JAPO complete

I have now reviewed every release in the JAPO catalogue. Shout outs to Craig LeHoullier, Steve Lake, and Bernd Webler for helping make my JAPO listening complete!

Any of you regular readers out there might have noticed that I recently reviewed the two latest XtraWATT albums. These stand as my backward entry into ECM’s other sub-labels. I do, of course, plan to also explore WATT and CARMO in full on this site, although such reviews may be sporadic, mixed in as they will be with the most up-to-date ECMs, along with albums from farther afield.

Below is a list of all JAPO releases, hyperlinked to my reviews for your convenience.

JAPO 60001 Mal Waldron The Call (Feb 1971)
JAPO 60002 Abdullah Ibrahim African Piano (Oct 1969)
JAPO 60003 Barre Phillips For All It Is (Mar 1971)
JAPO 60004 Herbert Joos The Philosophy of the Fluegelhorn (Jul 1973)
JAPO 60005 Dollar Brand Ancient Africa (Jun 1972)
JAPO 60006 Bobby Naughton Understanding (Oct 1971)
JAPO 60007 Edward Vesala Nan Madol (Apr 1974)
JAPO 60008 Jiří Stivín & Rudolf Dašek System Tandem (May 1974)
JAPO 60009 Children At Play s/t (1973)
JAPO 60010 Enrico Rava “Quotation Marks” (Dec 1973, Apr 1974)
JAPO 60011 Magog s/t (Nov 1974)
JAPO 60012 OM Kirikuki (Oct 1975)
JAPO 60013 Manfred Schoof Quintet Scales (Aug 1976)
JAPO 60014 Larry Karush/Glen Moore May 24, 1976 (May 1976)
JAPO 60015 Herbert Joos Daybreak (Oct 1976)
JAPO 60016 OM Rautionaha (Dec 1976)
JAPO 60017 Stephan Micus Implosions (Mar 1977)
JAPO 60018 Ken Hyder’s Talisker Land Of Stone (Apr 1977)
JAPO 60019 Manfred Schoof Quintet Light Lines (Dec 1977)
JAPO 60020 Rena Rama Landscapes (Jun 1977)
JAPO 60021 Globe Unity Orchestra Improvisations (Sep 1977)
JAPO 60022 OM OM with Dom Um Romao (Aug 1977)
JAPO 60023 Lennart Åberg Partial Solar Eclipse (Sep 1977)
JAPO 60024 Contact Trio New Marks (Jan 1978)
JAPO 60025 George Gruntz Percussion Profiles (Sep 1977)
JAPO 60026 Stephan Micus Till The End Of Time (Jun 1978)
JAPO 60027 Globe Unity Compositions (Jan 1979)
JAPO 60028 Barry Guy Endgame (Apr 1979)
JAPO 60029 TOK Paradox (Jun 1979)
JAPO 60030 Manfred Schoof Quintet Horizons (Nov 1979)
JAPO 60031 AMM III It Had Been an Ordinary Enough Day… (Dec 1979)
JAPO 60032 OM Cerberus (Jan 1980)
JAPO 60033 Elton Dean Quintet Boundaries (Feb 1980)
JAPO 60034 Peter Warren Solidarity
JAPO 60035 Tom van der Geld/Children At Play Out Patients (Jul 1980)
JAPO 60036 Contact Trio Musik (Oct 1980)
JAPO 60037 Es herrscht Uhu im Land s/t (Dec 1980)
JAPO 60038 Stephan Micus Wings Over Water (Jan 1981)
JAPO 60039 The Globe Unity Orchestra Intergalactic Blow (Jun 1982)
JAPO 60040 Stephan Micus Listen to the Rain (Jun 1980, Jul 1983)
JAPO 60041 Stephan Micus East Of The Night (Jan 1985)

Barry Guy: Endgame (JAPO 60028)


Barry Guy

Barry Guy bass
Howard Riley piano
John Stevens drums, cornet
Trevor Watts alto and soprano saxophones
Recorded April 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake and Manfred Eicher

Bassist Barry Guy has always lurked in some of ECM’s most unexpected corners, and on this JAPO release from 1979 he joins pianist Howard Riley, drummer John Stevens, and saxophonist Trevor Watts for five freely improvised tracks of understated pandemonium. The titles of said tracks confuse more than they clarify, because the music speaks so well for itself. “The Y?” is a bubbling broth that gradually thickens into stew. Each musician seems to play in his own space, feeling out the dynamics of the scene before populating it with movements. Watts’s altoism is the boldest color of this spectrum, diving through his bandmates’ hoops with the ease of a dolphin. This leaves Guy to navigate Riley’s punctuations with strange tenderness, and Stevens to fill the void with his brilliant sputtering.

The sub-terrain to the former’s mountains, “Remember To Remember” opens low and dark in Guy’s strings. Watts carves a stark alphabet into Riley’s chaotic palimpsest, leaving Stevens to flounder on shore. There is a dynamic of searching here that, if not apparent already, should by now hit the listener like a eureka moment, as the group’s modus operandi becomes clear as day: this is not free improvisation but improvised freedom. With this realization as our compass, we leap over every pin and needle into “Du Doo.” Guy again provides the anchor, which is meant to maintain as much as obliterate stasis. His heart is in the details. Stevens brushes the frame until it turns to dust, while Watts wanders joyfully in these ashen ruins as if they were newly built. The detailed finish shows just how sensitive this quartet can be.

“Maze,” in spite of its title, is the most linear track on the album. Its surface-level overlap only thinly veils a continuity that sustains a full 13 minutes’ worth of depth-soundings. At the core of it all is the relationship between Guy and Watts, who, like photographers taking pictures of the same scene but from different angles, share complementary foci. On the other side of the coin is the final track, “In Relationship To The Circumstance…” Its gestural fabric is rendered opaque by the illusion of space between instruments. The sparseness is dark matter made audible. Watts plays the roll of bait and the others fish hooked to its line, flailing for one last song.

Like Barre Phillips, Guy is a bassist who avoids pigeonholes like the plague, but with an art that is ultimately healing. This is one of his many effective prescriptions.

Back cover

Globe Unity: Compositions (JAPO 60027)


Globe Unity

Enrico Rava trumpet
Kenny Wheeler trumpet, flugelhorn
Manfred Schoof trumpet, flugelhorn
Albert Mangelsdorff trombone
Günther Christmann trombone
Paul Rutherford trombone, euphonium
Steve Lacy soprano saxophone (piano interior on “Worms”)
Evan Parker tenor and soprano saxophones
Gerd Dudek tenor and soprano saxophones, flute
Michel Pilz bass clarinet
Alexander von Schlippenbach piano
Bob Stewart tuba
Buschi Niebergall bass
Paul Lovens drums, percussion, etc.
Recorded January 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Globe Unity with Thomas Stöwsand and Steve Lake in cooperation with the WDR, Cologne

Globe Unity’s Compositions makes a natural partner to Improvisations, also released on JAPO. This is the last of the collective’s three albums for ECM’s sister label, and ends a sporadic tenure with colorful tapestries of internally composed pieces. What makes this album such an archival treasure its early glimpse into the compositional careers of trumpeters Kenny Wheeler, Enrico Rava, and Manfred Schoof.

“Nodagoo” is quintessentially Wheelerian, opening with a solemn tuba before erupting into a late-night free jazz masterstroke spearheaded by Evan Parker on tenor. All the classic elements are there: an almost literary feel for structure, with room to grow, and a penchant for contrasts. Rava’s “Flat Feet” blends just the sort of playfulness and heavy traction one might expect from his younger self. One can’t help but read a symphony of smiles into its jaunty contours. It is, as might be expected, a delightful tangle of trumpets, but legendary trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff gives us plenty of meat to chew on as well. Rava is a burst of flame and a joy to experience on such historical terms. The trumpet squeals of Schoof’s “Reflections” begin the album’s most cinematic track, which follows an unusual narrative arc through Parker’s circular sopranism and Alexander von Schlippenbach’s sensitive monologue on piano, while the brass and winds suspend their motives high above sea level.

Von Schlippenbach himself offers two pieces. “Boa” has a more nostalgic, big band sound, kept confidently in check by drummer Paul Lovens at every turn. Superb solos on soprano saxophone (courtesy of the inimitable Steve Lacy) and bass clarinet (Michel Pilz) make this slice of anatomical fortitude glow like a lightning bug. “The Forge,” which ends the album, is a propulsive blast of gold that boasts some of the most concentrated playing on the record. Trombonist Günther Christmann’s offering is “Trom-bone-it,” a jovial piece that grows from outtake to full-force jungle. Such elevations are Globe Unity’s forte and reveal an astonishing ability to keep every expression clear in the face of chaos. Like the Art Ensemble of Chicago at its loudest, this one takes fun seriously. Lacy counters with “Worms,” which bears suitable dedication to Ezra Pound, whose gnarled poetics can be heard in musical parallels throughout the 10-minute piece. Its massive chains of dissonance give relatively little room for solo space, opting instead for a grander, organic ecosystem.

While not as exciting as its freely improvised predecessors, Compositions nonetheless affords more than enough space for the unexpected and is a worthy stopover on your JAPO collecting adventures.

Back cover

TOK: Paradox (JAPO 60029)



Takashi Kako piano
Kent Carter bass
Oliver Johnson drums
Recorded June 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake

That Japanese pianist Takashi Kako has spent much of his career as an accomplished classical pianist should come as no surprise to anyone who listens to this album, which documents a time in his life when he was heavily involved in the French free jazz movement at its zenith. It was during this period that, in 1979, he formed TOK, an acronym of its members, of whom drummer Oliver Johnson and bassist Kent Carter completed the trio. All of its pieces are by Kako, save for the last, the fantastic “Wobbly Walk Parade,” by Carter. This carnival dream expands the trio’s standard palette, adding cello to its composer’s toolkit; celesta to Kako’s; toy piano, tambourine, and vocals to Johnson’s; and featuring an unexpected appearance by producer Steve Lake on harpsichord (!). Leading up to this whimsical flourish is a program of striking originality, which is all the more intensified by Kako’s undeniable acuity at the keyboard. Certainly his time in Paris has worn off here, as riffs resembling those of the great 20th-century French composers—including his teacher, Olivier Messiaen—are recognizable throughout.

The OK to Kako’s T are finely supportive, responding to every dip and spiral of the pianist’s flights over delectable comping. Each listens to the other before deciding on a single note. Whether riding the groove of “Dodéc” or painting with shadow in “A Lua De Portugal,” the trio shares equal duties in the evocation department. Between Carter’s elasticity, Johnson’s adaptive timekeeping, and and Kako’s denser ligaments, the resulting music hides in a crawl space somewhere between classical and jazz.

But Paradox throws its brightest spotlight on Kako, whose piano piece “Night Music” shows the beginnings of what has since grown into a lauded career as solo performer. Another return to roots is “Sekitei” (the title means “rock garden” in Japanese), which is the album’s masterwork. This painterly piece takes chamber jazz to a high level of abstraction that is almost linguistic, diagnostic. Every new element in its unfolding becomes integral to the whole and, although in seeming contrast to the title, rather accurately captures the blossoming order of chaos in this often-misunderstood art form.

Easily among the finest JAPO releases.

Peter Warren: Solidarity (JAPO 60034)


Peter Warren

Peter Warren bass, cello
John Purcell saxophones
John Scofield guitar
Jack DeJohnette drums
Ray Anderson trombone
Recorded May 1981 at Grog Kill Studio, New York
Engineer: Tom Mark
Produced by Jack DeJohnette

Bassist Peter Warren quite simply put out one of the finest albums in the JAPO catalogue: the long out-of-print Solidarity. Warren is one of a cadre of American jazz musicians who made a career for themselves in Europe, where his idiosyncratic approach was enriched and encouraged by the likes of Edward Vesala, Rolf Kühn, and Albert Mangelsdorff. In 1974, he returned to New York City, where he joined forces with Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition, appearing on the classic ECM sessions Special Edition and Tin Can Alley. It was in that context where he also met reedman John Purcell, who along with the drummer was carried over into this phenomenal one-off band, rounded out by guitarist John Scofield and, for the set’s first half, trombonist Ray Anderson.

Anderson dominates the starter, “Riff-Raff,” which emphasizes his fiery tone against a groovy backdrop. His energy proves infectious, taking root in Warren and DeJohnette’s spirited contributions to the playing field. Scofield responds with a well-constructed solo of his own, minimal by comparison but no less robust for its underbite, while Purcell’s alto croons and cries. The overall effect here, as in the title track that follows, is one of meticulous abandon, whereby the latter tune’s circular bass intro betrays nothing of the tension about to unfurl.

The album’s remainder subtracts the trombone, shifting register into a darker quartet. Purcell’s soprano fogs the window of “Mlle. Jolie,” making for an attractive ballad further deepened by DeJohnette’s rarely-heard-but-always-artful pianism. Warren focuses on the infrared portion of his emotional spectrum, while Scofield dances on air. “Lisa’s Tilt” finds Purcell darker still on alto in a track that swings more than any other on the album. DeJohnette is noticeably foregrounded, holding every seam together, even as the band finishes in a swanky free for all. As a postscript, Warren offers “I Remember Stu,” on which he plays bass and cello in a piece written in memory of Stu Martin, whom he thanks in his acknowledgments “for his love and musical inspiration.”

Solidarity is characterized, among other aspects, by its ebb and flow, which at one moment may cast a spell and the next push through it like water through a broken dam. And with DeJohnette producing, the listener is left with an elusive but unquestionable winner.

The Globe Unity Orchestra: Intergalactic Blow (JAPO 60039)

Intergalactic Blow

The Globe Unity Orchestra
Intergalactic Blow

Toshinori Kondo trumpet
Kenny Wheeler trumpet
Günter Christmann trombone
George Lewis trombone, effects
Albert Mangelsdorff trombone
Bob Stewart tuba
Gerd Dudek flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
Evan Parker soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky flute, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone
Alexander von Schlippenbach piano
Alan Silva bass
Paul Lovens drums
Recorded June 4, 1982 at Studio 105, Radio France/Paris.
Recording engineer: Jean Deloron
Mixing engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Beginning in 1966, the Globe Unity Orchestra sparked a four decades-long run that intersected with the JAPO label on three counts. For this, the group’s second for ECM’s sister label, founder Alexander von Schlippenbach hand-selected a set of free improvisations emitted in a Paris studio in June of 1982.

Even more noticeable this time around are the contributions of its brass players, especially trumpeters Kenny Wheeler and Toshinori Kondo (who takes the place of Manfred Schoof from the last record). Their methods of integration on the opening track, “Quasar,” set a tone that is dashed as quickly as it is established. From the farthest reaches of inner space, the musicians work their way to the front altar of the mind, where Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky’s baritone files its utterances in living order. Tuba (Bob Stewart) and piano (von Schlippenbach) speak out of time—one from the future, the other for the past. Such is the ethos of the hour.

Even at its densest, Globe Unity makes sure to leave a door open for even the most transient listener, so that “Phase A” and “Phase B” feel no more connected by name than they are by process. It is their very incongruity that partners them in the album’s grander scheme, interpretable only after the fact. Their gestures are more jagged, turned from shining to brilliant by Evan Parker’s unmistakable soprano. Like the group as a whole, he takes rising levels of intensity as opportunities for sane reflection, thus allowing himself the strongest benefit of performance: being heard.

Drummer Paul Lovens is another master in this pool of many, adding to the 19-minute “Mond Im Skorpion” a scripture’s worth of microscopy. Amid this bramble of riffs and utterances, he treats every melodic branch as a fuse to be lit, and every lit fuse as a pathway toward new understanding of the improviser’s craft. Von Schlippenbach is again noteworthy for attuning to that same inner habitus, an environmental assemblage where one has to know where one has been in order to move toward the unknown. For even as reeds and brass elbow the horizon with the force of sunset, they hold the following morning in their chests. A snake-charming soprano seems to mock the wayward Orientalist who sees travel solely as a means of sticking another postcard in the scrapbook. Indeed, you will find no tourists here—only the artisans selling their wares on the outskirts of town, far from the crowded bazaar, where a cacophonous ending sings, proclaims, and teases every tether of dusk so that it might pull out another day from under our feet.

Globe Unity keeps everything clear and, thanks further to Thomas Stöwsand’s flawless production, ensures that every shout is also a whisper, and vice versa.

Contact Trio: New Marks (JAPO 60024)

New Marks

Contact Trio
New Marks

Evert Brettschneider acoustic and electric guitars
Aloys Kott bass
Michael Jüllich percussion, marimba, vibes
Recorded January 1978 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Along with Musik, the Contact Trio’s New Marks is another standout for ECM’s sister label, JAPO. Sharing with that later release frontmen Evert Brettschneider (acoustic and electric guitars) and Aloys Kott (fretless bass) but differing in the presence of Michael Jüllich (percussion, marimba, and vibes), this incarnation of the band charts vaster, even more palpable territory with a crystalline signature sound, for which we may also thank the late, great producer Thomas Stöwsand.

Brettschneider and Kott share composer credit. The former’s pen yields the album’s opener, “Happy,” which welcomes the listener appropriately with a smile. At first, Kott takes a page from the Eberhard Weber playbook—and, later, evokes the more experimental Bill Laswell—before ironing out his own distinct fabric. Jüllich, for his part, starches the outer layer with glowing cymbals. Guitarist and bassist trade harmonic arpeggios, foresting a temperate climate around Jüllich’s detail-oriented drumming. Kott’s “Circle” unfurls a likeminded mesh of marimba and vibes in support of Kott’s melodic overlay. This watery backdrop adds an ambient touch to the piece’s growth from conversation to prayer. Brettschneider’s electric shares starry crosstalk with Kott, then fades like a comet’s tail into a flanged midsection. This atmospheric shift wanders into what jazz might sound like if Steve Reich were to play it, mallet percussion and bass opening a window into the electric guitar’s virtuosic crunch.

“The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog” begins the album’s second half of three tunes, each co-written by Brettschneider and Kott. It’s a frantic jazz crawl that reveals Jüllich at his finest, painting the night with a deluge of stars in his solo. “Stoned Tunes,” an album highlight, is a wintry duet of 12-string acoustic and bass, which segues into the title track’s freer language, a primer of both the band’s process and its imagistic leanings.

New Marks is worth tracking down in any form.

Dollar Brand: Ancient Africa (JAPO 60005)

Ancient Africa

Dollar Brand
Ancient Africa

Dollar Brand piano, flute
Recorded live June 1972, Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen
Engineer: Lars Vester Petersen
Sound: Mantra Sound, Copenhagen

South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, known in a bygone era as Dollar Brand, is a soothsayer at the keyboard, and on this out-of-print JAPO release from 1974 he divines from the ebony and the ivory a lifetime’s worth of bones. Like its label predecessor, African Piano, this album was recorded live at the Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen, but adds nearly three years of additional life experience to show for its mesmerizing rewards.

The original vinyl is a gorgeous thing in and of itself. Sleeved in a photograph of flaking, painted wood, it reads like a structure worn by time but which is also stronger for it. The performance consists of a long piano medley of original tunes plus an encore on flute. The bulk of the set opens, as did African Piano, with an extended take on “Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro,” a quintessential tune in Ibrahim’s personal archive. Its deep-set, rocking ostinato provides all the rachises he needs to strut with plumage burning bright. If not already obvious, Ibrahim is a brother of a different feather, one whose gifts are every bit as intuitive as those of Keith Jarrett, whose likeminded penchant for gospel-infused anthemism makes an early reveal before lighting a rocket into the jubilation of “Mamma.” Ibrahim’s lush comping fleshes out the atmosphere to its fullest, smoothing with bravado into the calmer “Tokai.” A joyful spread of chords flings us into the train ride of “Ilanga” with such traction that no tracks are required. As with so much of Ibrahim’s output, an underlying propulsion lends sanctity to the overarching message.

“Cherry” is a buoyant morsel of lyricism that sets us up for the heat of “African Sun,” which fades out of Side 1 and into Side 2. Both this and the following tune, “Tintinyana,” show an artist who understands the blues like few other contemporary pianists can. His take on the form is as nostalgic as a childhood tree, which continues to grow in mind even when its physical form succumbs to the axe of time. The roots of his left hand are so thick that every burst of foliage is like salt in the wounds of evil, for it knows that the divine await the righteous with open arms. In light of this, the romping swing of “Xaba” comes across as a purifying dance, an invitation to commune with exclusively musical worlds. The prayers of those worlds are to be found in “Peace – Salaam,” which ladders its way into the clouds as if they were puffs ejected from the pipe of history. Here we are invited to relax, unwind, and let our cares consume themselves into nothingness. A swell of applause brings us back to reality, and to the final “Air,” for which the keys are rested and the flute leaves the final word. And final it most certainly is, for it begins melancholy and finishes in a hunter’s dash, swift and sure.

AMM III: It Had Been An Ordinary Enough Day In Pueblo, Colorado (JAPO 60031)


It Had Been An Ordinary Enough Day In Pueblo, Colorado

Keith Rowe guitar, prepared guitar, transistor radio
Eddie Prévost drums
Recorded December 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake and AM III

By the time this obscure JAPO album was released in 1980, AMM was 15 years old. The British free improvisation outfit, credited here as “AMM III,” was already an underground legend, and thankfully has stayed that way, even now preserving its integrity as an exploratory unit. For this brief incarnation, founding members Keith Rowe and Eddie Prévost set out as a duo, respectively combining guitar and percussion in a real-time evolution that fans of Evan Parker are sure to appreciate. Like Parker, Rowe and Prévost spend as much of their time listening as playing, soaking in the feeling of the surrounding soil before enriching it with just the right minerals.

“Radio Activity” is both mantra and anti-mantra. Rowe’s use of a transistor radio underscores the title as a method of operation, leaving behind its descriptive properties to shrivel in the sun of another day. The metallic details put forth by the two musicians, at once percussive and speech-oriented, seem to fold themselves like sheets of self-aware origami paper. The sounds of broadcasts moving through a flanged portal are complemented by an amorphous electric guitar, its ochre pigment drawing a halo without an angel. In this amphibious dronescape, valleys eventually turn into peaks as Rowe and Prévost lock into powerful, staccato interplay before compressing into a jam between molecules.

After the massive parentage of this first track, the ones that follow feel like its offspring. “Convergence” is the youngest sibling, a frail yet expertly tuned entity whose potential for strength is unlimited. The elasticity of “Kline” pegs it as the eldest child. Its swansong is written on parchment, a brittle medical document that is beyond the need for prescription. Frenzy ensues, throughout which Rowe treats the air like a pin cushion while Prévost shines a light through every eye like a star.

The two middle children are intersectional beings. “Spittlefields’ Slide” is exactly what one might expect it to be: a stuttering and warped chain of expectorations. It’s also a fine exercise in restraint that grows even as it flounders into dust. “For A” sounds as if the musicians dismantled a pay phone and made music with all the loose change gutted from within, faithfully documenting every snap of communication in a game of resuscitated conversations.

Your guess is as good as mine as to what any of the above to do with the album’s title, but I like to think that somewhere in Pueblo, Colorado there exists an echo of these soundings, ghostly yet content in its geographical prison.