Collin Walcott sitar, tabla
John Abercrombie guitar
Dave Holland bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded March 1975 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher
The late, great Collin Walcott made his proper ECM debut on Cloud Dance (after an appearance three years earlier on Trios/Solos), where he was joined by the Gateway trinity—John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette—for one of his most powerful albums ever to grace ECM’s vinyl (and later, digital, thanks to a vital Touchstone series reissue) grooves. The marrow-warming twang of Walcott’s sitar sets up the opening “Margueritte” to be a long raga, when suddenly Abercrombie’s electric appears in kind, beckoning a chill entourage of bass and drums and touching off a pair of graceful solos from Abercrombie and Holland. The album’s remainder is fleshed out by a variety of intimate configurations. “Night Glider” and “Vadana” both feature guitar, bass, and sitar, the latter two instruments feeding beautifully off one another, the guitar weaving in and out where it may. The two duets between Walcott and Holland, however, are really where this album gilds its worth. Our frontman lays out plush carpets of tabla and sitar on “Prancing” and “Eastern Song,” respectively, over which Holland takes stock of every variation of pattern and thread count. The second of these pieces, while the briefest of the album, is also one of its most mesmerizing. Contrary to what the titles might have us believe, these are all genuinely realized pieces where the word “exotic” is but another puff of smoke in the breeze. And so, the heavy tabla and shawm-like guitar of “Scimitar” describes not the weapon wielded in the hands of countless white actors in uninformed filmic productions, but rather an exploration of the object on its own terms, tracing forms and histories, battles and silences alike, with due abandon. So, too, with the final and title cut that brings DeJohnette back into the mix for an animated closer.
The telephone wires on the cover are like the strings of some large instrument, with the sky as its sound box. Its clouds don’t so much dance as perform, caressing endless waves of voices careening through the ether. The joy of Cloud Dance is that it makes those voices intelligible. Fans of Oregon, of which Walcott was of course an integral part, need look no further for likeminded contemplation.