Release date: September 19, 1988
Multi-instrumentalist and frequent traveler (in both the geographic and metaphysical sense) Collin Walcott was another of ECM’s shining stars whose light faded all too soon. I imagine each listener remembers him in their own way. Throughout the gray matter between my ears, his influence echoes with blessed assurance that music is a divine gift and must be treated as such by giver and receiver alike. Nowhere was this so clear as in his collaboration with trumpeter Don Cherry and percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. The trio, known as CODONA (so named for the first syllables of their names), has been widely cited as the birthplace of “world music.” But in their hands, notes and rhythms pointed to the fact that all music is of and about the world—not that theirs was in any way more so. From the CODONA trilogy, spanning 1979 to 1983, this final “Works” compilation trains its telescope on six distinct constellations. Walcott’s primary instrument here is the sitar, through which he sang as if it were a part of his body. If his notecraft breathed life into a hybrid bird in “Like That Of Sky,” then so did it silence the firmament in “Travel By Night.” Whether alone (“Lullaby”) or multiplied (“Godumaduma”), he could always be counted on to deliver a message for the weary soul. And in “Hey Da Ba Doom,” a folk song for the ages, he touched the sky itself with his voice. On the other side of the moon, he performed with guitarist Ralph Towner and bassist Glen Moore on Oregon’s “Travel By Day” (Crossing, 1985). The quiet exuberance of this track is echoed in “Song Of The Morrow” (Grazing Dreams, 1977), for which he is joined by Cherry on trumpet, John Abercrombie on guitar, Palle Danielsson on bass, and Dom Um Romao on percussion. This ensemble’s ability to evoke free-floating atmospheres even when rhythms coincide is remarkable.
Yet Walcott was always at his most meditative by his lonesome or in small configurations. Such was the case on Cloud Dance. His 1976 leader debut yields some of his most compelling improvisations, including “Scimitar” and “Padma,” both lightning-in-a-bottle duets for tabla and electric guitar (the latter played by Abercrombie), and “Prancing,” for tabla and bass (courtesy of Dave Holland). And then there is his solo percussion foray, “Awakening,” on 1981’s Dawn Dance. Such activations of sound speak to the soul in a language that transcends borders of land, skin, and politic, shedding light on the scars that bind us all as children of pain. And though we may weep at the absence of his star, we can take comfort in the beauty of the supernova that replaced it.