Live 1976/1977

Alexander von Schlippenbach

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Live 1976/1977 Review

by Thom Jurek

Back when this duo was playing literally hundreds of concerts together, the free music scene was hungering for this kind of intensity, the flash-pot brilliance that could be conjured when two musicians went all out to engage each other in a high-energy, shouting match of musical rainbow language. Bare skeletons of tunes were scratched into the center of an otherwise free for all event. It's true that nowadays most musicians demand a bit more of themselves than this, but one wonders if that's only because this kind of intensity, this innocent, eyes-open-in-wonder-at-what-comes-next manner of working with another is even possible anymore now that it's been done to death. Certainly Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Misha Mengelberg, and a few others -- of which Alexander von Schlippenbach is one -- can still pull it off. But in 1976 and 1977 this was all relatively new and therefore the creativity level on these two concerts is turned up to ten. Whether it's the freer-than-free 17-minute opener, or the strange key and rhythm changes that take place in a relatively classic tune like "Evidence" that evolves into "'Round Midnight," the ideas fall fast and easy whether the pair is attempting to play as an ensemble or soloing at the same time. Sven-Åke Johansson is an awesome drummer, kick-drumming a triple time on "Evidence," where von Schlippenbach inserts "Nutty" and then plays a glistening cymbals-speak on the latter as the pianist plays through the changes of "Misterioso" in the middle of "Midnight"'s melody. The sophisticated harmonic sensibilities, not too mention the chromatic invention is more than a little impressive. The most impressive things here are "Very Good, Very Strong" for Dudu Pukwana, and the closer, "Over the Rainbow." On the former, "Cherokee" and then "Bud's Bounce" get pillaged for their contrapuntal invention. Johansson weaves in South African folk rhythms into the improvisation, forcing von Schlippenbach to play his piano as another, adjoining percussion instrument. On the latter, the melody is played from harmony out, and sung with drunken glory by Johansson -- who doesn't even know the lyrics in English and ad-libs. Von Schlippenbach's plucked piano strings sidle up nicely to his keyboard work. The original melody is merely suggested in minor sevenths and mangled badly by Johansson, but the song is heartbreakingly beautiful not in spite of, but because these men took these outrageous liberties. This is a fine document from a lost era.

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