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15 February 2016

Globe Unity - 'Improvisations' (Japo)

I made a typo on the first draft of this and actually called the band "Glove Unity", which is a nice concept, indeed. This is a good test of the new turntable - so far I've noticed that jazz sounds far better than rock, as thicker mixes struggle a bit for clarity, but the turntable (which I got secondhand) has a pretty old cartridge/stylus on it, which I really should replace. I remembered this being nothing more than a giant ball of noise, but I'm confusing it with another Globe Unity album I have on CD. This has its moments of ball-like fury, as anything with 15 musicians playing at once will, but it's actually a lot more delicate and spacious than I remembered. Side one starts off very slowly, with everyone feeling each other out. The instrumentation is cryptically referred to with two-letter abbreviations and I think it's clear to me (ss = soprano sax, fl = flugelhorn --  or is it flute?, etc.) but it's not always clear who is what. For example, both Peter Brötzmann and Michael Pilz are credited to bass clarinet, though it's the third of three instruments for Brötzmann, so you're left to guess who is what. At the beginning there's a nice soft little lick played on that instrument, left to echo into the beautiful air-space that this vinyl pressing really clearly captures, and I'm guessing it's Pilz because it doesn't sound like a rocket launcher firing. But who knows? There's two of just about everything - well, not exactly - but only one drummer here, Paul Lovens, and he's content to sit back for long passages, just adding some cymbals or other percussion. And Alex von Schlippenbach, the leader of the whole thing is absent for long stretches. It's not until the end of side 1, when this group finally explodes in the manner I spent the whole side waiting for, that his piano really starts chopping through everything. The group interplay is fantastic, and even at its thickest, there is a remarkable balance between the different forces. It's at times tentative, and at times confrontational, but you don't feel like these musicians are battling in a way to establish dominance. I love European free jazz, because it seems to avoid any ego driven basis of much American soloing and focus on a group mentality; plus, later Dutch efforts start to reincorporate traditional swing elements and melody in a way that's really remarkable. There's no Dixieland flavours here, but as any record with both Derek Bailey and Evan Parker, a hell of a lot of boundary pushing. The end of the record is all strings, where the cello by Tristan Honsinger interplays with the bassists (Buschi Niebergall and the great unsung Peter Kowald, who I think is the Robert Horry of Euro free jazz); something is done to the bass, maybe the way its recorded, that makes it sound like some space age synth affect. I'm not sure if they actually used any effects or if it's just an accident of studio sonorities (or dust on my stylus??) but it feels like a spiritual connection to out-there European NWW list music like Heldon or Mahogany Brain, if only for a minute. Though I've pointed out the few musicians I can clearly identify (due to their instrumentation being unique), this isn't really a showcase for any one player, but rather one of the few examples of 15 people coming together to make something great together. I don't know if freely improvised music has moved very far beyond this record (recorded in September, 1977) but that's also not the point - the point is the lineup, for these musicians sound distinctly like these musicians when in this combination. And a joyous sound it is.

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