Edward Vesala: Nan Madol (ECM 1077)

Edward Vesala
Nan Madol

Edward Vesala drums, percussion, harp, flutes
Juhani Aaltonen saxophones, bells, flutes, voice
Sakari Kukko flute
Seppo Paakkunainen flute, soprano saxophone
Pentti Lahti soprano saxophone, bass clarinet
Charlie Mariano alto saxophone, flute, nagaswaram
Elisabeth Leistola harp
Recorded April 25/26, 1974 at Alppi Studio, Helsinki
Engineer: Harry Bergman
An ECM Production

If jazz was ever meant to be a religion, its prayers might sound something like Nan Madol. The title means “spaces between,” and no description of this music could be more apt. The album is an eclectic mandala of drones, eruptions of ecstatic liberation, and snatches of melody from both near and far. Influences range from Japanese folk melodies to Alpine herding calls, and all of them strung by a powerful understatement of continuity.

We open our eyes to find ourselves in a field at night in which a nearby forest looms with untold life. Soprano sax verses mingle with the shawm-like nagaswaram, dripping with the luscious slowness of honey from a broken hive as abstract solos bounce over a corroded surface of ever-so-slightly detuned harps. We proceed from meditation to incantation, calling upon the sounds of spirits rather than the spirits of sound. Melodies drag, are picked up, only to drag again: the final paroxysms of a dying organism laid bare for our imaginations. Motifs flit in and out of earshot like radio transmissions struggling to hang on. The instruments weep as if the entire album were nothing but a cathartic ritual. On the surface, the musicians seem unaware of each other, all the while reveling in their secret synergy far beyond the threshold of audibility. This is music on its own plane and we must approach it as we are. There is no middle ground, no meeting point to be had.

This may not be “fun” album to listen to, and certainly not an easy one to describe, but it is rewarding in more metaphysical ways. Far from a jazz album to tap one’s foot to, it is instead a free-form surrender to the possibilities of automatic music. Its mood is inward while its exposition is extroverted and full of exquisite contradictions. If nothing else, the stunning “Areous Vlor Ta” will leave you breathless and vulnerable to the grand Return that brings the listener full circle to where it all began.

Nan Madol JAPO
Original cover

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2 thoughts on “Edward Vesala: Nan Madol (ECM 1077)

  1. What to make of this release? Well, what to make of any of Vesala’s work, really. He is indescribable, and quite unique.

    This was initially a JAPO release (the JAPO vinyl had a sunset cover typical of early ECM; I wish I had one, I am sure it is a collectors item!). I’ve always found the cover on the ECM release moody, nearly sad – but oddly descriptive of the music it contains.

    I am not sure how many Vesala releases I’ve managed to listen through from beginning to end, because to me, his music requires a particular mood…since it really has no easy musical relative.

    But something tells me his music is important and creative, and will reward returns for a lifetime.

    1. I agree with you about needing to be in a particular mood to listen to Vesala. Regardless of what one might think about him, he certainly speaks his own language. I can think of a few films that provoke a similar reaction in me (some middle-period Godard comes to mind); films that, despite their indecipherable moments, communicate to me at a very specific level. After reading some fascinating anecdotes about Vesala, I can see that he had a personality to match the music.

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