Live in Japan '96 captures an excellent performance by the Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra at the Shin-Kobe Oriental Theater (except for "The Morlocks," which was recorded in Tokyo). This assembly of renowned international musicians -- including saxophonist Evan Parker and ICP Orchestra members trombonist Wolter Wierbos and trumpeter Thomas Heberer -- is led by pianist-arrangers Alexander von Schlippenbach and Aki Takase. The recording opens with a 17-minute long "Eric Dolphy Medley" arranged by Aki Takase that features the two pianists in a playful and rhythmic unaccompanied duo section. This number is followed by "The Morlocks," a piece recorded a month prior and tellingly not part of the same program, with a pounding abrasiveness lightened only briefly by a circular-breathing hyper-speed flurry of a solo from Evan Parker. Next comes an original from Takase called "Shijo No Ai" that begins with a momentarily Rova-reminiscent groove laid down by baritone saxophonist Hiroaki Katayama. A light orchestral uprising grows out of this opening, and this, in turn, gives way to simultaneous solos that sound like bounced echoes of earlier sections. Out of the semi-chaos returns the baritone groove, bringing the piece to a close. Another highlight of this album is von Schlippenbach's arrangement of W.C. Handy's "Way Down South Where the Blues Began," which opens with a swaying piano blues solo. The orchestra starts out with a convincing bluesy spirit that quickly gives way to a theatrical, near striptease interpretation and a rather silly brand of soloing that calls to mind the Willem Breuker Kollektief. And, appropriately, the closing track, "Good Bye," is a Breuker arrangement. Altogether, Live In Japan '96 is an excellent show from a premiere cast of musicians, including those previously mentioned; altoist Eiichi Hayashi; bass clarinetist Rudy Mahall; multi-reedist and flutist Gerd Dudek; tenor saxophonist Walter Gauchel; trombonists Marc Boukouya, Paul Rutherford, and Haruki Sato; trumpeters Henry Lowther, Axel Dorner, and Issei Igarashi; bassist Nobuyoshi Ino; and drummer Paul Lovens.
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AllMusic Review by Joslyn Layne