CD review

Christian Lillinger – Open Form for Society

Christian Lillinger – Open Form for Society
(PLAIST. 004. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

Can jazz be a model for society? German drummer Christian Lillinger brings together nine musicians from different European countries to adapt and develop Lillinger’s compositions, in what he calls ‘re-composition’. Using musique concrète influences in post-production, it’s a wonderfully original mixture of jazz and improvised and electronic music, with undertones of funk and drum & bass.


The pieces are short and intensely immersive. Piece for Up & Grand Piano and Ringmodulator with Kaja Draksler (Slovenia) and Antonis Anissegos (Greece) has notes dropping inside each other. There’s a brittle beauty, evoking Nancarrow, and a delicate electronic treatment to the sound, like prepared piano. Aorta has the pulsing complexity of some of Steve Coleman’s (or pianist Andy Milne’s) recent work, with loping, sinewy bass (German Robert Landfermann/Swedish Petter Eldh.) Lillinger excavates the moment with shifting funk-edged rhythms. There are occasional glimpses of a time signature, as piano and vibes trade licks from outer space (vibes players are Germans Christopher Dell/Roland Neffe). In Thür, vibes and piano stalk each other abstractly, sometimes blurring or coalescing together freely with ringing percussive sounds. Titan could be a god striding with playful menace through a percussion shop. A dark, driving groove melts with synth sounds (Elias Stemeseder from Austria.)

The abstract phrases of Basel, led by piano, bass and cello, (Lucy Railton, UK) shadow each other. They’re lightened by bell sounds and darkened by musique concrète-like wave forms. In the groovy Sisyphos, the bass repeatedly pushes an ostinato phrase uphill, only to have it fall back into the root note; drums flutter dramatically around vibes. The miniature Überwindung has gamelan-like phrases with instruments slightly out of synch. There’s a thrill every time Lillinger’s drum and bass beats burst out. Überwindung seems linked with Laktat– a little grungy too, with delicately detailed piano and vibes phrases over more ponderous bass, and a wild drum and piano climax.

The strong acoustic bass grooves of Mocking are undermined by rock-inflected slapping drum beats, and warm free piano with synth swirls. The woody cello and luscious bass of Toro koma draw together in a quirky melody, before veering into free complexity with percussion and piano. It’s like scribbling over the same place on a page to produce a striking image. Sog distorts vibes and cello with a nod to Stockhausen, but the acoustic tones peer through. Cello, piano and vibes pick their way across the precipitous melody of Triangular, as an M-Base-esque groove emerges. The drums in KfkA have an ’80s crate-of-spanners-dropped-in-a-warehouse sound, with spiky piano and whooping electronica. One of Lillinger’s previous bands was called Hyperactive Kid, and this track has the feel of a child trying out sounds- with consummate skill.

The final pieces, Excerpts of Open Form for Society: (Improvisations) One to Five were improvised collectively, and are on CD and vinyl only. In the speeding runs of One, chords strike sparks from the thundering bass. The meditative Two draws dreamy vibes across exploratory cello. Bass and cello play the subaquatic drones of Three with primeval grace. Four is lighter and almost boppy, as vibes and piano tones float away like bubbles over supple bass. Lillinger uses an amazing array of percussive textures with deep piano in Five.

Perhaps the final contribution comes from the listener, as the ear hears patterns and attributes meaning. Lillinger cites Karl Popper’s theories in the latter’s book The Open Society as an influence, and it’s great to hear such skilled musicians listening and working together so creatively.

Categories: CD review

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