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Schlippenbach Trio - Compression

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Artist: Schlippenbach Trio

Album: Compression

Label: a/l/l/

Review date: Jan. 20, 2005

Stability and durability are difficult traits to sustain for any band. The often ephemeral financial realities of improv only exacerbate the situation. Ensembles rise and recede like the tides as players evolve from one set of associations to the next. The Schlippenbach Trio bested the odds of attrition through one simple stratagem: time off. Over the three or so decades they’ve been plying their shared music, Evan Parker, Paul Lovens and the eponymous pianist made certain to engage in lengthy hiatuses on other projects. Through these lacunas, their infrequent meetings retained freshness and renewable vigor as well as a nigh-telepathic rapport. The downside of the design emerges in a comparative dearth in discography.

Compression documents the trio’s concert at the 2002 Total Music Meeting in Berlin, a festival lovingly dedicated to deceased bassist Peter Kowald (who incidentally held a spot in one of the band’s ’70s quartet incarnations). The disc embodies only the group’s eighth full-length album as a three-man unit. At a dozen pieces in just over 50 minutes, the set captured is a comparatively frugal one, similar in schematic to their epochal studio effort Elf Bagatellen. Where that earlier performance showcased discrete miniatures in line with its fanciful title, the tracks here are all strung together into a largely seamless suite with demarcations commonly visiting the action in media res. The Schlippenbach features “Variations on G” and “All the Things You Are,” which finds the pianist obliquely interpolating the superannuated standard, are mere fragments, pivots on which players switch focus and regroup. Others, like the lengthy “Tantrum,” spill out a fluctuating barrage of tumbling traps, stabbing piano and scorching self-renewing tenor.

Parker engages in his favorite parlor trick of circular breathing on soprano and tenor, the latter stretch a bit unexpected given his propensity to favor the extended technique on the straight horn. Evidence of his more jazz-vested side surfaces on pieces like the split-personality “Insistence,” a time bomb that ticks off tension in its opening minutes only to detonate with the force of a phosphorous grenade at its finale. Lovens handles his usual battery of selected drums and cymbals. Surprisingly, he even dusts off his old sidekick the music saw on “Glow,” shaping quavering spectral counterpoint to the limpid melodic strains of Parker’s clarinet-like soprano. It’s one of several chamber improv interludes shrewdly contrary with the trio’s usual mantle of obdurate intensity.

That’s not to imply that there isn’t a fair share of fractious go-for-broke interplay either. A title ripe with blithely sexual overtones, the opening “Yes Bishop… yes, yes!” references music just as loaded with strenuous ribald energy. Lovens’ more rambunctious clattering colors pieces like the title track where a cascade of strident cymbal serves as a flak field for Schlippenbach’s craggy vaguely-Asian chords. There’s much welcome room made for these two to lock wits with and without Parker.

The easy tendency is to decry an adherence to the status quo, to mock bands that stick to what they know. Parker even planted a preemptive strike in the printed TMM program, citing the finite combinations possible from the trio format and freely admitting their culpability. But the Schlippenbach Trio's stratagem has paid off to date. I challenge anyone who spends scrupulous time with this disc to advance a sincere claim that it's boilerplate.

By Derek Taylor

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