Few dependable institutions exist in creative improvised music. The number of bands that span decades of temporal distance with their basic schematics intact can probably be counted on a single hand. Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe University Orchestra ranks among these fortunate few. Typically, though, the discography suggests a sporadic recording history with large gaps separating individual albums and the sum total being close in number to the fingers on that aforementioned hand.
Schlippenbach’s music has never been comfortable with categories, a feature that has likely contributed to the band’s slender catalog. Unlike many of his peers, he still embraces jazz forms and it’s not uncommon for him to break into a Monk tune in the midst of an unfettered free improvisation. That same sort of pliable eclecticism informs his playing for Globe Unity. It’s been fifteen plus years since their last conclave, but based on the music captured on this latest disc, the vagaries of time have had no effect on their shared brilliance as a band.
A large number of original participants are back in the Globe fold, including the surprising presence of brassman Manfred Schoof, an early celebrity on the European scene who later abandoned free music for more ordered forms. His sleek note streams contrast thrillingly with the boiling cacophony that surrounds him. Two of the most revered trombonists in the realm of free improvisation, Rutherford and Bauer, complete the brass section and form a tandem nearly impossible to beat.
The twin reed juggernaut of Brötzmann and Parker convenes spectacularly, something they’ve been doing far more often in recent years, much to their fans’ delight. Fellow reedist Petrowsky doesn’t carry the same redoubtable credentials, but holds his own in the commanding company, even stealing some thunder from his peers through his opening solo. Keeping the theme of consummate pairs going, Lovens and Lytton round out the band from their respective drum encampments. This is an orchestra that sounds just as superb musically as it reads on paper.
The nine men all sound in peak shape, repasting on one mammoth piece that snakes through a myriad of moods, tempi, and component combinations. After a riotous opening salvo tethered by Schlippenbach’s stair-stepping clusters and the tidal wash of colliding drums kits, the long-form improvisation unfolds into a solo by Parker’s skidding tenor which surfs the foaming chaos kicked up by his partners. He soon cedes to Brötzmann’s ululating tarogato, which in turn defers to Petrowsky’s cantankerous alto.
And so it goes, a trek through a rustling thicket of collective sound that is at times dense, at others remarkably diffuse and contemplative. There’s even space for one of Parker’s signature soprano fractals. The entire ride is an arresting experience from onset to end. A raw immediacy to the fidelity of the recording further compounds the feeling of being stage side, having one’s hair blown back by the force and magnitude of the sounds unleashed.
There is someone conspicuously absent from the proceedings. Bassist Peter Kowald was a focal point in early incarnations of the orchestra, and it’s possible that his busy schedule precluded his participation in this most recent outing. The vacancy brings with it a twinge of sadness in the realization that his oaken strings will never anchor the band again.
Globe Unity is notorious for dispersing to the winds for years on end. The participants' packed dockets and the financial logistics of assembling such a band make these breaks a necessity. With any luck, though, the next wait for another entry in the ledger won’t be so long.
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