The Case of the Missing Pearl

Globe Unity Orchestra
FMP : 1976

Enrico Rava, Manfred Schoof, and Kenny Wheeler, trumpet; Gunter Christmann, Albert Mangelsdorff, and Paul Rutherford, trombone; Peter Brotzmann, Anthony Braxton, Gerd Dudek, Evan Parker, and Michel Pilz, reeds; Alexander von Schlippenbach, piano; Peter Kowald, bass, tuba; Buschi Niebergall, bass; Paul Lovens, percussion.

You want a band? Try craigslist. You want a spectacle? Dial up some Europeans. Back in 2006, when we presented a couple of smaller jewels from the Globe Unity Orchestra’s meisterwerk, we deliberately steered clear of the title track, thinking it too long, too massive, too sprawling, too…too.

But that was then. We’re not holding back now, and we hope you can come along for the (25 minute) ride; it’s worth it. Far from the unrelenting barrage the Globe Unity was capable of (dig the one-key piano), “Pearl” is often surprisingly delicate, squeezing out sparks from cells within the larger band. On a cursory listen it’s easy to hear this as a mere exemplar of discrete and knotty Euro jazz, but give it your full attention and the plot thickens.

From the start, the song generates an unusual dramatic tension. Each of the stark opening sections seems to be building toward something — a crescendo or maybe a rendezvous with the band — and we anticipate the twist lurking around the next note. The players menace and tease. This is the sort of soundtrack that could inspire its own noir novel, albeit one by Robbe-Grillet. But it would come complete with double-crosses, vanishing treasures, shamuses framed for murder, rollicking car chases, woozy femmes fatale, detonated buildings, and the patented Big Finish.

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We planned this post while ignorant of the significant big band (or bigband) conversation going on around us. We came to it first via Ethan, who pointed us to Darcy’s originating document, which then drove us back to the primary source material, at Rifftides. The discussion has centered around the Basie/Jones/Brookmeyer axis, primarily; not our area at all. Braxton’s Creative Orchestra gets a nod or two, and Muhal Abrams is listed as one of the key charts for the syllabus. If any readers want to chime in further re: favorites at the out end of the big band spectrum, we’re all (big) ears.

Those in consumerist mode would do well to check the Atavistic Unheard Music offering 67/70. It’s a sweet eMusic deal, too, if you’re so inspired.

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