Alexander von Schlippenbach launched his trio’s set with a full-on burst that elided into a tight duet – the first of many during the evening – with the resoundingly robust percussionist Paul Lovens. This was followed, as the pace eased off, by a spell with the evergreen saxophonist Evan Parker offering quietly bouncy phrases alongside the piano which became more of a stutter, which was then joined by Loven’s thrashing drums for maximum impact.
Von Schlippenbach’s musical journey has its roots in post-war West Germany, where Willis Conover’s ‘Jazz Hour’ provided a life-line to American jazz. And maybe there is still something of the fifties rocker about von Schlippenbach’s appearance. Enlightened local radio stations in Germany were inspired to pull together jazz and contemporary ‘classical’ strands, and this notion of a continuum in music provided the impetus for Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra in the mid-sixties, and set him on the road which has led to his 40 years collaboration with Parker and Lovens (below).
The trio has held together through thick and thin – Parker has referred to ‘testing the thing to breaking point’, and at the Vortex there was a sense of that mutual understanding which allowed them to change gear seamlessly and often, taking the music from maximum intensity to contemplative quietitude. At the core there was a sharing of rhythms expressed with a raw edge. The sound had a metallic quality; Lovens has a small kit to which he constantly added and subtracted small metal discs and an octagonal metal piece – plinks and clangs countering the flattened drum sound which he carefully nurtured. Von Schlippebach started the second set with sound of prepared piano wires being brought to the fore like a harpsichord, after which he extracted the metal additions to restore its more conventional timbres. Parker threw in fast foghorn passages alongside dense, syncopated piano clusterings. Harmonics from the keyboard were interspersed with Loven’s rushing cymbal and Parker’s vibrato tenor and sprints alternated with rhythmic and melodic cascades from all three.
Their programme took in Monk, a major interest and influence, with ‘Work’ in the first set and ‘Blue Monk’ just detectable in the second. It was fascinating to watch Von Schlippenbach’s hands – his classical training was apparent as it became clear that he was playing exactly what he wanted – his hands were his instruments with the piano as the vehicle – a demanding task, yet defined, even in the most dense passages by a clarity of intent. During a lovely piano solo he quietly sang along with his improvisation, before Lovens joined almost inaudibly, demonstrating the respect each has for the other’s playing, perhaps the overriding theme of the evening.