By Martin Schray
When the Schlippenbach Trio (Alexander von Schlippenbach, piano; Evan Parker, tenor and Paul Lovens, drums) hit the stage, there’s no plan. After 45 years, it’s unnecessary, but it does raise the question whether genuine improvisation is possible after such a long time. According to Derek Bailey, once something has become established, it gravitates to mere reproduction and the risk of cliché. That’s sometimes the case – not invariably so – and familiarity has its own advantages. Evan Parker supports established working groups. He claims that if you play regularly in these contexts it’s like practicing your instrument, expanding the ways to express what you want to say, though admittedly there’s a danger of repetition, certain habits or conveniences. Few things worth doing are risk free, and avoiding pitfalls is part of the challenge when improvising.
Parker says that the trio’s credo is about expressing as much as possible within their established vocabulary. At the outset, it was about breaking into new areas (First Recordings, Trost Records, 1972/2015), then - in the 1980s to early 1990s when they‘d found their way – there were classic albums such as Detta Fra Di Noi (PoTorch, 1982) and Elf Bagatellen (FMP, 1990). In recent years, they’ve referenced their own history with recordings made during their annual “winter journey“ - Bauhaus Dessau (Intakt, 2010) and Features (Intakt, 2015), the latter a collection of fifteen sketches, displaying the characteristic features of their sound.
Warsaw Concert sums up the band’s aesthetic, the depth of their music rather than sheer energy. There's Schlippenbach's refined pianism, deeply influenced by Thelonious Monk, Parker's masterful and elaborate saxophone skills and Lovens's distinctively tuned drum set – collectively, a familiar but flexible sonic signature. In this performance they've integrated typical elements like Evan Parker's circular breathing solo (terminated with a torrent of massive piano chords and a cymbal crescendo), the pulsating duos between Schlippenbach and Lovens, and themes like Eric Dolphy's "Miss Ann" and "Out There" as well as Schlippenbach’s composition "Marcia di Saturno" (from Berlin Contemporary Orchestra’s The Morlocks and Other Pieces, FMP, 1994). In the liner notes Schlippenbach points out that these themes are not used as quotations but as a "reference to our own history, creating contrasts and also as a springboard for further development". The uncertainty of the destination has always been an exciting part of their concerts.
This performance isn't from their annual tour, but took place during the 2015 Ad Libitum Festival in a concert hall of the Polish broadcasting company, a sympathetic acoustic recording, captured with revealing clarity. Sadly, Warsaw Concert might be the swan song of this great trio in its legendary line-up, since Paul Lovens didn't joined them on their most recent "winter journey" due to problems with his back and knee (he was replaced by Paul Lytton). It’s unclear if his condition will hinder future touring, but it would be nice if they could get together for one-off concerts such as this. There are still people out there who need their music.
Warsaw Concert is available on CD. You can buy it from the label: http://www.intaktrec.ch or http://www.instantjazz.com or http://www,downtownmusicgallery.com.