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A trend is developing with the Schlippenbach Trio and schematics. Their third FMP recording Complete Combustion took as its cover the diagram of a disassembled motor mirroring aspects of the group’s method and maneuverability. On Swinging the BIM, their fourth set for the label, the image (along with the message behind it) is somewhat more esoteric- that of a man swinging a millstone from his testicles. Evan Parker offers some clarity in his notes to the image suggesting that the realities of playing day in, day out in front of audiences that harbor the expectation of brilliance on each and every occasion can produce a feelings of pain and pressure in the improviser akin to having a leaden weight affixed to one’s genitals. It’s a vivid (and amusing) correlate to say the least as well as a lesson that we as an audience often forget in our haste to bestow players such as these with wreathes of superlative praise. The bottom line is everyone has off nights, even those routinely heralded as vessels of genius.
Thankfully the music contained in this set is not the product of one of those instances where the stresses of schedules and demands had soured the players’ moods. Fielding two sets at the Bimhaus, in front of the supportive and appreciative crowd Schlippenbach, Parker and Lovens turned in absorbing example of their shared craft, touching on past configurations while at the same time striking a rich vein of fresh improvisatory ore. On the surface much of the music sounds like what has come before: Parker jackknifing into flurries of circular breathing or porous interludes of guttural breath shapes. Schlippenbach alternating from dark cluster chords to stabbing pedal-pistoned dissonance. Lovens lording over his signature apparatus of selected and unselected drums and carving out an oblique battery of non-rhythms that are still infinitely danceable. The overall clothing may be the same, but the fibers, texture and weave are the difference. The first set finds Parker on tenor, bleeding out a scurrilous barrage of calescent lines. From Lovens’ kit comes a flood of carbuncular sounds spreading over Schlippenbach’s key-driven counterbalances.
Compared to the volume and bravado of the first set, the second is of different mood entirely. Parker hoists his straight horn and seven minutes in begins another single-breath solo ad infinitum. Loven’s cymbals mimic the chiming of countless clocks and Schlippenbach worries sections of his ivories in increasingly elliptical patterns before both lay out leaving Parker to suspirate alone through a gilded forest of multiphonics. In the employ of Parker the concept of circular breathing seems as easy and routine as regular respiration, particularly when it’s channeled through his soprano. Halfway through the set he picks up a similiar path stretching a continuously oscillating line far past the reach of customary saxophonics. After the extended excursion by their partner, Schlippenbach and Lovens return and the three continue their delicate conference gradually gaining a velocity and energy that alternates with stretches of commodious calm. The final ascent into dissonance and commotion,which subsides on what seems like an almost uncertain note, comes too soon.
A variety of combinations comprise the temporal boundaries of both sets, but as is their supreme talent the trio takes time in its linear sense and swallows it up. One hundred minutes dissipate in what seems like the blink of an eye and here’s where we have an edge over the Bimhaus audience. They were privy to the sounds at their origin and element of creation, but we have the ability to revisit them again and again. Rather than a fleeting episode lost to time the entire itinerary is available for scrutiny in whatever detail deemed necessary to the individual; a privilege that should not go unappreciated or underutilized.
FMP on the web: http://www.free-music-production.de
Track Listing: Disc One: Swinging the BIM, first set. Disc Two: Swinging the BIM, second set.
Personnel: Evan Parker- soprano & tenor saxophones; Alexander von Schlippenbach- piano; Paul Lovens- selected and unselected cymbals & drums, singing saw. Recorded: November 20, 1998, Amsterdam.
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.