Christian Lillinger – Open Form For Society Live
(PLAIST (EDEL). CD Review by Amy Sibley-Allen)
German drummer Christian Lillinger’s 2019 studio album Open Form For Society was a carefully perfected album where nothing was left to chance – created over an intense five days. This live album offers up a contrasting, freer, energy, the result of the dynamic between the musicians on stage and the dialogue with an audience, and creating something entirely new, though still rooted in Lillinger’s compositions, as he continues to explore and expand on where his music goes next.
The majority of the album was recorded during Jazzfest Berlin in November 2019, with the last track Aorta being taken from the premier at Donaueschinger Musiktage the month prior. Besides its leader, the 10-piece ensemble features experimental European musicians covering instrumentation from keys/synths (Kaja Draksler, Cory Smythe, Ron Stabinsky, Antonis Anissegos and Elias Stemeseder) to percussion (Christopher Dell, Roland Neffe) and strings (Lucy Railton, Petter Eldh and Robert Landfermann). Note a slightly different line-up to the album. Melding together intuitively they capture Lillinger’s compositions balanced with their own improvisational language. Like previous work this too channels his exuberant energy in an incredible montage of tempos and rhythms.
With 10 tracks, and 52 minutes, of continuous performance the album moves organically from piece to piece – interspersed with both space and applause. Whilst not all tracks from the studio album feature there are some additions, including the opening track OFFS which dives straight in with underpinning motifs, discordant sounds and synth manipulations. Sharing its name with the album’s title it highlights how the musicians’ musical dialogue could represent a model for open society – referencing the influence of the philosopher Karl Popper on the work.
There are several highlights of the album. The driving, enduring rhythms of Sisyhos, with its menacing undercurrent, showcases Lillinger’s drumming capabilities with his solo finale. Laktat builds to a turbulent end, conjuring up images of bell ringers who are slowly losing their minds. Meanwhile Thür is a discordant gem with eerie synth undertones and a splattering of piano notes, like heavy raindrops.
One of the longer pieces on the album, Triangular provides a brief rest from the album’s frenetic energy, led by Lucy Railton’s arco cello playing and gentle synth, piano and vibraphone accompaniment – before the bass and drums join, that is. Mock to is a short additional piece which provides what feels like a starter of strings, a teaser before moving into the wonderfully bass heavy Mocking. The synths at the end of Basel take us into outer space. The speed of Aorta, the final track, is anxiety inducing – a culmination of all instruments with a frantic energy, an unravelling as it accelerates to the end.
Coming to the end of the album left me feeling like I’d been taking part in a very intense conversation, with lots to take away and digest. Its richness and complexity certainly encourages repeat listening. If you already have the studio album then this would make for a captivating companion, if not then it is a delight in its own right. At a time when we are unsure as to when we will next attend a live gig this reminds us why live music is so special – as if we really needed reminding.
The album is out on Christian Lillinger’s label PLAIST (EDEL) as double vinyl (limited edition, 180g), CD and digitally, on 7 August 2020.