There can't be too many outfits still going strong after 44 years, especially with an unchanged roster. But that's exactly the situation German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach
faces with his trio of countryman Paul Lovens
on the drum stool and the legendary Evan Parker
on tenor saxophone, give or take an occasional bassist. As a consequence they travel in uncharted territory, tasked with finding their own solutions to the challenge of keeping the music fresh and meaningful. While there are no startling new discoveries to be found on their twentieth album Warsaw Concert
, a live recording from October 2015, it proves a wonderful document of what the group does best: vital, untrammelled, extended spontaneous composition.
Of course one benefit of longevity is the attendant maturity and wisdom. Here it translates into mastery of not only the instruments, but how to stitch them together through the 51-minute performance and subsequent short encore. Initially perceived as a rejection of American jazz forms, over the years, the threesome's connections to that tradition become more clear, to the degree that the liners disclose references to two Eric Dolphy
tunes "Miss Ann" and "Out There," although you might be pushed to pick them out from the unfolding discourse. No-one could mistake this for the classical avant-garde.
Schlippenbach creates instant structure, with composerly reiterated motifs, but doesn't shy away from the jazz canon, evidenced by distant and not so distant echoes of blues, Monk and Cecil Taylor
. Parker's lines unfurl to superhuman lengths through circular breathing. His questioning phrases blend well with the nominal leader, pursuing a similar modular cell-like approach, where the practice is: repeat, mutate, evolve, move on. Lovens maybe the doyen of European drummers. His light airy cymbals and tappy drums enable transparency to let the interplay shine through in even the most high octane episodes. Yet he still imparts dash and verve through breathtaking attention to timbre and sound placement.
It's music to immerse and lose yourself in, constantly shifting and recalibrating, its progress made possible through accomplished transitions. After a perky barrelhouse inflected sequence with cantering percussive accompaniment, Parker joins touching on the outskirts of lyricism, shaded by now angular drums. Another splendid moment comes when after another passage of yelping gruff circular breathing, as Parker sustains a long tone, piano and drums crash in simultaneously to catapult the music into another direction. They do what they do without gimmicks and the end product remains all the better for it.