 2005. As ever with this long standing threesome, now thirty five years on from Pakistani Pomade (Atavistic, 1972), their sheer energy and speed of reaction take the breath away.

Aki Takase & Alexander von Schlippenbach
Iron Wedding - Piano Duets

Recorded on 19th and 20th March 2008, this album pairs Schlippenbach with his partner, pianist Aki Takase. The two previously duetted together on Piano Duets - Live in Berlin 93/94 (FMP, 1995), an album that featured four Thelonious Monk pieces and one by Frank Zappa alongside originals by each of them. They also recorded in a trio with Schlippenbach's youngest son, DJ Illvibe, on Lok 03 (Leo Records, 2005), an album that took the listener on a musical world tour.

Here, they rely on no-one else's compositions as they engage in seventeen piano conversations (the longest lasts ten minutes, the shortest less than two). In listening to them, it is difficult to ignore the length of their relationships, musical and personal. Musically, the conversations are those of equals; although different their styles perfectly complement each other, the end result sounding complete and satisfying. As with any set of conversations, they vary considerably, some being tempestuous, some subdued and reflective, sometimes one of the two leading, sometimes the other, sometimes both; none of them sounds like an argument or a struggle, and sometimes they even finish each other's sentences off. Fascinating.

Alexander von Schlippenbach
Friulian Sketches

A fortnight later, on 2nd and 3rd April 2008, in the week of his seventieth birthday, Schlippenbach recorded another trio album, this time not in the company of Parker and Lovens but a new trio with Italian reedsman Daniel D'Agaro on clarinet and madcap cellist Tristan Honsinger, in a programme described as "spontaneous chamber music". Schlippenbach had recorded with each of them recently; Honsinger was part of the restrained chamber improv quartet that recorded Broomriding (Psi, 2003); Schlippenbach has made a duo album with D'Agaro, Dedalus (Artesuono, 2008)—yes, another release from 2008: making five in total.

So, what does all this "chamber" talk signify? Firstly, it relates to the instrumentation; no-one would argue that piano plus clarinet and cello doesn't produce a very different sound to piano plus saxophone and drums, one less rooted in jazz and more associated with classical recitals. As Schlippenbach observes in his sleeve notes, it is the "noble Classic sound with the line up of piano, cello and clarinet." Secondly, because of that distinction, the players seem to adopt a more formal approach to their playing, so that the music is more akin to chamber music than to free jazz. Although they react to each other's contributions, these reactions do not sidetrack the players, each of whom is more focussed on contributing to the overall shape and structure of each piece.

Altogether they produce twenty sketches, each one deserving of the description "spontaneous composition" rather than "improvisation." Inevitably, the clarinet is mainly the lead instrument, with piano and cello occasionally to the fore but otherwise working hard to create the compositions. Many of the sketches are titled in Italian with musical terms—notturno, elegia, scherzo, valtzer, for instance—which, from the musical evidence, do not seem to have been pre-agreed to determine their form. Given Schlippenbach's oft-repeated assertion that he is a free jazz player rather than an improviser, it is interesting to hear him improvising—in fact, spontaneously composing—in this context, perfectly matched by D'Agaro and Honsinger.

Tracks and Personnel

Gold is where you find it

Z.O.W.A.; Slightly flapping; Amorpha; Gold is where you find it; K SP; Monkey's fist; Lekko; Cloudburst; Three in one; The bells of 57 K.

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

Iron Wedding - Piano Duets

Early light; Circuit; Suite in five parts; Steinblock; Twelve tone tales; RTP; Gold inside; Eight; Zankapfel; Thrown in; Off hand; Dwarn's late night; Iron wedding; Passacaglia 1,2, 3; Yui's dance; Rain; Far on.

Aki Takase: piano; Alexander von Schlippenbach: piano.

Friulian Sketches

Via Dante; Colori; Notturno; Fase; Elegia; Scherzo; Romanza; Valzer; Allegro; Rapsodia; Versetto; Recital; Lamento: Antifonia; Capriccio; Marcia; Pronto per il salto; Luna cresente; Luna calante; Irina.

Alexander von Schlippenbach: piano; Daniel D'Agaro: clarinet; Tristan Honsinger: cello.

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