FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


Peter Thomé


Alexander von Schlippenbach, free jazzer from the outset and, back in 1966, co-founder of the most famous big band in Free Improvisation, the Globe Unity Orchestra, has always been attracted by large formations and, in particular, the possibilities of improvisation within the context of an orchestra.

Although always on the lookout for new models of Improvisation, he values the impulse of a composition: "A good jazz composition creates a framework for the improvisation. Given the strength of their rhythmical momentum, the themes can actually propel the improviser."

Sam Rivers has titled the CD "Background for Improvisers", and by this assigns his compositions a similar basic, but perhaps more static meaning: "They act like a painter's canvas, the background, on which he applies the Improvisation."

Schlippenbach and Rivers, who, in the 60s, has worked with Miles Davis and Cecil Taylor amongst others, didn't actually know each other before rehearsals began. And still, apart from sharing an understanding of the relationship between composition and Improvisation, both have been appointed as music educators. At the beginning of the 70s, while Rivers was making his loft-studio for experimental music in New York a mecca for young improvisers, Schlippenbach started to teach in Berlin. In 1992 he was given the appointment of lecturer for ensemble playing at the 'Hochschule der Künste" (Art School). The graduating class of the HDK, at that time, consisted of highly motivated young musicians, who had not only developed an interest in Schlippenbach's jazz-arrangements, but were also performing with him as the "Improvisers' Pool".

On the initiative of drummer Johannes Bockholt-Dams, the Improvisers Pool invited Rivers along to a workshop. A long time before the first rehearsals, the 71-year old arrived in Berlin, and played with every musician who felt like it, and impressed everybody with his dynamic performances. The same thing happened with Felix Wahnschaffe, who, at first, admitted to having had difficulties in understanding the fine structure of Rivers' "canvases", but who was then infected by the sheer power of Rivers' will to self expression and stimulated to find his own means of articulation.

The alto player Felix Wahnschaffe and the bass player Horst Nonnenmacher, both having already made themselves noticed in the quartet "Association Urbanétique", a jazz combo of wider regional importance, are composing instrumentalists like the other young talents of the Improvisers' Pool, each of them giving their stamp to the different bands in which they are active.

After a short and tough period of rehearsing, they concluded the workshop with a presentation, which was an impressive testimony to Schlippenbach's free-jazz orientated orchestral work together with the Improvisers' Pool and which was, at the same time, inspired by the spiritual power of the unshackled soloist Sam Rivers. This becomes particularly evident in the two free improvised pieces, where he fires his partners up, to such a degree, that pushes them to go beyond their normal limits. Also Rivers, particularly in the duo improvisations on the same instruments, is obviously touched by the rhythmical power and the technical perfection of a Tina Wrase or a Tilmann Dehnhard. The moody "folie a deux" on the soprano in "Frame" or the playful formation flying of the two German flutes in "Encounter" are more than just an intermezzo between the complex pieces of Rivers and Schlippenbach. But even these long pieces disappear in a flash between No time and Ragtime, the well-played pulse time of bass and drums and idioms of the respective improvising groups.

"The young talents of the Improvisers Pool are, without exception, very creative and it has been a lot of fun playing with them! Let's see if they, say within the next 25 years, have made their own original contribution to Improvised Music", Rivers laughs a fatherly laugh and hints indirectly to his and Schlippenbach's own deserving work , which has been enriched, once more, by the addition of yet another multicoloured element.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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