David Darling: Journal October (ECM 1161)

 

David Darling
Journal October

David Darling acoustic and electric cello, voice, percussion
Recorded October 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Having recently seen the film adaptation of James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy, which cycles through the book’s eight manifold insights on the path to another, the number nine is fresh in my mind. And so, as I pore through the sonic pages of David Darling’s Journal October on this fallen winter night, I inevitably see each of its nine tracks as an insight in and of itself. Darling’s music is one of ECM’s most invaluable treasures, and one could hardly find anything more beautiful than what he has left behind in its archive. His electric cello bays like a resurrected voice, an insight in and of itself into the lucidity of “Slow Return.” This introductory track is also the longest, drawing every jagged line like the echo of a mountainous horizon. From this potent doorway issues a host of transient forms.

Darling shifts the chronology of his recollections, grafting each to the new experiences of these studio performances. Their breath fills the album’s two solo cello improvisations, each of which cycles through grief’s most harrowing stages toward an inner peace. Rapture comes through in his involuntary vocalizations, in the dissonances that feed them. Darling foregrounds his body in “Solo Cello And Voice,” a self-division of high reaches and archaeological digs, while “Far Away Lights” gives us a taste of his pizzicato technique, which on his electric cello resounds like a tambura undone.

Two Darling touchstones—“Minor Blue” and “Clouds”—also make their first appearance in Journal October, both revisited in his masterful 8-String Religion. The former comes across with more impactful effect, less obscured by gossamer veils of reverb. The latter’s rocking ostinato buoys atmospheric vocals with vulnerable clarity, amplified harmonics ringing out with all the power of a waterfall compressed into a single string. The closing piece sails like an entire biography gathered into one vessel. Notes ascend into birdcalls, circling a teetering falsetto that reshapes the drone dynamic as one suspended rather than suspending.

This album began a walkabout of sorts that has borne some of ECM’s most humbling revelations. Such sounds still the heart and lure our inner eyes with their slow-motion lobs. Darling clears out the detritus of arrangement, the ornaments of song, and the obligations of tradition, forging an improvisatory path that is all his own. It may be trimmer than his later treks along more fluid paths, but his subtle intensities are all there, waiting to embrace the next aching spirit that comes along.

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