Kasper Tom/Alexander von Schlippenbach/Rudi Mahall

Abstract Window
WhyPlayJazz RS032

Despite identical instrumentation, no one could confuse this group with the classic Benny Goodman trio. For a start Danish drummer Kasper Tom is a subtler and more cooperative percussionist than Gene Krupa. German clarinetist Rudi Mahall has the sense of humor that Goodman lacked, and his skilful improvisations are usually on the bass clarinet. Plus German keyboardist Alexander von Schlippenbach may have bored into many piano styles yet he never alluded to Teddy Wilson garnished elegance.

All of this CD’s tracks exhibit the same sort of intense gestalt that Goodman, Wilson and Krupa had 80 years before though. Consider “Harpy” for instance. While the pianist’s glissandi and rhythms may be closer to James P. Johnson, an influence on Thelonious Monk, von Schlippenbach’s main man, and Mahall’s echoing timbres are as notable in the chalumeau register which wasn’t Goodman’s favorite, as they are in the coloratura, the spontaneous animation the trio exhibits is as defining for the early 21st Century as Goodman trio’s was for the mid 20th.

Don’t think that Tom, who regularly plays with saxophonist Philipp Gropper and trumpeter Tomasz Dabrowski; Mahall who has partnered trumpeter Axel Dörner and guitarist Olaf Rupp; or von Schlippenbach, whose achievements since the 1960s include The Globe Unity Orchestra and his trio with Evan Parker and Paul Lovens, have suddenly become swing revivalists either. As the CD title says, the open window here is suitably abstract. But atonality for its own sake is as missing here as nuance would have been in a 1930s Krupa drum extravaganza. In a contrasting vein, Tom’s solo spot on “First Impression” is an object lesson in percussion diplomacy, blending confidence and finesse into thematic extensions on a tune otherwise characterized by the pianist’s tremolo stropping and the clarinetist’s penny-whistle-like pitched bites. In fact, even Mahall turns to recapping fragments of the head by the finale.

At almost 12 minutes, the CD’s showstopper is instructively titled “Change Is the Only Constant”. Mahall’s smeared yelps and near-swallowed broken tones, von Schlippenbach’s fierce key plunks and Tom’s Mylar slaps and claps resemble refined New Thing outings. But along with broken-octave circulation among the three, are relaxed swing inferences that after textures are shredded into particles, reconstitute the piece into a chromatic whole. Another illustration of this strategy is “Fragments” where like adding cold milk to scalding hot coffee to make it more palatable the pianist’s flexible comping joins Tom’s prominent ratamacues and Mahall’s cutting vibrations to end the tune with mutual musings not militancy. And, among the backwards and forwards reed snarls and keyboard hammering on “Full Plate”, there are enough Monk quotes and contrafacts to make this improvisation a chapeau-tip to von Schlippenbach.

Historically this trio’s sound may not be as influential as Goodman’s was, but the performance here is of the same high quality.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Portrait 2. Change Is the Only Constant 3. Abstract Window 4. Beyoglu Blues 5. Close-Up 6. Fragments 7. First Impression 8. Casus Belli 9. Harpy 10. Full Plate 11. Heavy Accent

Personnel: Rudi Mahall (clarinet, bass clarinet); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano) and Kasper Tom Christiansen (drums)