|Slightly out of step with their European peers since inception, the Schlippenbach Trio’s fondness for the American jazz canon is persistent and well publicized. This new travelogue of two winter tours hammers that point home once again, in both musical and visual terms. An essay authored by the pianist himself humorously recounts the banal particulars of the many kilometers commuted by car (upwards of 6000). An accompanying slideshow of photos contains several conspicuous representatives of the road trip listening library, among them Freddie Redd’s The Connection and Sonny Rollins Live in London, Vol. 1, sources of inspiration that might be hard to conjecture cold but make perfect sense when revealed. The music is every bit as good as you might expect, divided into two long slabs from a pair of Cologne concert and preserved in exceptional sound.
At this point in the trio’s career, the onset of certain predictability would seem forgivable. Fortunately, they’re still in the practice of plying surprise. Parker varies the playing field by scaling back solely to tenor. The slant means that his customary circular breathing spotlight (heard two-thirds into the first piece) is channeled through the larger horn rather than the more common soprano receptacle. While not as saturated in scurrying split tones and mainly resigned to the instrument’s upper register it still makes for a galvanizing upending of expectations. Also deviating from past paths in this context is his duet passage with Schlippenbach that takes shape during the shorter second piece. Parker incongruously brings to mind Stan Getz in his porous phrasing and the mannered melodic interplay works as direct corollary to his earlier Psi projects with pianist Stan Tracey. As the requisite unassuming member of the outfit, Lovens is his usual dynamic, telepathic self, moving from metallic roar to whisper behind his “selected” kit of drums and cymbals and engaging Schlippenbach in several swiftly dancing duels that find each trying to out-percuss the other. The only minor miscues come with a preface of sparse reverberating pedal dampened tones on the second piece and a terse fade at the close. The former is an earnest detour that drags on a bit too long and pales in comparison to the provocative action that comes after.
These three players are well-established experts at long-form improvisation. They remain at the respective peaks of their powers. Some may view this latest release as too akin to past projects. Listen closely and the differences reveal themselves. True, the tools are the same, but the details in the grand edifices erected are not. - Derek Taylor