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Alexander von Schlippenbach - Piano Solo ’77

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Artist: Alexander von Schlippenbach

Album: Piano Solo ’77

Label: FMP

Review date: Nov. 6, 2008

It appears that FMP has returned to active service, at least on the reissue front. Here, we get a second chance to hear solo playing from one of Europe’s finest, caught in slightly brittle but beautiful sound. The disc demonstrates Alexander von Schlippenbach’s overwhelming diversity and lyricism in a tradition he has celebrated throughout his long career.

While a bit metallic, the recording packs a powerful punch. The disc whirs into existence with the cascading flurries of “Brooks,” delicious downward spirals vying for prominence with block chords and clusters that invoke some of Cecil Taylor’s solo material. Yet, Schlippenbach’s allegiance to the jazz tradition is evident in the way little motifs coalesce into long flowing lines; they arc, merge and diverge with the stunning clarity of freebop. The occasional silence is breathless, preparatory only for the next series of vertical dyads or another linear traversal of the keyboard.

Despite constantly shifting textures, Schlippenbach’s focus is tight, especially on the two-part “The Onliest, the Loneliest,” which concluded each side of the original LP. Beginning as a study in clusteral complexity, the harmonies are presented in a series of Monk-like sound blocks, played at varying speeds. When lines eventually emerge, through the right hand, the link between Monk and Bud Powell is stark.

Despite these nods to tradition, Schlippenbach introduces the unexpected at almost every turn. Listen for the massive trills that interrupt “The Onliest”’s first part – huge multilayered edifices that transgress historical and structural boundaries with vengeance. The regularly repeated intervals in the second part act similarly, putting the beautifully voiced harmonies temporarily to flight.

In fact, it is Schlippenbach’s gorgeous voicings that hold the entire album together, no matter what historical period he’s referencing. He unifies history and technique toward the end, diving full boar into a swinging free fantasy of epic proportions that covers the whole registral spectrum as it hangs on the edge of tonality.

Piano Solo ’77 is a stirring album, intensely muscular and lyrical by turn. Its return to the catalog is cause for celebration.

By Marc Medwin

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