A month shy of the 40th anniversary of Alexander von Schlippenbach's monumental album Globe Unity (SABA, 1966), the German pianist brought together a modern edition of this freewheeling large ensemble for a concert at the 2006 Berlin Jazzfest as well as time in the studio. The result is an album that celebrates the history of one of Europe's longest-running jazz ensembles (a couple of years older, though with an involuntary 10-year hiatus, than Holland's ICP Orchestra) and demonstrates it is, with new material and members, still a vital part of the European jazz scene.
When Globe Unity was released, the band was 14 strong, almost exclusively hailing from Germany, based around the Manfred Schoof Quintet and Peter Brotzmann Trio of the time. By 1967-1970, there were a number of personnel changes, which included expansion into England, Poland, France and Sweden and swelling to as many as 19 players. Over the years, the Globe Unity Orchestra (GUO) has expanded and contracted, featuring musicians from all over Europe as well as some notable American participants like saxophonist Steve Lacy and trombonist George Lewis.
What makes GUO particularly fascinating, besides having included a fair percentage of the Western world's best improvisers, is that its repertoire included both compositions and large-scale free improvisationscheck Improvisations (JAPO, 1977) and Compositions (JAPO, 1979) for both sides. 40 Years focuses more on the compositional side of GUO. Included on this slightly-more-than-an-hour disc culled from three days in November 2006 is a brand new piece ("Globe Unity 40 Years" by the group's leader); a piece included on Live in Wuppertal 1973 (FMP, 1973) (early constituent Willem Breuker's "Out of Burtons Songbook"); another piece from Wuppertal as well as the A Side of a rare FMP single (Schlippenbach's "Bavarian Calypso"); two pieces from the Compositions album (Kenny Wheeler's "Nodago" and Schlippenbach's "The Forge") and a previously unrecorded piece by Steve Lacy ("The Dumps"), a guest with the group in 1975. Most of the pieces stick close to their original recorded lengths, with the delicious exception being "Out of Burtons Songbook," lengthened by over 12 minutes. That, "Globe Unity 40 Years" and the Lacy piece make up the bulk of this album and contain some wonderful individual features.
An improvising ensemble is only as strong as its component players and they are only as good as their communication and rapport. Since that first album, GUO has, with all the personnel changes, centered on Schlippenbach, saxophonist Gerd Dudek and trumpeter Manfred Schoof, who have been performing together since 1966. Another crucial component to that mix is the British contingent of saxophonist Evan Parker, the late trombonist Paul Rutherford and (honorary Brit) trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, GUO'ers since 1970. The rest of the 15-piece edition on 40 Years represents an encapsulated history of both GUO and Schlippenbach's career: trumpeter Axel Dorner and bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall are part of Schlippenbach's current quintet; drummer Paul Lovens is also part of that group but is more notably the third component of the Schlippenbach trio with Evan Parker, playing steadily since 1972. Trombonists Johannes Bauer and Jeb Bishop and trumpeter Jean-Luc Capozzo are newcomers to the group, representing three countries' improvising traditions, while the final three musicians are occasional players in the GUO's ranks: reedplayer Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, trombonist George Lewis and drummer Paul Lytton (who seems to have become the regular foil for Lovens).
It's unheard of for an avant-garde ensemble to put out a Greatest Hits album and that was most likely not the intent of 40 Years. After the release of Globe Unity 2002 (Intakt, 2992), GUO has been getting far more work than would be expected for an international experimental large group. Playing so near to its 40th anniversary, it is not surprising that Schlippenbach, who just turned 70 in April 2008, would be somewhat nostalgic. But what listeners have here is not a summation of GUO's work; rather it is a warm invitation to explore this seminal group's long history in more detailand to catch them live if you can.
Tracks: Globe Unity 40 Years; Out Of Burton's Songbooks; Bavarian Calypso; Nodago; The Dumps; The Forge.
Personnel: Alexander von Schlippenbach: piano; Kenny Wheeler: trumpet and flugelhorn; Manfred Schoof: trumpet and flugelhorn; Jean-Luc Capozzo: trumpet and flugelhorn; Axel Dorner: trumpet and slide-trumpet; Paul Rutherford: trombone; George Lewis: trombone; Johannes Bauer: trombone; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Evan Parker: soprano and tenor saxophone; Gerd Dudek: soprano and tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute; Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky: alto saxophone, clarinet and flute; Rudi Mahall: bass clarinet; Paul Lovens: drums; Paul Lytton: drums.
Globe Unity 40 Years; Out Of Burton's Songbooks; Bavarian Calypso; Nodago; The Dumps; The Forge.
Alexander von Schlippenbach: piano; Kenny Wheeler: trumpet and flugelhorn; Manfred Schoof: trumpet and flugelhorn; Jean-Luc Capozzo: trumpet and flugelhorn; Axel Dörner: trumpet and slide-trumpet; Paul Rutherford: trombone; George Lewis: trombone; Johannes Bauer: trombone; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Evan Parker: soprano and tenor saxophone; Gerd Dudek: soprano and tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute; Ernst- Ludwig Petrowsky: alto saxophone, clarinet and flute; Rudi Mahall: bass clarinet; Paul Lovens: drums; Paul Lytton: drums.
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