Pirchner/Pepl/DeJohnette: s/t (ECM 1237)

Werner Pirchner / Harry Pepl / Jack DeJohnette

Werner Pirchner tenor vibes, marimba
Harry Pepl ovation guitar
Jack DeJohnette
Digitally recorded on a Sunday afternoon in June 1982 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Vastly under-recognized malleter and composer Werner Pirchner sharing the same studio with guitarist Harry Pepl and drummer Jack DeJohnette? What could go wrong? Quite a bit, unfortunately. The opening “Africa Godchild” starts intriguingly enough, seeming to creep from the soil like an awakening locust. Pirchner describes with his marimba the feelers of a friend testing the air and finding only the welcoming glow of sunrise, while DeJohnette’s tom-heavy drumming calls forth the swarm. Yet despite these evocative beginnings, Pepl’s Ovation soon becomes distracting, and the chorus effect applied to it makes its chording sound perpetually out of tune. When soloing, however, it sounds fantastic, as the force of the playing cuts through the warble that constricts it. In “Air, Love and Vitamines,” the guitar again feels out of place, despite the lovely improvisatory stretch from Pirchner’s vibraphone. “Good-bye, Baby Post” fares little better, and Pepl’s crackling solo is too little too late. He shows admirable melodic acuity in the closing “Better Times In Sight,” but is once more undermined by the amping, which would have benefited greatly from a cleaner treatment.

This unusual collaboration could have been something special. Technical criticisms aside, its major stumbling block comes from the musicians’ lack of communication. Each draws a sphere that only seems to intersect tangentially with the other two. This might have been a gem of a recording had only Pirchner and DeJohnette been there to lay it down. In a catalogue as vast as ECM’s, one can hardly be surprised to encounter a forgettable effort now and then. Sadly, this may be one of them.

15 thoughts on “Pirchner/Pepl/DeJohnette: s/t (ECM 1237)

  1. As one of the very, very ECMs I neither own nor have experienced…I guess I don’t feel so bad about it after reading this review! All right…..curiosity will encourage me to seek it out some day!

  2. I strongly disagree with your critique of this album for several different reasons.

    Harry Pepl was one the most innovative guitar players who ever lived
    and in time I am sure he will be recognized as such.

    This record came about because of the legendary Jazzzwio performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1981, where Pirchner and Pepl lit up the stage and let the world know that the Austrian Duo was a world class outfit. After hearing them,
    Jack De Johnette did not pass up an opportunity to record with the Duo.

    Unfortunately the sound engineer, Marin Wieland did not do justice to the exceptional sound of the Jazzzwio on this album, and if you listen to the record you can hear that the mix is actually the problem. The drums are generally too loud, especially the bass drum, which in itself has a pitch and therefore, since there is no bass, dictates the bottom end to the point of being distracting.

    I have the feeling Mr. Wieland was more concerned about featuring Jack De Johnette
    than in engineering a great sounding record.

    So, as to your opinion about Pepl’s chorus effect making it sound out of tune when chording, I completely disagree, since Pepl is too low in the mix in the first place, and I think if you take the time to do some research on the Jazzzwio sound you will have a better idea of their soundvision. Pirchner-Pepl were a unit that spoke as one voice and transcended common belief what a Duo could do.

    So, as to your opinion that the record would have been better off with just Pirchner and De Johnette, I really don’t think you have a clue what you are talking about.

    — Hannes De Kassian

    1. Dear Hannes,

      Let me first thank you for your thoughtful comments. I am very glad that you said what you did, because you’re right: I don’t know what I am talking about. This is part of the reason why I am going through ECM’s older releases, in order to familiarize myself with some musicians who are new to me, and in the process lead my ears in exciting directions as I diversify my listening. It is indeed a shame that the mixing pushes back Pepl’s voice as much as it does here. His style is just so distinct that, now that I am getting to know it, I appreciate what he is doing more and more. Case in point: I just listened to Cracked Mirrors for the first time this afternoon, and there I felt that his presence was more well balanced in the mix. It’s also a beautiful album. I feel sorry that my review of his collaboration with Pirchner and DeJohnette might have come across as being critical of Pepl as a player, which was not my intention at all. Rather, it was to suggest that if he was going to be mixed so poorly, perhaps his talents were best appreciated in a context where they could be more clearly heard. I also agree that his synergy with Pirchner must have been a marvel. I am sure that Schattseite is but a taste in that regard. Music has been one of life’s greatest learning processes for me, and your constructive assessments will help me to deepen my respect for a brilliant musician who surely will, as you say, in time be given the respect he deserves.


  3. Now you both have done it……I clearly need to listen to one of the few releases I’ve NOT had the pleasure to come across yet!

  4. I’ve now listened to this most unusual entry in the ECM canon three times now. It certainly sits outside the typical ECM release – and I’ve not yet decided how I would categorize it. Certainly Pirchner stretches the vibe sound to some rather unfamiliar places, and has a bit of the Keith Jarrett singalong thing going….DeJohnette’s work doesn’t always quite fit – it is a bit jarring when he comes in on the first cut. I am not fussed by the unique sound that Pepl gets from his Ovation guitar – it works fine to my years, but he certainly does like to take his solos to some places on the edge. All in all, a rather enjoyable listen to something that is (refreshingly) outside of the typical ECM release of this particular period. Thanks, Tyran, for the chance to hear this!

  5. Myself, I still do very much want to hear this. ECM has made available via download only Pepl’s “Cracked Mirrors” trio album-just downloaded today and am listening for the first time. What a fantastic job you’re doing here Tyran. I love reading your reviews-especially to get another view of my ECM favorites that I have been listening to for decades and love to get someone else’s opinion-somebody coming in with fresh ears. Wonderful, wonderful job Tyran.

    1. Thank you so much, Gary. I’m loving every minute of this experience…almost as much as I love getting comments! ECM has, and forever will be, a vital part of this coming of age I call my life. How did it come into yours? I only wish I could know everyone’s story…

  6. Tyran,
    Always being heavily into music, pre-internet, I would read any magazine that had music/record reviews. Here in NJ in the late 70’s was a weekly arts paper which featured allot of music/record reviews. In 1978 I was 19 and was always looking to expand my musical horizons. I went as far as I could with “progressive” rock (including French bands that sang lyrics I could not interpret), and I think had already discovered the early Berlin electronic musicians like Klaus Schulze (just a year or 2 earlier), and also Brian Eno.. I new nothing of any type of jazz yet at that time.
    Then I read a review of Barre Phillips new “Three Day Moon” album and it really sounded incredible to me, like something I was looking for but never knew existed. After several attempts to locate it, it was finally pointed out to me that the album was in the only section I never thought to look in -the “jazz” section. By the review description I never thought that this could be considered jazz. Once I bought it and got it home and played it, it was everything I hoped it would be. An entire new musical world had opened to me. It was the first time I had ever heard Barre Phillips, but also Terje Rypdal and Trilok Gurtu (as well as the more obscure fine synthesizer-player Dieter Feichtner). Since that day I have become enormous fans of all of these musicians and I probably bought nothing but ECM discs for the next 5 years or so. And when I bought something that WASN’T on ECM, it was by some artist that had recorded for ECM where I first discovered them and simply wanted more (people like Charlie Mariano)..
    From “Three Day Moon” I then bought Barre Phillips “Mountainscapes” which introduced me to John Surman and John Abercrombie (Feichtner was also on this record). After that I bought solo albums by Surman, Abercrombie, Dejohnette, Rypdal, and from there any artists THEY had played with (like Miroslav Vitous and Ralph Towner for instance). So, that one album, “Three Day Moon” started it all off for me and it was just a snowball effect from there…
    By the way, now that i’ve finally heard the album here “Pirchner/Pepl/Dejohnette”, i’m glad I read your review before hearing it. I came in with lowered expectations. I can’t disagree with your initial impressions here but I am enjoying it very much more than I actually expected. I have to wonder if this is primarily a jam session. It certainly seems like it was recorded in a single session of maybe only a couple of hours, as opposed to a really “planned out” album. I also agree that the odd chorus effect Pepl uses gives the guitar a slightly out-of-tune sound. And it’s a very rare example for ECM of the mix not being perfect. Jacks’ drums are so incredibly LOUD-much louder than i’ve ever heard him in any music mix-even on his own solo albums. The bass drum especially nearly obscures everything else when it gets anything above the slightest touch.
    Thankfully though I still consider this to be far from a disaster. And I will be listening to this quite a bit in the coming days and weeks.
    Though until today when I did an internet search I was unaware that both Pepl and Pirchner have both passed on . Very sad. It would have been nice for them to do another go-round at the ECM recording studios, as several artists in recent years that recorded for ECM in the early years have made a return trip with new recordings after many years of absence. recently.

  7. I’m so grateful for your story, Gary. I was born the year you discovered ECM!

    The loss of Pepl and Pirchner is indeed sad news, and the more I hear them, especially in combination, I am enchanted by their brilliance. It is clear I need to listen to this album a few more times and perhaps write a second review. Sometimes, first impressions can be misleading. Stay tuned…

    1. Interesting. Well then i’ve been an ECM fan since you were born..Wow, now I really DO feel old! Though I did realize it HAS been a long time…
      Yes would love to hear your thoughts after you’ve “lived” with this recording for a longer time for sure…

  8. I really liked this album and was disappointed when it was not released on CD (that I know of). I still have the vinyl copy but would love to enjoy this without the snap crackle and pop. I think this is a real gem and hope they take a second look at this. It was a digital recording so some a more balanced recoding can easily be mastered in any new reissue.

    1. Well I had never heard it at all until the download became available in MP3 format on Amazon.com. It’s sad that it seems that in the future ECM may choose not to re-release many more obscure albums in the physical CD format and may opt for downloads instead. Still it’s better than nothing and it may be worthwhile downloading the MP3 files, since i’m sure they’re better than worn vinyl for sure (and I know very well exactly what worn vinyl sounds like-I still have tons of it).

      1. Sorry-My mistake-I thought I was replying to the other Harry Pepl ECM album, not the trio with Dejohnette. Though with Pepl’s “Cracked Mirrors” being made available for download only very recently, I wouldn’t be shocked if this trio album with Jack Dejohnette were to be made available via download as well.

  9. Put me down as another fan of this strange but intriguing album! The guitar sound is certainly divisive…i mostly enjoy it, more so when he is soloing, but feel it could have been varied a bit throughout. But i do agree with one poster above who states that the bass drum is the real weak link in the sonics of the recording. It really is off putting at times. I just assumed Manfred was aiming for it to fill the void created by having no bass player! I LOVE Jack’s playing towards the end of Air, Love and Vitamines, and generally just enjoy the overall unique feel of the record and always felt that the recording description of being made “on a Sunday afternoon” gave a clue as to the vibe the musicians approached the recording with. Also a big fan of Pirchner’s EU album.


  10. I picked this album up when it came out. I loved it and wish that they had released it on CD. I still have the LP but I have no turntable and the condition of the LP is suspect after traveling back and forth across the Atlantic. I am really pleased that other people like this album even if it was not engineered to ECMs usual standards it sounded very good the last time I played it on consumer electronic equipment. It was really fresh and new back then. The album shines with talent. As with all these things the context matters.

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