Tuesday, October 15, 2013

IMPROVISORS POOL featuring A. von SCHLIPPENBACH & S. RIVERS – Backgrounds For Improvisors (1996)

Label: FMP – FMP CD 75 
Format: CD, Album; Country: Germany - Released: 1996 
Style: Free Improvisation
Recorded on 5 April 1995 at 'Podewil', Berlin.
Photography By – Dagmar Gebers
New Cover Design by ART&JAZZ Studio, by VITKO
Producer – Johannes Bockholt-Dams
Producer, Recorded By [Live] – Jost Gebers
Recorded By [Live] – Holger Scheuermann

For those who've long admired Sam Rivers or Alexander von Schlippenbach, this set, recorded live in 1995, is one of those "grail"-like recordings. While both men have been rooted in large settings for improvisation over the past 40 years -- Rivers with his wonderful Winds of Manhattan group and von Schlippenbach with the Globe Unity Orchestra, they'd never met, much less played together, before the rehearsals for this date. FMP has done a stellar job of capturing a gig so charged and spirited, where the goodwill and encouragement inspired every member of this nonet to perform as both a soloist and a contributor to the unit - - perhaps beyond their own conception of potential. The members of this group, besides the two headliners, were well-known in Europe if not on the American improv and free jazz scenes: Tina Wrase on soprano saxophone, Axel Dörner on trumpet, Felix Wahnschaffe on alto saxophone, Tilman Denhard on flute and tenor, and Claas Willecke on baritone, with Horst Nonnenmacher on bass and drummer Johannes Bockholt-Dams rounding out the band. This comes out of the gate swinging with von Schlippenbach's "If You Say," with piano, bass, and drum kit ushering in a two- and then four-chord vamp, before the horns come in playing knotty and true as Rivers and Wrase engage in call and response above the chart. Rivers then gets big and takes the first solo with von Schlippenbach answering contrapuntally, alternating lines of his theme and playing tough blocky chords for the soloist to jump from. But it's rhythmically so engaging, it just swings like mad. Rivers' "Terrain" is next. Though it is more angular from the jump, it too is rooted in the melodic interpolation of Ornette Coleman and the edgier post-bop of Eric Dolphy. But truly, this one is all Rivers -- and one can hear the same composer of "Fuschia Swing Song" here as well as the arranger for the Winds of Manhattan. As the section engages with the rhythm players, the horn interplay here is just stunning -- it's so playful and whimsical. There is some seriously out playing in the middle where Rivers, Wrase, and Dörner engage in some counterpoint improvisation without the rest of the band.

The sparse "Top Dogs Double Hop," by von Schlippenbach, is actually a wonderful exercise for the arco playing of Nonnenmacher, Rivers' flute, and the intricate chromaticism of the composer. Most everyone gets in on the act for a bit, but it is so halting and deliberate that the listener is captivated by the multi-threaded melodic work for the flutes. "Background," by Rivers, is the longest piece here, and though it begins with his solo tenor, it is the hinge on which the rest of this date opens and closes. Here, the "background" is the rhythm section, charging furiously through a series of taut, dense patterns and vamps as Rivers solos furiously on top of them. When the horns enter full bore on one of the "choruses," it is like a window opening: an entirely new textural ground is laid, and a brilliant array of sonorities and colors presents itself anew as Dörner, Willecke, Rivers, Wrase, and Denhard dig in, playing through and around one another. While there are some dynamic changes and spatial interludes, for the most part this is an exhilarating ride and itself worth the price of admission. It makes the utterly meditative flute duet "Encounter" possible -- a breather for the listener -- before von Schlippenbach's closer, "The Forge." Here is where the "free" in free jazz comes from, stacked atop an opening theme that is knotty, at right angles, and full of thematics from European theater music, but it too approaches jazz's edgiest "swing." The brief spaces where one or two instruments wander are merely interludes as the next set of ideas is revved up for the go and von Schlippenbach conducts it all with mischievous glee. This is one of the true wonders -- of many -- in the FMP catalog, and a high point for both of the set's leaders.


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  2. I hold Sam in high esteem. My favorite story about Mr. Rivers is told about when Miles was waiting to get Shorter from Blakey. [Davis knew better than to steal musicians from Art . . . he would kick your ass!] Anyway, he had a commitment to play in Japan. His young drummer Tony convinced Miles to use a Boston horn man who Williams knew named Sam Rivers. The album Miles in Tokyo is awesome because you hear how Miles dealt [or didn't deal] with a true avant-garde front line partner. I don't think they ever played together again!!!!

    1. "After George Coleman left the Miles Davis Quintet, tenor-saxophonist Sam Rivers took his place for a short period including a tour of Japan. Davis did not care for Rivers's avant-garde style (they failed to develop any chemistry) and soon replaced him, but this live LP (originally only issued in Japan) survived to document this brief association. The music (five lengthy versions of standards) is actually of high quality with both Davis and Rivers in fine form and the young rhythm section (pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams) pushing the trumpeter/leader to open up his style."

      Such is the situation described by jazz critic Scott Yanow of AMG.

  3. Many thanks, Vitko! Excellent album!

  4. Thanks Vitko for the share. And thanks Steve for the little nugget of info on Sam's brief association with Miles. I will try to get the Tokyo concert album.