Paul Hubweber – trombone | Frank Paul Schubert – alto & soprano saxophone | Alexander von Schlippenbach – piano | Clayton Thomas – bass | Willi Kellers – drums, percussion
Recorded live at B-Flat, Berlin, on 24th February, 2014 by Alexis Baskind. Mixed by Alexis Baskind. Design by Oskaras Anosovas. Mastered by Arūnas Zujus at MAMAstudios. Produced by Danas Mikailionis. Co-producer – Valerij Anosov. Photos by Viola Förster-v.d. Lühe
Tracklist CD 1: 1. Come to Blows [49’39] Tracklist CD 2: 1. Intricacies [44’40] 2. Encore [14’34]
Paul Hubweber & Willi Kellers | Photo by Viola Förster v.d. Lühe
Alexander von Schlippenbach & Clayton Thomas | Photo by Viola Förster v.d. Lühe
Paul Hubweber, Clayton Thomas & Willi Kellers | Photo by Viola Förster v.d. Lühe
Alexander von Schlippenbach & Frank Paul Schubert | Photo by Viola Förster v.d. Lühe
Willi Kellers | Photo by Viola Förster v.d. Lühe
Frank Paul Schubert | Photo by Viola Förster v.d. Lühe
Double CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)
As titles go, Intricacies stands as one of the more appropriate. Not so much in the sense of obscurity or being difficult to understand, but rather with reference to the entanglements engendered by the ear stretching five way interplay. Recorded in the German capital’s B-Flat club in early 2014 the 2 CD set captures a multi-generational crew of Berlin-based improvisers on two lengthy spontaneously generated tracks and a shorter encore. What they create is recognizably free jazz, in that rhythmic momentum is a key component and the instruments fulfill their conventional roles, though only occasionally do blues connotations surface.
Chief among the protagonists, veteran pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach channels Monk by way of Cecil Taylor as his nagging comping and muscular clusters adds an architectural solidity to the venture. Trombonist Paul Hubweber proves expressive and full of ideas, veering between broad smears and muted groans. In his imposing lines, he often plays the straight man to saxophonist Frank Paul Schubert’s voluble iterations. Less of a noise player than some, the reedman’s narrative proceeds in bursts of abstract but not dissonant emphasis. On bass Clayton Thomas offers a sturdy presence, varying his skittering pizzicato with bow work which shimmers and swoops, while drummer Willi Kellers lays down a rumbling percussive carpet and punctuates in conversational flurries.
One can only marvel at their collective skill, as they maintain an unbroken flow of ideas from which new directions emerge and progress via an intuitive logic. Schlippenbach constantly fuels the unit’s internal dialogue by devising motifs which the horns can pick up if they choose. When they do phrases zip around the group, forming transitory touchstones amid the uncharted journey. The reverse happens too, notably when Schubert alternates breathy long notes against an urgent staccato, picked up as a riff by the pianist to energize the ensemble during the latter stages of the near 50-minute “Come To Blows.”
Passages of garrulous interaction where all five hold forth are leavened by more open transparent sections of spare meditation. One such interlude of unaccompanied piano in the extended title cut morphs into lurching barrelhouse. There’s obviously a strong connection between the saxophonist and the pianist, in evidence at various points in this performance. Here Schubert supplements the rolling locomotive vamp with a hoarse overblown alto saxophone squawk to forge one of the most exciting episodes in the set. Further confirmation of deep listening arises later in the same piece when Hubweber’s boppish patterns prompt a sequence of on-the-fly syncopation in which the horns and rhythm gloriously interweave.
It’s a set that rewards those with the stamina to stick with the twists and turns of the long form. Ultimately what you get is just the sort of consistent quality you would expect from such masters of the genre.
In one of my last reviews I highlighted the underrepresented German saxophonist Stefan Keune and praised NoBusiness for releasing his great trio album Fractions (with Dominic Lash and Steve Noble). Today, this review could be called Part II of a mini series about German musicians that deserve more attention and which NoBusiness has taken under their wings (Part III will follow in autumn).
Trombonist Paul Hubweber (born 1954) is one of the most remarkable players of the second generation in German free jazz. He has worked with many great European improvisers, e.g. with Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra, Peter Kowald, John Butcher, Martin Theurer, Paul Lytton, Jaap Blonk and recently with young pianist Philip Zoubek.
Hubweber’s work mainly contains solo and duo recordings on which he often experiments with electrified trombone and additional effects like tube screamer, echolette or harmonizer.
Around the turn of the century he started PAPAJO, a trio consisting of himself (Paul), Paul Lovens (dr) and John Edwards (b), with which he released two excellent records on EMANEM and Cadence. However, Hubweber’s music is rather poorly documented (discogs lists just 16 albums).
Therefore it is all the more welcome that this release presents him as part of a generation-spanning project with Frank Paul Schubert (as, ss), Alexander von Schlippenbach (p), Clayton Thomas (b) and Willi Kellers (dr). They called their recording Intricacies, which is an almost programmatic title since it’s a lesson in filigree playing, in listening and stepping back. And it is also an album about taking chances and elegant transitions.
When he was asked if it was even possible to make mistakes in free jazz it was Evan Parker who said that you could consider missing the right moment for a contribution as a mistake because this moment will never come back. Intricacies could be regarded as a perfect example of seizing the right moment and about the subtleties of improvising. The musicians have a feel for the right tone, they build their contributions on excellent skills and on “the capability of making connections with their instruments, of matching, complementing or contrasting the timbres and textures of the other players“, as German critic Peter Niklas Wilson once put it.
Additionally, the whole set was carefully elaborated. The two long pieces on this album have a similar structure: At the beginning there are tutti improvisations (although of different intensity), followed by quieter passages of smaller formations, then there is room for solo parts (Hubweber in “Come To Blown“, Schlippenbach and Schubert in “Intricacies“ – all three are wonderful). Then the tracks seem to fray or even collapse, but at the end the musicians succeed in building up tension again before the whole band comes together to end each piece in a finale furioso.
What is also exceptionally great is the fallback on jazz history, respectively on sets of criteria the players have established in their career. Schlippenbach, for example, starts the second piece as he has often started the second set of a Schlippenbach Trio gig – by playing the interior of the piano using mellets. He also displays his passion for Thelonious Monk during his solo in the title track and when sax, bass and drums drop in giving the track additional drive we are listening to classical hard bop – wild, jazzy, elegant.
Intricacies offers a lot free jazz aficionados like: outstanding interplay, energetic outbreaks, introspective moments, harmonic twists and even classic melodic swing interludes. Plus, if you were not familiar with him before, you can discover an underestimated trombonist.
Intricacies was recorded in Berlin’s jazz club B-Flat in February 2014 and is available on double CD.
An old-time, Free Jazz session in the best sense of the term, Intricacies is a distinctive no-holds-barred improv by five Berlin-based players who overcome any oxymoronic juxtaposition of the music’s definition. Recorded live in a Berlin nightspot, the two extended tracks and one encore also confirm that an interest in exploratory music isn’t confined to one era. Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach was one of the pioneers of German Free Jazz in the mid-1960s and still works constantly. Trombonist Paul Hubweber and drummer Willi Kellers are part of the next generation of players; while saxophonist Frank Paul Schubert and Australian bassist Clayton Thomas become involved just before the turn of the century. Like guild craftsmen who passed their honed skills on through example from one generation to the next, there’s no age gap here since each participant has worked with the others in many circumstances.
Although parallels exist between this quintet and saxophonist Archie Shepp’s various bands that contrasted his rugged sax tones with those from trombonist Roswell Rudd and pianist Dave Burrell, here it’s Hubweber who solos repeatedly and at great length. As his whinnying snarls and grating plunger tones splatter and splash all over the tracks like drips from an action painter’s brush, he nearly isolates himself from the others. Luckily Schubert’s soprano sax beeps draw him into closer cooperation on the title track. At junctures, such as on that track, the two move into more of a give-and-take, with breaks, pumps and shrills expanding into raucous avant-garde quasi-Dixieland as if they were actually Pee Wee Russell and Miff Mole. The saxophonist is also capable of producing what sounds like two separate tones emanating from a single reed line. When that exercise in oblique modernism arises, the pianist turns away from his key clipping, and keyboard pummeling to dynamic chording touching on stride and boogie-woogie – perhaps he’s channeling James P. Johnson, Soon a mercurial contest of rampaging percussiveness has evolved between von Schlippenbach and Kellers in a characteristic Cecil Taylor meets Sunny Murray fashion. By the final minutes as the trombonist’s staccato blasts are calmingly mated with uncompromising tenor saxophone growls, made more pacific as Schubert goes it alone. The ending isn’t without distinctive key stabs on the pianist’s part, but by example the saxophonist appears to have winnowed everyone’s overblowing tendencies into a satisfying conclusion.
Like a series of doodles in an artist’s sketchbook that sketch an idea from various angles, the even lengthier “Come to Blows” rushes through many more theme variations. Here the trombonist so stretches his kinetic blasts that multiphonic grace notes in the form of whinnies and whorls threatens to replace sonic unity. This time it’s Von Schlippenbach’s contrapuntal forays and vocalized yelps from the saxophonist that make the smoothing connection. A miniaturization of the narrative with singular string plinks from Thomas and a discursive hunt-and-peck equation from the pianist serves as an appropriate cooling off period until quivering polyphony from all concerned blanket Hubweber’s remaining tremolo blasts. An upward cry from the reedist, weaving the already suggested timbres into a more measured interface and a supportive climax is reached.
An obvious feast those whose craving for red-meat improvisation is best satiated with free-range blowing, Intricacies provides all the protein necessary for a full-course dinner. Those with different dietary concerns though may yarn for a vegetarian course to cut the musical cholesterol.