Sven-Ake Johansson & Alex Von Schlippenbach | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sven-Ake Johansson & Alex Von Schlippenbach 

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Swedish drummer Sven-Ake Johansson was a key player in the shackle-busting European free-jazz explosion of the late 60s: he played on Peter Brotzmann classics like For Adolphe Sax and Machine Gun and in the great quintet led by trumpeter Manfred Schoof, and since the mid-70s he's been involved in a regular duo with Alex von Schlippenbach. But his terrific new album, Six Little Pieces for Quintet (Hatology), is something of a throwback in that it eschews the scene's ongoing obsession with muscle-flexing free improv in favor of a series of lovely pulse-driven vehicles that embrace their connection with jazz tradition. The album features a spectacular group--trumpeter Axel Dörner, bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall, pianist Sten Sandell, and bassist Matthias Bauer--ripping through the drummer's simple but effective three- and four-note heads to unleash a marvelous array of solos; Johansson's ability to maintain momentum while occasionally subdividing or collapsing the meter gives the music a buoyancy you don't often hear in modern free jazz. Although the structures hark back to the 60s, the skills and vocabulary of the players--particularly of Dörner, who can veer from fat-toned lyricism to an imitation of a car engine turning over in the blink of an eye--are thoroughly informed by present-day extended technique. The soloists are in constant motion, but they'll also take their sweet time over some serendipitous bit of pure sound. For Wednesday's gig Johansson, Dorner, and Mahall will be joined by Schlippenbach and local bassist Kent Kessler; they may play pieces from the new album or modern standards as Johansson, Schlippenbach, and Dorner did on Smack Up Again (Two-Nineteen). On Saturday Johansson and Schlippenbach will give solo performances in celebration of their new releases on John Corbett's Unheard Music Series imprint: Schlingerland, a 1972 Johansson solo album that at times brings to mind the rhythms of long-distance running--particularly on the sprint to the finish line--and Hunting the Snake, a superb previously unreleased 1975 performance by Schlippenbach's quartet with Evan Parker, Paul Lovens, and Peter Kowald. Hopefully Johansson and Schlippenbach will perform together as well; on the recently issued Live 1976/77 (FMP) their intuititive give-and-take is seasoned with sly humor. Wednesday, November 22, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. Next Saturday, November 25, 7 PM, Renaissance Society, Cobb Hall, University of Chicago, 5811 S. Ellis; 773-702-8670.



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