Twelve Tone Tales, Vol. 1 & 2

[Intakt Records,]

While the world was asleep, Alexander von Schlippenbach was busy creating stunning imagery on his piano.  In the liner notes, Bert Noglik asks the question "How can a life's work be harvested in three days?"  Three days being the span of time it took Schlippenbach to record these two enormous sets of music.  Though there is one Monk cover ["Trinkle Trinkle"], don't expect Monk covers this time around.  "Monk's Casino" [also released by Intakt] proved an already magnificent tour-de-force in that department.  For this session, Schlippenbach's biggest worry was how to squeeze all of this material he had flying around in his head onto two small CDs.  Sure, certain repetitive motifs creep into the program, but these are used to refresh the listener's memory.  Almost as if to say - listen to this passage here, I'll come back to this later.  In using these motifs, Schlippenbach is referencing particular moments in time and giving the music a spatial quality.  Listen to "All Jazz is Free" [a perfect spin on the music the man has made over the last four decades].  The way he strikes the keys, he's almost pondering his next move [though there may be a master plan in his head, who knows?].  When the time is right, he strikes - not with a gush of fury - but with a soft-handed, though level-headed approach.  The word that comes to mind when you hear Schlippenbach solo is articulate.  Very precisely timed and spaced in such a way the mind's ear gets a full grasp of the width of what's being communicated; he's got a unique gift for the piano.  Instead of Monk, he tries his hand at Eric Dolphy [three covers end up on Vol. 2].  The warm take of "Out There" proves to be a winner, though Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are" is no less melodically pleasing.  One of the best parts of these recordings is the way he can easily shift between traditional jazz, improvised music and modern composition.  While the inclusion of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's "Allegro Agitato" is a nod to modern composition, his outward improvised fury on a piece such as "Off Your Coat Hassan" is just as important a nod to creative free music that he's been championing for decades.  Much in the same way he structured his pieces with Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, here the structure remains a hidden allegory for all that he has tendered and thought about through the years. The story of the "Twelve Tone Tales" is a rich walk in the park with a good book.  Narrated in precise detail and coloured with rich shades of the whole palette.  Enjoyed as much in a grand theatre as a small jazz club, "Twelve Tone Tales" is a document worth cherishing.

- Tom Sekowski

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