Sankt Gerold

Paul Bley, Evan Parker, Barre Phillips

CD18,90 out of print

ECM brought this trio of innovative free jazz veterans together for the first time to make the critically-acclaimed "Time Will Tell" album in 1994 – since then, it has become a popular institution on the touring circuit. "Sankt Gerold" is a live album, taped at the Austrian mountain monastery that has been the site of many distinguished ECM recordings, and it roves through many different moods. Parker and Phillips goad Bley toward some of his most abstract and experimental playing, yet they also respond to his more lyrical improvisational impulses. All three musicians are changed by the context. This is free music making at its purest. If you like Sankt Gerold, then you’d probably like: Bley/Parker/Phillips, Time Will Tell Bley/Peacock/Motian, Not Two, Not One Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, Drawn Inward Barre Phillips, Aquarian Rain Maneri/Phillips/Maneri, Tales of Rohnlief

Featured Artists Recorded

April 1996, Propstei St. Gerold

Original Release Date


  • Sankt Gerold Variations
  • 1Variation 1
    (Barre Phillips, Evan Parker, Paul Bley)
  • 2Variation 2
    (Barre Phillips, Evan Parker, Paul Bley)
  • 3Variation 3
    (Barre Phillips)
  • 4Variation 4
    (Evan Parker)
  • 5Variation 5
    (Evan Parker, Paul Bley)
  • 6Variation 6
    (Paul Bley)
  • 7Variation 7
    (Barre Phillips)
  • 8Variation 8
    (Barre Phillips, Evan Parker, Paul Bley)
  • 9Variation 9
    (Paul Bley)
  • 10Variation 10
    (Evan Parker)
  • 11Variation 11
    (Barre Phillips, Paul Bley)
  • 12Variation 12
    (Evan Parker)
This record is challenging and rewarding. But it's not the least bit unpleasurable. In fact, listening to it is one of the most purely pleasurable things I've done for my ears in awhile. In its dozen tracks, twelve variations, I hear three instrumentalists terrifically, acutely aware of the overtone profiles of their instruments, freely improvising by matching and contrasting harmonics-rich working materials. Resonances, surfaces, interiors, reflections. This active acoustic interplay is enhanced by the gorgeous sonic environment in which the recording was made, the Austrian mountain monastery that gives the disc its name. ... This is lush, tactile music, bristling with pleasures uniquely its own, tightly focused improvising carried out by close listeners with active imaginations.
John Corbett, Down Beat
Bley's originality lies in the way he can synthesise the abstract and the orthodox. His melodically engaging phrases constantly echo the phrase-shapes of the others, and progressively seduce them into following his. Parker, particularly in his most ferocious episodes of seamless tenor-sax intensity, almost defies accompaniment, yet Bley complements him with extraordinary appropriateness. When the pianist drifts into more spacious episodes for his plangent harmonies and oddly angled phrases, Parker sounds far warmer and more conventionally lyrical than he generally does on disc. Meanwhile, Barre Phillips on the one hand offers swirling, smoky bowed textures and on the other creates great tension between his precision of pitch and buzzing-bee abstractions, suggesting the presence of a very deep sitar. The mood is patient, exploratory and reflective, but that takes nothing away from the music's ethereal urgency.
John Fordham, The Guardian
Die Marschrichtung ist vorgegeben: musikalische Streuungen, ein scheinbar loses Ton-Gefüge, dem sich langsam, aber beharrlich Strukturen einzuschreiben beginnen. Solo-Pfade werden beschritten oder solche, deren Tauglichkeit (d)rittlings getestet werden will. Barre Phillips, von Haus aus ein Klang-Sucher, entlässt seine Töne vibrierend in den Raum: percussiv geschlagen, gestrichen, gezupft - massive Statements, dünnhäutige Zeichnungen. Bleys heller, mitunter gleißend hart angeschlagener Flügel bildet dabei den brillanten Kontrast zu Phillips' warmem runden Bass-Sound. Zirkulierende Atemtechnik schließlich bei Parker, einsame Höhen, spiralförmige Patterns - wie Erkundungsflüge im Raum. Auch die zweite Platte des Trios erfüllt die Erwartungen, übertrifft sie sogar. Dass sich bei aller Individualität - sozusagen im freien Fall - eine Dichte einstellt, deren Verzahnungen kontrapunktischen Charakter annehmen, ist ein kleines Wunder.
Tilman Urbach, Fono Forum
Die Aufnahmen zu Sankt Gerold entstanden im April 1996 bei einem Konzert des seither in loser Folge tourenden Trios in der Propstei Sankt Gerold in Österreich. Evan Parker stellt hier seine bekannten expressiven Ausbrüche auf dem Sopransaxofon hintan zugunsten von ruhigen, phantasievollen Verschlingungen, und schafft so Raum für Paul Bleys lyrischen Erfindungsreichtum auf dem Piano - ohnehin entfaltet sich Bleys musikalischer Pioniergeist in den vergangenen Jahren bemerkenswerterweise lediglich auf seinen ECM-Veröffentlichungen. Barre Phillips agiert hier nicht nur als Begleiter auf dem Bass, sondern als perkussiver Ideenlieferant. Ein stilles Meisterwerk.
Albert Koch, Musikexpress
Auf dieser exzellenten Liveeinspielung entwerfen Paul Bley, Evan Parker und Barre Phillips zwölf kammermusikalische Improvisations-Miniaturen von ebenso anrührender wie sperriger Schönheit. Die Altmeister des Free Jazz glänzen in fünf intensiven, farbenreichen Trios, beweisen daneben solistisch höchstes Niveau. Konsequent lotet Bley das Klangpotenzial seines Flügels aus, Parker lässt sein Sopransax in wilder Zirkularatmung schnattern, und Philipps' Bass wird gelegentlich gar zur Trommel. Flirrend, lyrisch - eine tiefgründige Herausforderung!
Sven Thielmann, Stereoplay
Zu einem Variationen-Zyklus gehört eigentlich immer ein Thema. Doch solche Formalien waren dem Dreigestirn Bley/Parker/Phillips schon immer fremd. Die junggebliebenen Altmeister der Improvisation schätzen da hingegen den Pulsschlag der Abstraktion, aus dem sich für sie mehr entwickeln kann als im systematischen Brauchtum. ... Die in der Ferne aufgespürten Wege werden mit poetischer Langatmigkeit im besten Sinne begangen, wobei die Schritte mit Bedacht gewählt sind. Dass dieses Spektrum sich an den Rändern der Meditation bewegt, was jedoch nicht mit Versunkenheit zu verwechseln ist, macht diesen kammermusikalischen Rückzug zu einer etwas anderen, offensiven Gipfelbesteigung.
Guido Fischer, Jazzthetik
In 1994, ECM brought Canadian pianist Paul Bley, English saxophonist Evan Parker, and American bassist Barre Phillips to Oslo for an experimental recording. It marked the first time that the musicians had played as a trio and the first time that Parker and Bley had ever worked together, although Barre Phillips had plenty of history with both of them. The original idea was to initiate some contemporary improvised chamber music that might draw upon aspects of the free jazz tradition, perhaps picking up some threads Jimmy Giuffre (in his trio with Bley) left dangling after the historically crucial 'Fusion', 'Thesis' and 'Free Fall' albums, music in which 'abstraction' and lyricism could co-exist. The 'Time Will Tell' session, however, quickly went beyond this rough blueprint, as the musicians reflected upon a great deal of shared experience, common goals, uncommon listening, and parallel musical ac-tivities over decades of New Jazz experimentation.

Reactions to 'Time Will Tell' were positive: 'A brilliantly conceived trio' (Down Beat); 'The op-portunity to hear Parker in a setting of such brevity and concision is both rare and rewarding' (Fan-fare); 'Bley's aphoristic style, dealing in ambiguity, seems a quite different part of the free spectrum to Parker's passionate energy. But both have an impulse towards the end it all works beauti-fully' (Jazz on CD);'A challenging but highly rewarding record' (Time Out); 'An album of both re-fined lyricism and pleasingly literate energy' (Jazz Journal); 'Exquisite rapport...Parker sets aside his customary fierce intensity to accommodate Bley's preference for more spacious soundscapes. A fasci-nating session' (Gramophone); 'Quiet and careful improvisation that grippingly blends orthodox con-struction and abstract playing...As inviting to non free jazz listeners as this kind of chamber free-jazz gets' (The Guardian, Jazz CD of the Week); 'The title track is a near-perfect illustration of the way three senior players with yard-long CVs and utterly distinctive voices are still able to touch base with their own musical upbringing. Parker's Coltrane inflexions are only the most obvious example; Bley and Phillips dig deep into their own memories as well. A superb album, recommendable to any-one.'(Penguin Guide to Jazz).

The musical success of the alliance prompted Bley/Parker/Phillips to take the project to the road and the group has since become a semi-regular touring institution, appearing at jazz festivals and on the club circuit. On one of their first tours together, in 1996, ECM invited them to make an additional concert at the Propstei Sankt Gerold, the monastery in the Austrian mountains that has been the site of many ECM recordings, including discs by Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble, Giya Kancheli, Paul Giger, Anouar Brahem, Eduard Brunner, Michelle Makarski, Barry Guy/Maya Homburger, and others... The concert was duly recorded, and music drawn from it makes up the disc now presented as 'Sankt Gerold'.

In this live performance, intensities are differently calibrated; the trio playing has grown more de-tailed, more intricate, listening-and-reacting is hyper-alert, and where 'Time Will Tell' alternated between duo and trio improvisations, 'Sankt Gerold' also offers a number of exceptional solo fea-tures. These include three Parker solo pieces, two on soprano, using circular breathing and rhythm patterns in characteristically dazzling ways, and a mysterious concluding improvisation on tenor (a horn he uses only rarely for unaccompanied work). Of Bley's two solos, 'Variation 9' , begins with familiar dark rumblings in the bottom register, announcing the imminent arrival of poetic music that connects to the beginning of Bley's story on ECM, and the peerless solo album 'Open, To Love'. 'Variation 6', in sharp-edged contrast, sounds like bebop by way of Schoenberg. Barre Phillips, mas-terful free bassist, delivers a beautiful arco solo and a long pizzicato feature, which moves from guitar-like fingering to expressive, percussive attack.

In the five years that have passed since 'Time Will Tell' all three musicians have surfaced in other contexts on ECM. Barre Phillips is, at the time of writing, on the road with Joe and Mat Maneri, taking further the music begun on another production project, 'Tales of Rohnlief'. Evan Parker has issued two albums with his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, 'Toward The Margins' and 'Drawn Inward' and produced a third, Kenny Wheeler's 'A Long Time Ago'. Paul Bley surprised many with the recon-vening of his innovative 1960s trio with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian, whose 'Not Two, Not One' was their first collaborative recording in 35 years.

'Sankt Gerold' bears out an observation made by Jon Balleras in Down Beat a decade ago: 'Bley has the wonderful ability to allow his music to move where it will. The effect is one of total freshness, of music that has never been heard before and never will be heard again.' Or as Bley himself puts it: 'For me, the only obsession is changing the music.'