The Living Music
01. The Living Music (14:52)
02. Into The Staggerin (4:13)
03. Wave (3:33)
04. Tower (11:29)
05. Lollopalooza (6:49)
06. Past Time (4:58)
Recorded 24. 4. 1969 Rhenus Studio, Köln/Godorf.
First edition of this LP on Alexander von Schlippenbach's label QUASAR (blue label).
Manfred Schoof: cornet, flügelhorn
Paul Rutherford: trombone
Michel Pilz: bass clarinet, baritone saxophone
Peter Brötzmann: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone
J.B. Niebergall: bass, bass trombone
Alexander von Schlippenbach: piano, percussion
Han Bennink: drums, percussion
Alexander von Schlippenbach, along with Peter Brötzmann and Manfred Schoof, was one of the founders of the German free jazz collective FMP Records. Like all good collectives, FMP knew how to conserve resources: the entirety of The Living Music, as well as half of Brötzmann's legendary 1969 album Nipples, was recorded by the same musicians in one day. Unlike Brötzmann's corrosive, chaotic Nipples, the six pieces on The Living Music explore the concepts of open spaces and collective improvisation at least as much as they do everyone-solos-at-once clatter. As a result, Manfred Schoof's "Wave" builds up an astounding head of steam thanks to the force of a seven-piece band all headed in the same musical direction, and there are parts of the title track that are downright contemplative, particularly a brief, fractured solo from von Schlippenbach that's more Bill Evans than Cecil Taylor. Brötzmann, of course, is the star of the album, and his spotlight comes on the second half of "Into the Staggerin," where the rest of the band lays out and Brötzmann plays a tenor solo that recalls Albert Ayler's best work in the way it combines honk-blat-phwee aggressiveness and a genuinely lyrical compositional sense. Nipples may be the more famous of these two albums, but The Living Music may well be the better.
When this session was done, everyone needed a shower. There's no doubt about that. The Living Music lives and breathes at such a high level of intensity (and coherence) that it must have brought these seven European free improvisers to sheer exhaustion that long, productive afternoon almost exactly 24 years ago in Köln. But there's a strong sense about this record—now in its third release—that things fit where they belong.
Belonging is a relative concept, of course, and when free spirits fly together, they nudge and jostle enough to make order an impossibility. A few hints appear here and there, compositional aspects of these pieces that allude to formal structure. Manfred Schoof's pieces "Wave" and "Past Time" are remarkable in this regard. The leader's "Into the Staggerin" dwells briefly on a warm, full- bodied group theme before it swings off into the abyss. Drummer Han Bennink, omnipresent on the record, gets a rare opportunity to ride the beat, implying broken triplets on the cymbals while he engages in a little Max Roach action on the snare.
But not for long, because Peter Brötzmann gets his noodle in the horn and starts blowing so hard you think his brain is going to explode. (Yes, typical behavior at the time. Apparently his skull was very thick.) Little punchy rifflets, overblown and sharp, along with some unknown human voice howling strangely in the background. After two and a half minutes, the band stops playing completely while Brotzmann plateaus. Not content with one simple orgasm, he pauses only a moment before shooting off again. Riffing in pulse-like fashion, he hits the sky and falls back to earth. Seconds after the piece is over, we're all back on the horse again and the full unit comes back into play.
Schlippenbach seems content to play more of a catalytic, egalitarian role in the group, rather than riding out front on his instrument, though he's definitely not shy. He gets credit for half of these compositions, two of which (the title track and "Tower") are gargantuan in scale. While formal organization helps ground the group now and then, these players clearly feel most comfortable in the range where rules rarely apply, where the little children can come out and play. That means the longer pieces tend to work the best. "Tower" in particular has a sprawling sense of scale.
There's a strong vibe here of the European free big band tradition. Seven players, when they're as forward as this group, pretty much comprise a big band anyway. It makes little sense to single out individuals, except of course for Bennink (whose constant energy pulls everyone forward) and Brötzmann (whose voice is so singularly emphatic that it's impossible to ignore). The rest form a group, a like-minded collective that agrees to disagree.
Other than relatively minor dips in sound quality—it sounds like it was mastered off of vinyl—there's very little wrong with The Living Music. Given the spontaneity and spark of the assembled septet, that's a very small price to pay.