First House: Eréndira (ECM 1307)


First House

Ken Stubbs alto and soprano saxophones
Django Bates piano
Mick Hutton bass
Martin France drums, percussion
Recorded July 1985 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

A session like the one documented on Eréndira can easily made or broken by a saxophonist, and I’m happy to say that Ken Stubbs succeeds with plenty of inspiration to spare. His soloing is at once ponderous and restless, constantly moving in and out of shadow, adding just the right amount of cursive to his flowing script. With the help of Bill Bruford’s Earthworks double agents Django Bates and Mick Hutton on keyboards and bass, along with drummer Martin France, he leads this young fusion outfit’s debut with stylish, mature writing and deft exchanges all around.

“A Day Away” starts as if awakening, those first rustlings of the morning flittering across France’s kit, Bates opening his eyes as butterfly’s wings to sunlight, while Hutton takes our first steps, breathing in the saxophone’s crisp air. Stubbs carries a gentle tune in “Innocent Eréndira,” lilting over bass and a gentle tat of cymbals. Like an airborne serpent falling to the ground with that final breath, he slithers into a dark hole before opening the thematic radar of his cobra fan for “The Journeyers To The East.” This touch-and-go excursion finds the album’s surest traction, and seems to wink at us, knowingly. The rhythm section excels, launching Stubbs into a backflip that allows the soles of his feet to graze the underbellies of the clouds. Pay particular attention to Bates here, and you’ll know why he was already one of the hottest jazz pianists of the 1980s. “Bracondale” and “Grammenos” lull us into surrender with promises that Hutton and Stubbs fulfill with grace. The latter tune swirls with wondrous enervation, Stubbs scaling a mountain of tight hooks and crashing improv before sliding back into a forlorn back (v)alley. The brief wave that follows in “Stranger Than Paradise” washes us onto the shores of “Bridge Call,” a lonesome dove spreading its melodic feathers over rivers and islands. Another brief teardrop falls in “Doubt, Further Away,” trickling down the face of one who is about to smile for the first time in ages.

Thus ends a beautiful, seemingly forgotten album from a quartet of musicians who tended to involve themselves in more progressive acts. Here, they take it back home. Don’t pass this one by.

<< Ralph Towner/Gary Burton: Slide Show (ECM 1306)
>> Shankar/Caroline: The Epidemics (ECM 1308)

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