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Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach has been a mainstay of the European free jazz scene for nearly as long as it has existed, playing with Gunther Hampel and Manfred Schoof in the mid-'60s while forming the still active Globe Unity Orchestra in 1966. His trio with Paul Lovens and Evan Parker has been active since the early '70s, marking a career that has permeated many corners of the European avant-garde.
Piano Solo '77 collects four improvisations from that year, during which Schlippenbach was in the midst of a move to a new apartment in Berlin. Given access to a basement recording studio, he was able to achieve complete solitude as he played and recorded, and it is from these sessions that the four improvisations on this album are culled.
The album opens with the nearly 13-minute "Brooks," whose speedy, almost pointillist approach sends flurries of notes careening through the room as they build into a tour de force of sound. Schlippenbach reveals his knack for cohabiting an abstract and free approach with a sensibly paced and logical progression whose overall structure adheres more closely with classicist approaches despite his angular phrasings and harmonic conception. Schlippenbach's humming voice can be heard as the piece escalates into near frenetic emissions of energy.
Representing the first half of a two-part improvisation, "The Onliest - The Loneliest 1" opens with a series of chords allowed to ring momentarily before replacement by others. With an almost Monk-like feeling for dissonance, the piano is allowed to ring out as the pace momentarily quickens and retreats, shaping and reshaping itself with its chordal approach. As the chords are filled in the piece develops into a loping series of movements nearly dance-like in nature.
"Lhotse" represents the longest piece on the album, but its 20 minutes never lose their imaginative energy or flow. Muttering along with his notes, Schlippenbach weaves shapes with the keys as he separates, pulls out, and unites the various dynamic ranges of his instrument. The closing "The Onliest - The Loneliest 2" reins the energy of the previous piece back with chordal shapes similar to those explored on the piece's first half. Opting for a more weighty and dramatic feel, the work is a fitting end to this fine example of Schlippenbach's private explorations and intensely personal improvisational virtuosity, displayed in a solo setting.
Track Listing: Brooks; The Onliest - The Loneliest 1; Lhotse; The Onliest - The Loneliest 2.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.