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Alexander von Schlippenbach + Globe Unity Orchestra
Globe Unity – 40 Years
Intakt CD 133

Globe Unity A mix of studio tracks and excerpts from their 2006 JazzFest Berlin performance, Globe Unity – 40 Years is pointedly retrospective compared to 20th Anniversary (FMP). Whereas the earlier album was a contemporary snapshot of Globe Unity Orchestra’s practice of long-form improvisations juxtaposing ensembles and solos, 40 Years is, for a single CD, a remarkably comprehensive survey of Globe Unity’s various pursuits since its 1966 inception. Additionally, the album is brilliantly sequenced; subsequently, this is not an anthology to digest or endure, but an album to dig.

By opening the album with Alexander von Schlippenbach’s “Globe Unity Forty Years,” the pianist piquantly makes the case that past is prologue. In mixing a twelve-tone row with fulminating ensemble embellishments and solos by tenor saxophonist Evan Parker and trombonist George Lewis, Schlippenbach establishes the continuity between the composition that gave the orchestra its name and his current approach to structuring the orchestra’s performances. To varying degrees, there is a comparable linkage between past and present in most of the other pieces, the most jarring being Kenny Wheeler’s “Nodago,” a smoldering ballad rendered in a straightforward manner on the ’79 Japo album, Compositions. The grafting of trombonist Paul Rutherford and drummer Paul Lovens’ flinty improvised duet onto the end of the piece is starkly transforming, but ultimately compelling.

The orchestra’s unraveling of Steve Lacy’s precociously swinging “The Dumps” from a tightly coiled big band chart into roiling free improvisation has a similar impact. At first, it seemed like a missed opportunity not to have Parker solo on this piece; Schlippenbach often refers to the saxophonist as Coltrane’s best student, and this would have been the perfect opportunity to show that he was also Lacy’s. The soprano solo goes instead to Gerd Dudek, whose avoidance of Lacy signatures and reliance on a more flowing approach to line and a sleeker sound proves to be a counter-intuitively winning combination. Bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall, trombonist Johannes Bauer and trumpeters Jean-Luc Capozzo and Axel Dörner progressively take it outside, beyond the gravitational pull of the theme. It is noteworthy that – with the exception of the newly penned “40 Years” – “The Dumps” is the only piece not previously recorded by the orchestra.

The inclusion of two pieces from the so-called Wuppertal period of the early and mid ‘70s points up the orchestra’s zig-zagging odyssey. Willem Brueker’s “Out of Burtons Songbook” exemplified the dynamic tension of folk and martial materials colliding with free improvisation. Schlippenbach’s “Bavarian Calypso,” the A side of their only single, took the diametrically opposite approach to idiom. While Breuker scored ponderous themes and frenetic marches, the pianist simply lets it rip, and trombonist Jeb Bishop and alto saxophonist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky run with it, handing in boisterous, exhilarating solos. Still, the Breuker piece features one of the highlights of the set – a Manfred Schoof solo where the trumpeter is prodded from poignant lyricism one moment to searing fire the next by Schlippenbach’s surprise-filled comping and the teeming pulses of Lovens and Paul Lytton.

Another piece first issued on Compositions, Schlippenbach’s “The Forge” ends the album on a strong, jazzcentric note. The piece begins with a staccato rhythm that lays the foundation for layered cyclic and repeated phrases, the overall effect of which is vaguely Lacy-like. It is also a fine blowing vehicle, as evidenced by a keening Lewis solo and the concluding statement by Schlippenbach, who demonstrates his unique ability to morph a solo’s relationship to the thematic material on a second-by-second basis. It is an unexpected ending to this defining program, but one that is fitting in the final analysis. It is Schlippenbach’s compositional vision that launched Globe Unity Orchestra; compositions like “The Forge” maintained that thread during a period when the orchestra was less his than at other times, including the present, given the placement of his name on this milestone recording.

Given the auspicious occasion, the accompanying booklet includes texts by not one, but two authoritative writers. Bert Noglik delivers a solid, straight-ahead annotative essay that traces the orchestra’s history through the program. Lewis’ “Globe Unity and the Little Red Hen” is an engaging, far-ranging commentary, but it does not fully explicate the connection between its two subjects. Lewis rightly cites the folktale heroine as an icon of self-determination; since no one will help her plant the seed, she does it herself. Most probably in the interest of space, Lewis forgoes mentioning that she also cut, threshed and milled the resulting wheat, and then baked the flour into bread – a lengthy laborious process that is a bit reminiscent of LP production. But, Lewis also omits the moral punchline of the story – since she did all of the work, the Little Red Hen solely determined that she alone would eat the bread. It is the control and benefit of the fruits of one’s own labor that is the tale’s most germane aspect in regards to Globe Unity Orchestra, and the endeavor of experimental music networks and communities in general. Globe Unity – 40 Years is a testament to this struggle and its bounty.
– Bill Shoemaker

ECM Records

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