The Globe Unity Orchestra was -- intermittently between 1966 and the late 1980s -- a truly remarkable thing: a big, big band playing free music. They weren't totally free, of course; there was some structure. But for the most part, the Orchestra, under the leadership of pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, gathered the finest improvising musicians in Europe and set them loose. The form of most of the group's workouts will be familiar to anyone who's heard John Coltrane's landmark 1965 album Ascension. The ensemble sound is a rumbling, throbbing roar, which goes and goes for 30 or 40 minutes at a stretch, interrupted by erupting solos from the various members of the Orchestra. And when your band includes players like saxophonists Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker, and Willem Breuker, or guitarist Derek Bailey, or drummers like Han Bennink, Paul Lovens, and Can's Jaki Liebezeit, things can get kinda fierce.
This is made evident on Globe Unity '67 and '70. The disc gathers two previously unreleased performances by two different versions of the troupe, each originally broadcast on German radio. The band is 18 members strong each time, though the lineup varies. The 1967 piece is the stronger of the two, if only because it's 34 minutes long -- nearly twice the length of the 1970 performance -- which means the contributors get more time to stretch out. Particular highlights of the 1967 date include bass solos from Peter Kowald and J.B. Niebergall, and the somewhat rare occurrence of Brötzmann on alto saxophone, rather than his usual tenor. Bailey plays guitar on the 1970 date, offering scrabbling, noisy outbursts which make the listener wonder how he arrived at the ascetic, almost autistic sounds he's been offering lately. It all congeals into a rip-roaring hour of blare, well worth the time of anyone with an ear for adventure.