FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 2010

FMP CD 140

Ulrich Kurth


Schlippenbach Quartet at the Quartier Latin

On February 4, 1970, the newly founded “Alexander von Schlippenbach Trio” – with the bass clarinet player Michel Pilz (*1945) from Luxembourg and the twenty year old drummer Paul Lovens (*1949) from Aachen – started its first tour through the Southwest German Jazz clubs. These small, smoke-filled clubs, as they had come up in many cities of the Federal Republic since the fifties, some of them still in existence to the present day, were not only the places where Jazz was presented as entertainment. They were also workshops where new forms of Jazz were created. This is especially true in the case of the Schlippenbach Trio, as it was also later officially called in short. This is where this formation, with its radical improvisations, playing without prior concept, agreement or rehearsals has developed its very own musical language. For forty years now the audience has been witness to this continuing and extremely exciting process. The Schlippenbach Trio (from 1971 on with Evan Parker replacing Pilz) is one of the longest-lasting formations in the history of Jazz – in this respect only comparable to the Modern Jazz Quartet.

The musicians of the trio place particular emphasis on their music having its origins in the history of Jazz. Originally inspired by Jazz musicians the likes of Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy, pianist and composer Alexander von Schlippenbach (*1938), together with trumpet player Manfred Schoof (*1936) and bass player Buschi Niebergall (*1938) had, first of all, started out looking for a new and, most of all, their own specific form of Jazz in the Gunter Hampel Quintet, founded in 1964 and, from 1965 onwards, in the Manfred Schoof Quintet under the main influences of Don Cherry and Cecil Taylor. One was looking for a kind of music allowing a European Jazz musician to create something authentic, acknowledging the American role models without getting ensnared in imitation and without denying one’s own socio-cultural background. One questioned traditional conventions and norms, replaced them with new ones and integrating the influences of “New Music” which had largely been developed in Europe. This was particularly successful in the case of the “Globe Unity Orchestra”, founded by Schlippenbach in 1966, which also included the Peter Brötzmann Trio with Peter Kowald. Originally put together as a body of sound for a “Third Stream” commission, this orchestra still exists to the present day and constitutes a major part of Schlippenbach’s musical biography alongside the trio. Both groups are closely connected. The trio as well as the quartets were and still are the core of the “motor” of the orchestra today.

The Schlippenbach Trio, initially founded by three members of the Manfred Schoof Quintet, underwent an essential reshuffle when Michel Pilz was replaced by Evan Parker at the end of 1970. The second trio with Evan Parker, who Schlippenbach had first met during the “New Jazz Meeting 1968” in Baden-Baden, has been active as a fixed group from September 1971 onwards in West German Jazz clubs. In a kind of transition period between the two trios, Schlippenbach, Lovens and Parker were performing as a quartet, with Buschi Niebergall or Peter Kowald as the bass players taking turns, and sometimes also with trombone player Günter Christmann subbing for Parker.

Historically speaking, the years between 1973 and 1983 seem, in retrospect, an interim period when, in connection with the orchestral work, the trio was extended to a quartet through the addition of a bass player – at first Peter Kowald, then Alan Silva. It was an interesting but not absolutely essential modification, adding an extra tone colour to the trio. The double bass was an addition Schlippenbach abandoned from 1983 on – and these days in the orchestra as well – in favour of a greater clarity and flexibility of sound.

Direct role models for the bass-less trio for Schlippenbach were records – on the one hand recordings of a Cecil Taylor Trio concert in Copenhagen in 1962, but on the other hand also the crisp and transparent sound of the Benny Goodmann Trio, documented on numerous recordings since 1935.

The first two years of the Schlippenbach Trio are only documented on a small number of un-broadcast radio recordings. The first published recordings of the trio were taped at one of the Radio Bremen studios on November 12, 1972. They appeared on the LP “Pakistani Pomade”, produced and released by the musicians’ cooperative Free Music Production (FMP), founded in 1969. Alexander von Schlippenbach was among the collective’s leaders of this music historically important organisation with which musicians made themselves independent of producers in order to realize their new kind of music in concert performances and on recordings, irrespective of commercial considerations and under their own responsibility. On the one hand, the first LP’s published by FMP were releases the musicians involved had produced already since 1967 under their own direction and, up to that point, had distributed themselves during their concerts or per direct order and mailing. On the other hand there were recordings, taped with the support of various radio producers in their studios. From 1974 on, FMP had available the kind of technical equipment which allowed them to record their self organized or subsidised concerts. This is also how the recordings of the Schlippenbach Quartet on this present CD came about which are being reissued in digital form for the first time. The recordings from 1975 and 1977 originate from two FMP concerts in West Berlin which took place at the “Quartier Latin”. Alongside the smaller Jazz clubs – the Quasimodo and Flöz – and occasionally the Academy of Arts, the “Quartier”, located in a former movie theatre, was the most important venue in town for Jazz and improvised music between 1970 and 1990.

All the recordings of the Schlippenbach Trio and the Quartet respectively, document the steps in the development of this group in chronological order. Right from the beginning it is clear that for the musicians it is about energy and intensity, about a spontaneous, intuitively driven music where tonality at times is dissolved into pure sound and noise, and rhythm turns into pulsating movement. Essentially, this music created entirely without any prior agreement, in free improvisation, is based on two different structures of sound which have continuously gained more and more diversity and incisiveness through the increasing experience of playing and mutual trust. On the one hand there are highly energetic passages based on lightning fast action and reaction and where the musicians’ playing together is, at times, also an intended playing against or alongside each other. On the other hand there are more static passages where noise-like sound textures are layered on top of each other. These often surprising and as yet unheard sounds remind one of what was at that point known as “Musique Concrète” and electronic music, to some extent, however, also of natural sounds. These sounds are produced without the aid of electronics, solely through extending the instruments and the playing techniques.

There was no predefined concept for this kind of music and the musicians rarely talked about it. It was a strictly musical communication and discovery process in the course of which one found a common language. Although each individual musician developed his own instrument-related skills for himself doing his own research in sound on his own instrument – yet, the group never met for rehearsal purposes. The music was developed step by step, in front of the audience, during the numerous gigs in Jazz clubs. As a general rule, two uninterrupted sets of 45 to 60 minutes were and still are played. These sets consist of sequences of different lengths, tension arcs with varying sound structures either merging seamlessly or clearly separated.

The preparations for the release of the concert recordings by FMP always took place in collaboration with the musicians involved. This is why also the recordings of the Schlippenbach Quartet on this CD are not merely documentations of the concerts. They do not reproduce the actual course of the playing. As in the case of a film production, the editing took place on the cutting table where the most so-called “successful” sequences from the long sets were edited. These sequences of different lengths were given a title after editing and, for copyright reasons, also the name of one of the musicians involved as its “composer”. Only from 1977 on was there the possibility of stating a composers’ collective as copyright owner with the GEMA, listing all the musicians as composers, in accordance with the reality. It is one of the particular qualities of Schlippenbach’s music that these excerpts from the continuous flow of playing sound absolutely coherent in themselves and show a logical musical development. As intuitive and spontaneous was the creational process of the music, so strict and critical was the subsequent selection process of what one wished to preserve for posterity.

As preparation for this text two in-depth conversations were held with
Alexander von Schlippenbach and Paul Lovens.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

zurück / back