GLOBE UNITY: JAHRMARKT/LOCAL FAIR
Po Torch PTR/JWD 2
Kenny Wheeler, Enrico Rava, Manfred Schoof / trumpets, Gunter Christman, Paul Rutherford, Albert Mangelsdorff / trombones, Evan Parker, Peter Brotzmann, Anthony Braxton, Gerd Dudek, Rudiger Carl, Michel Pilz / saxophones & reeds, Alex Schlippenbach / accordion & piano, Peter Kowald / conductor & tuba, J.B. Niebergall / doublebass, Paul Lovens / percussion and musical saw. Plus, on “Local Fair” (Side 2): the Wuppermusikanten Orchestra, the Wupperspatzen Orchestra, and Mousikon Synkrotima Spirou Papendreou (quartet). Recorded; November 25, 1975 & June 5, 1976 in performance.
Orchestra same as above, though Peter Kowald also plays bass and does not conduct, and Alex Schlippenbach does not play accordion. Recorded: November 25-27, 1977 and February 21, 1977 (Schlippenbach piano solo)
GLOBE UNITY: IMPROVISATIONS
Orchestra same as above with the addition of Derek Bailey / guitar, and Tristan Honsinger / cello.
Recorded: September 1977.
Leo Smith / trumpet and flute, Maarten van Regteren Altena / bass, Derek Bailey / electric and acoustic guitars, Tristan Honsinger / cello, Steve Lacy / soprano saxophone, Anthony Braxton / clarinet, flute, alto and soprano saxophones, Evan Parker / soprano and tenor saxophones. Recorded; May 26, 1977.
The Globe Unity records move from extreme to extreme – at the one end (Jahrmarkt/Local Fair) having to do with form and its superimpositions, at the other (Improvisations) with the shattering of form completely, at least as a preconceived element, and in between (Pearls) having to do with form as a skeletal model around which improvisation takes place. Each record is completely distinctive, each has its own terms on which it works, and each is an important orchestral showcase.
“Jahrmarkt” and “Local Fair” (both composed by Peter Kowald) involve in part a division of the players into six groupings that play separated from each other in space and time. “Local Fair” likewise includes two additional orchestras (one including 25 accordions, the other a mixture of brass and reed instruments weighted with 7 trumpets) and a Greek quartet that are also separated from each other. The music on the record brings together what could not be heard in the live situations because of the distances between the players and orchestras.
What’s most interesting about the music, particularly on “Local Fair,” is that there’s no attempt at fusing all of the various stylistic elements involved. They exist completely on their own, side by side with each other, just as they would in real life, as organic outgrowths of themselves alone. At the same time, they form the context, the environment which, even if in some decidedly remote way, informs and shapes the work of the others. I’m speaking, of course, of the whole context of these musics (jazz, “free jazz,” Greek folk music, German accordion music, etc., etc.) outside of the realm of their specific place in either of these compositions and, again, especially in “Local Fair.”
What the latter composition does is to allow us to be aware of a process much larger than itself. In a sense, it proposes life as a composition, as its own structural unity, encompassing and yet transcending all of the sound (and non-sound) forms that make it up. As such, it would be wrong to think of the piece as merely eclectic – mainly because nothing is glossed over. All of the ebb and flow, the harmony-disharmony, the pulls and tugs remain, just as they always do. “Jahrmarkt” is more concentrated, but it too deliberately pulls itself apart at the seams, revealing some quite more ambiguous workings. The playing is very strong on both pieces, making this quite possibly the most significant Globe Unity album since the original one in 1966.
Formally more simple, but no less compelling, is Evan Parker’s long piece, “Every Single One Of Us Is A Pearl” (Pearls) which uses a series of orchestral sketches to launch various solo, duo, and trio improvisation sections. It’s an improviser’s piece and stands on the strength of that, its formal elements acting as a springboard and to tie the whole thing together. Parker himself leads off with a fiery solo.
The remainder of Pearls consists of a version of “Ruby My Dear” (Braxton soloing), a Schlippenbach solo piano piece (a more thoroughly Monkish alternate take of “The Onliest – The Loneliest,” recorded for his solo album, FMP 0430), and a large group composition by Schlippenbach, “Kunstmusic 11,” a textural and color-conscious piece built mainly around Paul Lovens who is its principle energy source.
Improvisations consists of four completely improvised pieces, and the sense I get from it, combined with a hearing of the long side of Company 5 (which includes seven improvisers) is that large group free improvisation is something fairly different than that which takes place in smaller settings.
There’s a good deal more formal awareness, for one thing, more need, it would seem (possibly because of the sheer density potential), to impose some sort of order on it all; so smaller groupings tend to take place in the context of the larger ones, and something like a compositional awareness begins to surface. There’s also quite a bit more role playing than might ever take place in any duo or trio situation. Players often play as much in relation to what other players are playing as they do actually initiate anything on their own, though (and this is suggested as well by some of the smaller group Company releases: 2, 3, 4) this may be as much an attempt to bridge various stylistic gaps as it is to deal with any inherent musical necessities.
The density of the music creates a further difficulty, namely in that it tends to absorb the various contributions that make it up, the whole becoming more important than the parts, which becomes something of an improvisational limitation. This is especially evident on Company 5 where, in comparison to Improvisations, there is relatively little formal jockeying and quite a bit less role playing. But though everyone plays well, no one would point to this record as an example of anyone’s finest work. The main thing is that there isn’t the space for that to happen. There’s more space on “Every Single One Of Us Is A Pearl,” for example, or even on “Jahrmarkt,” namely because the space on those pieces is already structured in. The soloists have room to work with their ideas and to put forth strong, independent statements.
I don’t mean to say that these are not important records. In fact, the opposite is the case. It’s just that in some ways this is a relatively new medium whose own problems and necessities are only beginning to be understood, even by those involved. Compare either record, for example, to New York Eye and Ear Control (ESP 1016), that great free improvisational thrust of fifteen years ago. What’s most apparent is that even though the instrumental language has changed considerably in the interim, the way the music comes together in the large group format has changed very little, and mostly, I think, because it is only really beginning to be worked with for its own unique structural possibilities. These recordings need to be seen, then, as something like first steps, though what is not certain at this point is just where they can actually lead – possibly only to new recordings, different mainly in content and degrees of formal awareness. What will be interesting to see is just how far the process itself can finally open up.
P.S. – The remainder of Company 5 consists of two especially good trios with Parker, Braxton, and Honsinger, and two duos with Braxton and Lacy.
Henry Kuntz, 1978