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

FMP CD 111

Bert Noglik


Strong and sensitive, fully developed yet still in constant flow, wilful yet no longer something you have to get used to, determined. In brief, my notes after listening again to the recording now available as CD. In retrospect, the validity of sound documents like this one becomes obvious. Concert recordings which capture excerpts of a long-term musical continuum and, at the same time, document the musical development in an altogether exemplary manner. Two concerts out of hundreds the duo has played. Concerts which, in accordance with the nature of improvisation, turn out differently each and every time. Music laid out as a process, not wanting to coalesce into the form of a set piece and still managing to convince also as an excerpt.

Although chance does play a role in musical improvisation from time to time, these recordings by Alexander von Schlippenbach and Sven-Åke Johansson allow us to experience how both of them control this process, how consistently they choose certain musical material, leave things out, the precision with which they manage to communicate with each other. “Instant composing” still seems to be the best term coined for this process because it unites both spontaneity and the intention to structure.

Alexander von Schlippenbach and Sven-Åke Johansson play permanently engaged in conversation and often act simultaneously as soloists. This requires a lot of sensitivity, compatible ideas about sound and experience of playing together. In broadly laid out arcs of tension, condensing and untangling of the events they succeed, both in parallel actions as well as in the contradictions, in very precise correspondences. The percussive aspects of the pianist and the sound-oriented actions of the percussionist make the correspondences particularly obvious. The crucial element that remains is the attitude towards making music which has its roots in Jazz and which, at the same time, goes beyond it.

Fired on by a strong driving force, which can also be experienced physically, the duo creates a fascinating dynamic feel through the overlapping of rhythmical regularity and irregularity. All the while Schlippenbach and Johansson abstract from the idiom of Jazz as well as from the European piano tradition and New Music respectively. And still all of this seems to be in the best sense suspended and to swing along, at the same time. What runs along subliminally, on the level of a musical subtext, comes to the surface in a very surprising manner at times. Out of the abstract musical language a waltz bursts forth, European popular music which tips over into the jagged convolutions of the Jazz outsider Thelonious Monk just to be pulled to pieces, contorted and re-assembled = to be composed. When was there ever before such a strange version of “Round midnight” to be heard?

When Sven-Åke Johansson uses the accordion, the strange state of palpitation becomes even stronger. Areas like Jazz, innovative sound production, so-called 'Art' and folk music lose their well-defined outlines, transgress their borders, flow into each other. Johansson’s voice improvisations finally move everything into the scurrilous, at time the surreal. In the field of association of the recitative intended by Arnold Schönberg and the world of American standards, strange things shine out in our direction. Continuing on this path, Sven-Åke Johansson and Alexander von Schlippenbach later created nothing short of song cycles like “Idyllen und Katastrophen”, the very appropriate title of a recording and programme. In the recordings of 1976 and 1977 it is mainly to do with instrumental interaction. And yet in the middle of it something else lights up, intensifying the general impression that all of this cannot be filed away using the conventional systems of co-ordinates, that it is about new worlds of sound and experience. About musical interactions which may well come from Jazz but point out ways to a new kind of music.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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