The Morlocks and Other Pieces is a program of the Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, comprised entirely of the compositions of Alexander von Schlippenbach, who also conducts as well as participates as a pianist. (So does the group's "usual" conductor, pianist Aki Takase). One of the first things von Schlippenbach incorporated into the big band was his own trio -- which includes Evan Parker and percussionist Paul Louvens -- a trio that has functioned almost continuously for over 25 years. With ten years between the earliest and latest compositions here, one can imagine how varied the program is. First there is the latest work, "Any Piece But A's Piece," where a logistical AA/B/A framework for harmony was offered for the sake of initial unity and its complete dislocation inside group and individual improvisation, only to be brought back to a focal point in an entirely different harmonic reality. But also the band performs the darkly abstract, musical tautology that is "Marcia di Saturno," where European classical music meets Hollywood during the '30s and film noir scores to a polytonal timbral range that offers many shades of lush and lilting gray. On the title piece, from 1990, von Schlippenbach himself sends the twilight reeling with his inside the piano repetitions of five notes played in the same order, in the same time, and allowing strummed strings from the inside begin to wash through as the horn section gradually becomes visible. As they do, shape begins to emerge and a series of tonal ideas are brought into play, where reeds and winds are separated by interval and harmonic limitation and then gradually brought together to open the door to group improvisation. Interestingly, both von Schlippenbach and Parker remain steady in their steams of notes, playing them like mantras, while the others explore the reaches of the semi-quavered universe von Schlippenbach has created. More and more instruments eventually join the mantra while the lone dissidents try to turn the intervallic changes into a jazz tune. Eventually, there are no more dissidents and the piece just ends with the same five notes it began with, just played by an entire orchestra. Unfortunately, nowhere in the notes does it specify where Takase and von Schlippenbach played piano or conducted -- listeners must determine this with their own ears. Otherwise, it's a wonderful collection of modern music that showcases even further the vast range of musical languages that von Schlippenbach has at his disposal.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek