FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


Alexander von Schlippenbach


"20th Anniversary"

When J. E. Behrendt writes in his book that we were the first to play pure improvised jazz in a big orchestral formation, we should not set too much store by it - although he's right, of course. Many other fellow musicians had similar ideas at the time, and even before the 60s the history of jazz had reached a point where first attempts were being made to break the bounds of tradition.

Accordingly we had already learned from Tristano, Taylor and Ornette Coleman, and also heard Schönberg and worked alongside Bernd Alois Zimmermann when in 1966 a quirk of fate saw us appearing at the "Berliner Jazztagen". We were heaved on stage at the Philharmonic Hall with a 14 member orchestra to play a piece entitled "Globe Unity" which I wrote especially for the occassion, and we immediately provoked a scandal which was to become the start of a real career.

GLOBE UNITY, damned outright by the press ("male nonsense"; "A pandemonium in which Peter Brötzmann played the part of Satan") and also highly praised ("A fusion of jazz and musical art"). gained fame more or less over night, and under the sponsorship and aegis of J. E. Behrendt it went from strenght to strenght. In the same year our first record entitled "Globe Unity" appeared on SABA. In 1967 we made an appearance at the "Donaueschinger Tagen für Neue Musik" (Festival of new music in Donaueschingen) with 18 musicians. The following years saw us appearing at almost all important European jazz festivals. Things got continually better until 1970 when an argument about a piece which Krysztof Penderecki had promised to write for us to, play at the 1970 "Berliner Jazztagen" in the Congress Hall, but failed to deliver, ended all work with Behrendt.

The ensuing "Wuppertal Period" from 1970 until about 1977 saw a lot of major changes in and varying influences on the band's programme and its approach to music. Had it previously played pieces written exclusively by me, which more or less evolved from our new perception of music (free atonality, cancelled metres etc.) and avoided traditional forms and elements, from now on, largely due to the influence of Peter Kowald who at that time conducted the band with me, our programme became a lot more colourful. This gave us a new impetus, but also led to considerable confusion - last but not least because of the inclusion of political elements according to the movements of the time (socialisation of the arts etc.) - and this split the band into a "left" and a "right" wing. Although the press had scorned us back in 1966 as being a "motley crowd" because Brötzmann didn't wear a tie and Mani Neumeier wore an African style tunic and a Fellah's cap when appearing at the Philharmonic Hall, now a rough Prolo Look was the order of the day (bald heads, beards, enormous working-men's trousers with massive braces). A strong Dutch influence made itself felt and musical wit could be heard as well as Eisler and Kurt Weill in arrangements by Willem Breuker, which were in part absolutely brilliant. We tried to fraternise with the town's brass band at the Moers festival, and went on the streets Saturday lunchtime to play in the pedestrian precinct in Elberfeld with the result that some of Wuppertal's housewives were probably so surprised that they almost dropped their week's groceries. A lot of music fell by the wayside, and precious tones emanating from Kenny Wheeler's trumpet often enough want unheard, but it was all good practice and this phase was of great importance in the development of our style.

The most significant recording of this "Wuppertal Era" is to be found on the Po Torch release "Jahrmarkt" (Local-Fair). This was a Kowald project recording GLOBE UNITY and various other ensembles coming from different directions to converge on Laurentius Square in Elberfeld in Wuppertal. The way in which their music gradually merged in a melting pot of sound was captured on tape.

From 1970 onwards GLOBE UNITY worked intensively with Jost Gebers and Free Music Production. This period was of utmost importance for our recordings and for our further development. We produced five LPs and two singles with FMP. On several occasions we were haven the opportunity to appear in Berlin in concerts organised by the FMP such as the "Workshop Freie Musik" and the "Total Music Meeting" where at that time the largest and best audiences for our kind of music were to be found. Our first recording for ECM entitled "Improvisations" represents the end of this "second stage" of our history. After that Brötzmann and Paul Rutherford dropped out. Kowald and I also drifted further and further apart, until one fine evening after lenghtly discussions which result in a fight in a pub in Wuppertal, this chapter also closed.

I carried on alone with GLOBE UNITY and we made good progress with Brötzmann's compass to show us the way - a musical ship of fools on tour! The Goethe Institute sent us halfway around the world, and we took Free-Jazz from Toronto via New York and Bombay into the very jungles of Java. The press went wild and accused the Goethe Institute of being cultural imperialists. Journalistic swords were crossed regularly in "Jazzpodium" and the "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik". All this added to our fame especially when in 1981 we won the DOWNBEAT "Jazzpoll" and two more records were released on ECM. The Goethe Institute was courageous enough despite press hostility to send us on a tour of Israel, Greece, Yugoslavia and the USA. In 1986 we celebrated our 20th anniversary in the Philharmonic Hall in Berlin (recorded on this CD). A year later we played together for the last time to an audience of 92.000 at the jazz festival in Chicago.

"20th Anniversary" reflects our style, as it developed over the past 20 years. An "improvised form" defined as vaguely as possible as an "Orchestral Concert of Free Jazz" and often criticised for the sold which keep on following one after the other. On this subject I must add that our musicians also wanted to (and we meant to be) heard outside the "Tutti" improvisations. The other set-up of our stage-show with its pure improvisation is thus justified by an inner musical necessity. Even if this remained more or less the same every time, our pieces were all very different. The unexpected moulded us just as much as the musician's capabilities and the long mutual training in "Live Situations" in front of an audience did.

"20 Anniversary" is dedicated to all musicians who ever played with GLOBE UNITY.

Translation: Margaret Neuendorf

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