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Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra: Live in Japan ’96

Unlike pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach’s earlier large aggregation, the free music pioneering Globe Unity Orchestra, the Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra was conceived as a composer’s forum as much as an improviser’s. In addition to Schlippenbach’s own provocative scores, the 10-year-old BCJO has commissioned works from Carla Bley, Kenny Wheeler, and others. The BJCO initially intended to use Berlin musicians exclusively, but has become an international unit, which now includes a sizable Japanese contingent including pianist and co-conductor Aki Takase, and such renowned English improvisers as saxophonist Evan Parker, trumpeter Henry Lowthar, and trombonist Paul Rutherford. Live in Japan ’96 provides a fine one-disc synopsis of its evolution.

The program is evenly split between compositions by Schlippenbach and Takase and repertory items, including a Takase-arranged medley of Eric Dolphy compositions (“The Prophet,” “Serene,” and “Hat and Beard”); Schlippenbach’s extrapolation of W.C.. Handy’s “Way Down South Where The Blues Began;” and Willem Breuker’s semi-sweet take on the Gordon Jenkins chestnut, “Goodbye.” Yet, some of the most freely improvised passages of the program occur in the Dolphy suite (Rutherford’s duet with drummer Paul Lovens harkens back to their ’70s collaborations, while Parker’s unaccompanied soprano solo is a testament to the ongoing vitality of his 30-year exploration of multiphonic textures).

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