Urs Leimgruber soprano and tenor saxophones, flutes, percussion
Christy Doran guitars, guitar synthesizer
Bobby Burri double-bass
Fredy Studer drums, gongs, percussion
Dom Um Romao percussion, berimbau
Erdman Birke accordion
Compiled by OM
The iconoclastic group known as OM (after John Coltrane’s album of the same name) took root in the musical wilds of Lucerne, Switzerland in 1972, and for the next decade filled its cup with an idiosyncratic blend of rock and free improvisation. Thus branded, its members launched into the electric jazz universe with comets blazing. Their brilliance had lain dormant in the Land of Out of Print for far too long until this program caught the ECM bug at last and made its way into the open. The current program, chosen by the band from its four JAPO releases, reflects an evolution that is both chronological and elliptical.
From Kirikuki (JAPO 60012) we get two representative tracks, with “Holly” firmly establishing OM’s spaces of conviction. The skittering drums of Freddy Studer, restless bass of Bobby Burri, punctuation of guitarist Christy Doran, and prophetic run-ons of reedist Urs Leimgruber bind a unique sonic book of ever-widening proportion. Leimgruber also plays flute, adding a flavor of incantation to “Lips.” Nourished by Doran’s metallic cries, he plants nostalgic flowers in trodden fields, whipping up a rustic and genuinely direct aesthetic.
From Rautionaha (JAPO 60016) comes the title track, of which the interaction between soprano and guitar is of special note. OM’s penchant for highly controlled insanity, its funneling of whistles and stomps, is elsewhere hardly more apparent. The power of making music together comes alive here. “Rautionaha” also boasts a memorable turning point when Doran unleashes a fluid dentist’s drill that sends the rest spiraling into a quiet, more introverted cause. From angular to curved, the contours turn in on themselves in an epic of sheer improvisatory credence.
Om with Dom Um Romao (JAPO 60022) also yields a single track: the enigmatic “Dumini.” Again, soprano and guitar lay out the welcome mat. Cymbals give them a trajectory to follow, a destination forever invisible because it calls from deep within. The flanged guitar cuts through the din like butter, melting the pain away.
Despite the forthrightness of the playing, many of the album’s moments remind us that even the most aggressive heat shelters a coolly beating heart, which is perhaps why Cerberus (JAPO 60032) makes it into the retrospective fully intact. “Dreaming for the People” begins its formula in much the same way as the previous two examples, only here Doran takes a decidedly fragmented approach, flinging packets of salt into the stew. Mystical turns abound thereafter in “Cerberus’ Dance” and “Asumusa,” each showing the breadth of OM’s sensitivity. “At my Ease” elicits watery textures from Doran as the rhythm section inspires some headstrong lyricism from Leimgruber on tenor. The guitarist’s moment in the sun, however, comes in the company of “Earworms,” a masterful hatching of dots and dashes in swirling pools of Morse code. Yet there is nothing so insightful as the final “Eigentlich wollte Johann auf dem Mond den andern Jazz kennenlernen.” This viscous fever dream, filled with galactic whale songs and lost answers, welcomes accordionist Erdman Birke into the fray for a haunting excursion into the soul. With the persistence of a flare drowning in an electronic swamp, it awakens hidden feelings. A radio blurs in and out of vision, intimations of faraway lands and rituals, painstakingly whitewashed until they bow in deference to the ether. In this music we can trace a satellite’s path.
To listen to OM is to witness an evolutionary process in biological time. This superbly assembled collection of music we can taste, smell, and touch, then, holds the key to its own reveal. It has a tinge of ash, a starchy texture, and licks like fire in a burning house, abandoned except for the music that has inhabited it for so long. Its magic has nothing to do with mystery, for it speaks with voices we already have in mind. Whether or not we recognize them is of no consequence. They know us inside and out.
Although OM disbanded in 1982, its members did reunite for a live performance at Switzerland’s 2008 Jazzfestival Willisau. The resulting Willisau (2010, Intakt Records) throws us farther down the rabbit hole and bears seeking out for its playful intensities.