Stephan Micus: Implosions (JAPO 60017)

Implosions

Stephan Micus
Implosions

Stephan Micus sitar, acoustic guitar, vocal, Bavarian zither, shakuhachi, shō, Thai flute, rabab
Recorded March 1977 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

As of this month (August of 2015), ECM’s intrepid Stephan Micus has released his 21st album for the label, Nomad Songs. In recognition of this achievement, and of the prescience of that title, I thought it only appropriate to acknowledge Implosions, his first album for producer Manfred Eicher, released on the JAPO sub-label in 1977. What might the first-time listener have imagined when spreading roots into its soil? What fantasies or lamentations? What creeds or philosophies? Micus’s sound art, assembled as it is from a uniquely global perspective, is one in which such questions, but never their answers, reign supreme. Like the sitar solo which opens “As I Crossed A Bridge Of Dreams,” it contains many possible universes but yields only one. One sitar becomes three, and one instrument two as Micus adds an acoustic guitar, all the while spirographing this inner sanctum with the curvature of his singing. The two lap instruments reveal themselves to be indeed rooted in seated chakras, while the voice treads with more luminescent footprints to show for its passage. Crossing threshold after threshold, it shakes the sky out as if it were a laundered sheet, until the stars release their hands from prayer.

Although Micus has most often crafted albums at his home studio and sent them to Eicher for mixing and mastering, earlier ones such as this were recorded at Tonstudio Bauer in Ludwigsburg, Germany, where many of ECM’s formative releases were also realized. The studio dynamics imbue these travels with a rather different intimacy, one which brings its own climate and bounces back sunlight like the moon. Three Bavarian zithers, each with its own signature, form a dense and percussive bed for Micus’s singing in “Borkenkind.” His floating transpositions trail sutras of memory, spinning from them a yarn of forgetting. This becomes the sole purpose of the music: to detach oneself from the snares of fame and recognition until only the sound and the ear are left to dance unhindered. And indeed, when Micus sings again in “For M’schr And Djingis Khan,” accompanied by the uncut diamond of the rabab (Afghani lute), he balances on a tipping point into infinity, his mouth filled with empty pages.

Even when he doesn’t sing, his heart resounds through the four shakuhachi of “Amarchaj,” each chamber a bird with its own ritual warble, threading clouds to their shadows on earth below. This leaves only the Thai flute of “For The ‘Beautiful Changing Child’” to cast itself into an ocean without language. Lifted by three shō (Japanese mouth organs), it resists even these words struggling to catch it, riding the waves from one dawn to the next, waiting for my well to run dry.

Stephan Micus: Till The End Of Time (JAPO 60026)

Till The End Of Time

Stephan Micus
Till The End Of Time

Stephan Micus table harp, kortholt, zither, guitar, vocal
Recorded June 1978 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Before migrating across the ECM continent, Stephan Micus outfitted some of his most formative expeditions in the territories of the JAPO sub-label. On these albums one hears Micus at his most elemental, turning every gesture into inter-spatial awareness. The album’s duration of 36 minutes only serves to deepen its intimacy as a space in which the listener might catch a cushion of meditation in a world of splinters.

Micus’s practice has always been to render the stem before the flower, and in the album’s title track a table harp provides that very illustrative function. Its dulcimer-like heart beats a rhythm at once ancient and fresh, curling as the scriptural page, its edges darkened from constant contact with the hands. Those same hands cradle a method of speech so musical that its melody is discernible only in the freedom of solitude. This is perhaps why Micus tends to work alone: so that he might open every angle honestly and uniquely, until the geometry of his life grows big enough to Venn-diagram into the listener’s own. Bowed zither expands the roots and gives way to a kortholt, a crumhorn-like reed from the Renaissance that pulls hidden colors from the sunlight. A classical guitar, which all but disappears from Micus’s later work, defines ethereal flesh through a worldly skeleton. Like the music itself, it is gut and wood and movement, drawing a string through immediate intellect to that of another time.

“For Wis And Ramin” is even more direct in its expressiveness, triangulating guitar and zither with Micus’s imagined singing. Imagined, because no words would do justice to the palette from which he draws, one that harbors not the barest pigment of politics. After the opening classical guitar solo connects its geometric touch-points, only a throated language can bring to the light that which is born in the dark. Micus is thus a troubadour who seeks love not only on earth but also from heaven, so that when the zither walks in the voice’s path, we must also feel the soles of our feet pressing their outlines into planes of stardust, refuges of forgotten pollen.

on a rainy night a traveler: Stephan Micus’s ongoing raga

The music of Stephan Micus is a soundtrack to life. It holds the sky in its crown, the earth in its belly, a molecule of ocean on its tongue. And while each of his albums may be the first step of a longer journey, the two early releases reviewed here just might be the best places to start for those who have never encountered him in their travels.

Listen to the Rain

Listen to the Rain (JAPO 60040)

Stephan Micus dilrubas, Spanish guitar, steel string guitar, suling, shaskuhachi, tamboura
“For Abai and Togshan” recorded July 1983 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
“Dancing with the Morning,” “Listen to the Rain,” “White Paint on Silver Wood” recorded June 1980 at Sound Studio N. Kiln
Engineer: Günther Kasper

If Micus’s saga were an ongoing raga, then 1983’s Listen to the Rain would be one of its most inward-looking prayers. All four meditations that make up the album, while externally distinct, are internally connected through Micus’s use of guitar. The Spanish variety plays a particularly active role throughout, with the sole exception of “Dancing with the Morning,” for which he pairs the ubiquitous steel-stringed with the suling, a bamboo flute often heard in gamelan ensembles of southeast Asia. Knowledgeable listeners will recognize both the rarity of the backpacker’s trusty companion in the Micus canon and its elemental necessity in this setting. The ascetic sheen of its metal strings paints a world of shine to which a human presence adds less manufactured colors. The suling’s unclipped wings, by extension, are exhaled into the sky above, circling and darting through the surrounding melodies until they take shape under cover of their own imagination.

The title track is a duet for Spanish guitar and tamboura. True to his extensively creative spirit, Micus plays the latter like a zither, over which the former’s gut strings produce an ascendant pathway into “White Paint on Silver Wood,” which trades the tamboura for shakuhachi. The Japanese bamboo flute begins with a solo that teeters on the edge of breathlessness and follows through on its wandering spirit. Flamenco-esque touches evoke movement not only of dancer’s feet but also of artist’s brush.

Yet it is “For Abai and Togshan,” which takes up Side A of the original vinyl, in which the farthest reach of this interior song takes physical form. Three dilrubas (bowed lap instruments from northern India) open in drone, wavering like bodies once lost in time but only now finding each other, piece by sunlit piece. Three soon give way to five, joined by four Spanish guitars, whose harmonic infusions fade in rose tones of complexion. The atmosphere is as much introspective as it is joyous, and finds in the solitary center a peace immune to corruption of shadow. The dilruba’s sympathetic overtones begin as if leaving, dropping cartographic messages as breadcrumbs into sundown.

East Of The Night

East Of The Night (JAPO 60041)

Stephan Micus 10- and 14-string guitars, shakuhachi
Digital recording, January 1985 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland

East Of The Night, released in 1985, is one of Micus’s most melodic albums. Its two long tracks epitomize, ever so humbly, the dictum of less is more. The title piece, a conversation for 10-string guitar (an instrument of his own design) and shakuhachi, feels like a dialogue between master and disciple. Micus’s guitar combines the reediness of a lute with the subtle ferocity of a koto, making it a natural partner to the shakuhachi’s dawning breath. Each pluck of a string works the upholstery of the sky until a surface of untreated wood is revealed behind it. Details of handiwork once obscured by finery and ornament now become naked art. With the softness of a windblown curtain, the plectrum moves from foreground to background before the shakuhachi takes on a Milky Way texture in a suite of thrumming stardust. The flute fragments, multiplies, and ends the set’s first half on a congregational sigh.

“For Nobuko” is dedicated to Micus’s wife, recipient of this powerfully intimate solo for another custom instrument: the 14-string guitar. Its flowerbed extends far beyond the window box and trails vines from one domicile to another, stretching across vast plains of tundra toward immaculate love. It encompasses the dedication of one human being, whose balance is achievable only by offering himself up to another’s fundament, into which the listener’s own messages might also be divined.

Like two vapor trails, Listen to the Rain and East Of The Night mark their respective paths of motion by holding relatively still against the blue. One is the parallel of the other, never intersecting except by the illusion of perspective. Together, they are further significant for easing the JAPO sub-label’s 14-year flight in for a landing, thus ending one fantastic voyage by barely beginning another.

Tom van der Geld/Children At Play: Out Patients (JAPO 60035)

Out Patients

Tom van der Geld
Children At Play
Out Patients

Tom van der Geld vibraharp
Roger Jannotta tenor and alto saxophones, bass clarinet, oboe, flute, whistles
Wayne Darling bass
Bill Elgart drums, percussion
Recorded July 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake and the band

Was it you?
was it me?
who said that if
two people think the same
then one of them is unnecessary.

Well if that’s true, my friend,
I hope it’s you.

–Tom van der Geld

Vibraphonist-composer Tom van der Geld’s ECM initiation came by way of the JAPO sister label when, in 1976, the self-titled Children At Play introduced listeners to an album of uncompromising originality. Recorded in 1973, the same year of van der Geld’s permanent relocation to Germany (where the band’s reedman, Roger Jannotta, and drummer, Bill Elgart, would also find new homes), it’s a formative release not only for being Children At Play’s first, but also for sharing its uniquely sunlit sound with the world at large. Tropical and sweet, the album is a sparkling endeavor that favors the lived reality of jazz over its descriptive pitfalls. Patience (1978) was van der Geld’s first dip into ECM proper and stands out for its bright geography. This time, however, the tectonic plates shift more abstractly below with the heat of friction. The freedom of this sophomore effort offers plenty of room for the listener to find a story. On its heels came Path (1979), the phenomenal trio album with Jannotta and guitarist Bill Connors. Hewn in pastels rather than oils, it’s a decidedly softer and sometimes-haunting affair.

TvdG
(Photo by Peter Nimsky)

This brings us to 1980’s Out Patients, in which van der Geld closed the JAPO circle alongside the ever-versatile Jannotta (on tenor and alto saxophones, bass clarinet, oboe, flute, and whistles), bassist Wayne Darling, and Elgart on drums and percussion. Two of the vibraphonist’s compositions bookend the album, contrasting the free unity of “Things Have Changed” with the expressive rubato of “I Hope It’s You.” The first coheres into a loose brand of unity, the bass clarinet a noteworthy foil to van der Geld, who takes an early solo down a slippery slope yet maintains tactful balance within the rhythm section’s mosaic. The concluding tune finds Jannotta (on tenor) leading with truth. The reedman further contributes “Dreamer” for the listener’s fortunate consideration. It travels and unravels somewhere between starlight and sunrise, revealing a melodic core in Jannotta’s flute and Darling’s resonant bassing. The latter’s “Ballade Matteotti” awakens like a dawn chorus. Van der Geld describes so much of the image that, were his bandmates not so attuned, they might feel superfluous. Their ease of diction contributes to the group’s strength. Consequently, the music flips from intense to reflective at the turn of a phrase. Jannotta’s extended delivery in the second half is tour de force in the truest sense, for in it force prevails.

Yet nothing in the program surpasses Elgart’s “How Gently Sails The Moon Twixt The Arbour And The Bough (And The World Is Waiting For The Sun,” a tune as epic as its title, and one that adds some groove to the band’s loose equation. Smooth yet crisp, and brimming with a chamber jazz aesthetic, it explores a wide dynamic range, with a memorable midsection in which delicate utterances ripple through the quartet. Jannotta (now on alto) lends mystical qualities to the scene, finding scratchy-throated catharsis in the unfolding. Interpretive diffusions all around show a group becoming more unified the wilder it gets: proof that, at least in musical terms, letting go will sometimes be the key to being found.

Although Children At Play disbanded in 1981, its spirit lives on in these highly collectible recordings, as also through its leader’s commitment to jazz education. In the interest of making his mission known, below is an e-mail Q&A I conducted with van der Geld, who kindly shared his memories and thoughts. And for an exhaustive assessment of van der Geld’s career, plus a more extensive interview, check out Formosa Coweater’s fabulous article here.

Can you tell me about your musical background and about how you came to be a jazz musician?

Well, I come from a third-generation family of musicians, so I guess there is something hereditary here. I grew up in an environment where jazz was always being played or listened to. My parents had a “dance band” which played on weekends at officer’s clubs and private clubs. I played trumpet in that band for several years. Having been the world’s second worse trumpet player (!), I decided at age 21 to start playing the vibes. There was never really much of a choice regarding becoming a jazz musician. At one point, I did earn an engineering degree—mainly at the request of my father. Following that, I was devoted to music.

You seem to have followed in the footsteps of many American-born musicians who have found a musical home in Europe. Can you tell me what differentiates European approaches to jazz performance and pedagogy from their counterparts elsewhere?

The Europeans have, over the decades, developed a very special jazz signature. Significant input has come from English players like Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor. But throughout Europe there have been great players who have taken American music and blended it with their own particular cultural and musical expression. Names that come into mind would include Thomas Stanko, Jan Garbarek, Dave Holland and many more.

In the early seventies, there were very few schools in Europe with an adequate jazz curriculum. This is no longer the case. There are excellent jazz departments in many European universities.

Who did you count among your deepest musical influences when you began your professional career? Has that list changed since then?

As far as the vibes are concerned, my first influences were Lionel Hampton (the first LP I ever bought) and Milt Jackson (the first jazz concert I ever went to). When Gary Burton came to Albuquerque with his famous first quartet in 1969, I was completely blown away. Later I became one of his students at Berklee. Other important musical influences included Marion Brown, Ornette Coleman, Paul Bley, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, ESP, Archie Shepp, Eric Dolphy and Albert Ayler.

What role does teaching play in your musical life? What have you learned from your students?

I was fortunate to be able to teach and, in fact, to quite enjoy teaching. Teaching was also often the mainstay regarding things like paying the rent. And I have indeed learned very much from my students. The most important lesson: be open to questions and remain curious.

Each of the four albums you recorded for ECM/JAPO is distinct from the rest. How would you characterize their moods and styles? Is there an overarching theme that connects them all?

Those recordings are individually the result of circumstance and coincidence. There is no overarching theme connecting them. It was very rewarding to play with those great players/composers.

How has the experience of performing enhanced your understanding of jazz as an art form? Do you see jazz as an art form to begin with, or is it something else?

I don’t know: I never use the word “artist” when describing myself, and have never consciously considered these questions.

Who are you listening to these days?

Mostly piano players, with Bill Evans, John Taylor, Ahmad Jamal, Bud Powell and Art Tatum being on top of the list. I also listen often to “classical” music.

Your Ear Training textbook has enjoyed international success as a teaching tool. How did you come to write it? What did it mean for you to have Dave Liebman write its Foreword?

I had applied for a professorship at the Musikhochschule Köln (a school of music at the university level in Cologne). This must have been sometime during early 1994. Well, I didn’t get the professorship. They were, however, at that time looking for someone to teach the jazz ear-training courses. Since I had already been teaching ear-training at Berklee, they asked me to join the faculty. After a few semesters, I had produced a large amount of my own teaching materials. My subsequent method books are based on these materials.

I was extremely happy that Dave agreed to write the Foreword for these books: he is a player and teacher of great integrity for whom I have always had the greatest respect.

What is your best advice for aspiring jazz musicians?

Learn the science of our music (harmony) and develop your instrumental technique.

But NEVER forget: jazz improvisation begins and ends with your ears.

If you can’t hear it, don’t play it!

Out (Back) Patients
(Out Patients back cover)

Stephan Micus: Wings Over Water (JAPO 60038)

Wings Over Water

Stephan Micus
Wings Over Water

Stephan Micus acoustic guitar, nay, sarangi, voice, flowerpots, spanish guitar, Bavarian zither, suling
Recorded January 1981 at Ibiza Sound Studio and October 1981 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineers: Manfred Ballheimer and Martin Wieland

Wings Over Water is the third of five JAPO outings—the most by any artist on ECM’s sister label—by Stephan Micus. Featuring a rare turn by the intrepid multi-instrumentalist on that most quotidian tool of accompaniment, the guitar, it spins a web of enchantment across six numbered parts.

Part 1 uses the guitar to anchor that very web, its strings flexing before a soul-piercing tongue. The ney (an end-blown flute of the Middle East featured prominently in Micus’s work across the decades) is the breath behind it, a servant of the molecules swimming through its porous tunnel. These encirclings open a space into which the listener might step. Thus surrounded in the comfort of these repetitions, s/he may find that the ney’s improvisational flights have similarly taken solace within. Every rhythmic lapse is a micro-phase of organic awareness, attuned to said listener, to the perfect imperfection of things, which like the bird framed in the album cover photograph is austere yet warped in reflection. Gazing and gazed upon, it is self-sufficient, fragile as wind.

Part 2 gives insight into Micus’s unique approach to the sarangi, which in taking on such percussive function provides undulating waves for Micus’s voice and stretches arcs of flight over a ceramic pulse of flowerpots.

Part 3 rises from the mountains through the rusticity of a Spanish guitar and holds in its hands a dimly lit star, hewn in mineral and soil. The guitar becomes an agent of solace, its sound a meditation on meditation—two mirrors held soul’s distance apart and compounded by the interest of infinity. Flowerpots lend their pacing to the skeleton, marrying Sephardic and Southeast Asian influences by way of natural ligaments. The piece ends as it begins: in hermetic garments, tattered yet resilient to the elements, in fact becoming an element unto itself.

Part 4 is a spiritually unbound ney solo, an avian dream that remembers when sustenance was easier to come by, when one could freely roam the air currents to find all that was needed.

Part 5 is an open letter written in the language of flowerpots to the very cosmos. Its paths are as vast and unknowable as Nazca lines, a runway for the ether, embodied in ney and mapped by less visible instruments. Beats rise above the waterline, the breath an unbroken promise of sailing.

Part 6 unfolds, like Part 3, with hints of Andalusian soil. Joining Spanish guitar with Bavarian zither, it unleashes sweeping gardens of profusion, which then quiet to support the lilt of a suling (Indonesian bamboo ring flute) and with it sink into the ocean of forgetting.

An expressly visual journey that skips across rice paddies, this music moves as water strider on pond, and leaves in its wake the promise of a good harvest. It is a vestibule from the rain, a haven where bodies stretch in anticipation of sun.

Abdullah Ibrahim: African Piano (JAPO 60002)

African Piano

Abdullah Ibrahim
African Piano

Abdullah Ibrahim piano
Recorded live on October 22, 1969 at Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen

South African pianist-composer Abdullah Ibrahim (born Adolph Johannes Brand), still performing at the time of this 1969 live album under the moniker “Dollar” Brand, unleashed a mastery so enticing on African Piano, it’s a wonder that any of the folks at the club where it was recorded had the resolve to treat it as background to their dining. By the same token, reinforcement of that fact by constant ambient noises renders Ibrahim’s performance all the more sacred by contrast.

Amid a sea of chatter, cleared throats, and sudden intakes of breath, he breaks the surf with the gentle yet hip ostinato of “Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro,” working meditative tendrils into the bar light. Over this his right hand brings about an explosive sort of thinking that spins webs in a flash and connects them to larger others. With clarion fortitude, he drops bluesy accents along the way: a trail of crumbs leading to “Selby That The Eternal Spirit Is The Only Reality.” Ironically (or not), this is the most solemn blip on the album’s radar and blends into the ivory tickling of “The Moon.” Here Ibrahim’s heartfelt, dedicatory spirit comes to the fore, proving that, while technically proficient, he possesses a descriptive virtuosity that indeed evokes a pockmarked surface lit in various phases, harnessing sunlight as if it were skin in dense, vibrating harvest. The kinesis of this tune is diffused in the tailwind of “Xaba,” which then flows into “Sunset In Blue.” Ibrahim’s ancestral awareness is clearest here. The level of respect evoked for both the dead and the living lends a ritualistic quality by virtue of tight structuring, which despite hooks at the margins flies freely in its magic circle. “Kippy” is a smoother reverie with flickers of flame. A beautiful amalgam of measures and means, it slips an opiate of reflection into its own drink. After this, the intense two minutes of gospel and downward spirals that is “Jabulani—Easter Joy” takes us into “Tintinyana,” thereby crystallizing the album’s flowing energies. Tracks bleed into one another: they runneth from the same cup, their spiritual resonance deep and true.

African Piano is a gorgeous, thickly settled album, but one that is always transparent when it comes to origins. Such is the tenderness of Ibrahim’s craft, which speaks with a respect that transcends the sinews, muscles, and eardrums required to bring it to life. It finds joy in history, connecting to it like an Avatar’s tail to steed.

African Piano
Original cover

Herbert Joos: The Philosophy of the Fluegelhorn (JAPO 60004)

The Philosophy Of The Fluegelhorn

Herbert Joos
The Philosophy of the Fluegelhorn

Herbert Joos fluegelhorn, bass, bass recorder, bamboo flute, mellophone, trumpet, alto horn, vibes
Recorded July 1973 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer Carlos Albrecht
Produced by Herbert Joos

The Philosophy of the Fluegelhorn is Herbert Joos’s first of two albums for ECM’s sister label JAPO, the second being Daybreak. Where the latter was a lyrical, if longwinded, excursion, the former is something of a meta-statement for the German renaissance man—not only because he plays a bevy of overdubbed instruments, but also because its freer detailing gives pause over the sheer depth of realization.

The title track draws us into the outdoors, where field-recorded birds—and, among them, Joos’s horn—populate the trees with temporal awareness. Sibilant breath and popping bamboo flutes share the entanglement: the rhizomatic spread of Joos’s becoming-animal. Following this undulating prelude, “The Warm Body Of My True Love” opens the stage, a halved and hollowed whole. The nature of this soliloquy must be sought out in stirrings of life, excitations of molecules, and less definable physical properties. The horns are trembling, universal. “Skarabäus II” is of similarly finite constitution, navigating passage into darker dreams and adding to those horns a string’s uncalled-for response to the question of existence. Braided offshoots of trumpet fly around one another, each carrying its own flame of obsession. Next is the smooth and sultry “Rainbow.” Tinged by the alcoholic sunset of vibes, it is a hangover not yet shaken for want of the altered perspective. The squealing litter of horns that is “The Joker” segues into “An Evening With The Vampire.” Bathed in the sounds of nine arco basses, it enacts a morose ending to an otherwise luminescent session. Its sul ponticello screams recall George Crumb’s Black Angels and spin the echo-augmented horn like a chromatic Ferris wheel until the breath stops.

If you’ve ever been curious about Joos but didn’t know where to start, then by reading this you’ve already put your hand on the knob. Just turn it.

George Gruntz: Percussion Profiles (JAPO 60025)

Percussion Profiles Front

George Gruntz
Percussion Profiles

Jack DeJohnette drums, cymbals, gongs
Pierre Favre drums, cymbals, gongs
Fredy Studer drums, cymbals, gongs
Dom Um Romão percussion, gongs
David Friedman flat gongplay, vibes, marimba, crotales
George Gruntz gongs, keyboards, synthesizer, crotales
Recorded September 20, 1977 at Wally Heider Studios, Los Angeles
Engineer: Biff Dawes
Mixing: Georg Scheuermann and Manfred Eicher
Producer: Robert Paiste

Late Swiss composer, multi-instrumentalist, and artistic director George Gruntz (1932-2013) left behind a long and fruitful trail, one that intersected with ECM twice: once for the label proper as Theatre and before that for JAPO in the form of Percussion Profiles. The eminently influential Gruntz assembles here a veritable Who’s Who of the rhythmic circuit at the time of its recording (1977): namely, Jack DeJohnette, Pierre Favre, Fredy Studer, Dom Um Romão, David Friedman, and Gruntz in the architect’s chair on synths and keyboards. The project speaks less to Gruntz’s big band experiments than it does to his classical roots. Dedicated to Paiste brothers Robert (who also produces) and Toomas, the piece is a bona fide percussion concerto that approaches its performers as equal elements in a larger chemistry.

The piece is divided into six Movements, each illuminating a facet of the whole. Movement 1 introduces the pleasant blending of registers—from twinkles to full-throated calls—that defines the album’s broad trajectory. Like the sun on a cloudy day, its light shines variedly: sometimes in floods, sometimes in winks and flashes, but always with a clear conscience. There is a sensitivity of expression here that tells the stories of chamber music in the language of the Serengeti. Movements 2 through 4 bring out a veritable bouquet of fragrances: briny ocean (laced with intimations of birdsong and splashes of electronic marginalia), undercurrents of metal and oil, and resonant drones share a path toward the masterful “Movement 5.” This last opens in a vocal flower, which cups in its petals a sparkling array of notions and potions. The histrionic ways of this piece make it a beguiling standout, akin to Marion Brown’s Afternoon Of A Georgia Faun. Here is where the visuality of his medium is most apparent. If this record is a house, this movement enacts a thorough cleaning of its basement. Rusted tools and unused others share conversations of things past. Stuck between the water-damaged photographs and listless rodents are fortuitous becomings, blips and dots and dashes, sputtering pipes and creaking infrastructure. These are the feelings within, the memories of which “Movement 6” is a snare-inflected shadow, a spacy ride through keyboard textures and xylophoned exeunt.

Those who admire the work of Edgard Varèse will find much to sink their teeth into in Percussion Profiles, which begs repeated, unaccompanied listening, if only for its level of detail. A memorable rung on the JAPO ladder, and worth the climb to get there.

Percussion Profiles Back

Contact Trio: Musik (JAPO 60036)

Musik

Contact Trio
Musik

Evert Brettschneider electric and acoustic guitars
Aloys Kott electric and acoustic basses
Peter Eisold drums, percussion
Recorded October 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Musik was the second effort by the Contact Trio for ECM’s sister JAPO label. Inspired by the atmospheric developments of Wolfgang Dauner (see, for example, Output) and heavily invested in the softening distinctions between rock and jazz, the trio had by now perfected its rhizomatic sound in what was to be its final record. Here Peter Eisold takes the place of drummer Michael Jüllich, and the result is a truly aerobic experience.

The warm-up
The echoing guitar of “Air Lines” opens the session by straddling extremes of register and sharpness, and starts a snowball rolling down the bass’s equally resonant hill. Strangely, the ball doesn’t pick up speed for some time, but paces itself in a journey of textured reflection, tracing from each icy particle a possible trajectory of flight. Eisold’s unique percussive language is thus apparent. And then: traction as the rhythm section hurls the guitar to tell its story in anticipation of an untimely end.

The stretch
Muscles and tendons glow with flexion in “String Games.” Acoustic in hand, Brettschneider reflects on a past in which the only truth was a broken mirror. There is a feeling of dedication here, a deference to time at large for providing this opportunity to luxuriate in the creation of music. Like the first, this track hooks on to something more propulsive in the final minutes, only now running through the backstreets of a small Spanish town, chasing after a melody.

Lower body
“Daddy Longleg” is an invigorating turn featuring two overdubbed electric guitars and electric basses, each relaying torch light in palpitating dialogue with the other. Eisold again shines with colorful cymbal work that evokes nocturnal footfalls in the walls.

Core
From its title alone, “Simple Symphony” would seem to be an allusion to Britten’s work of the same name. The music provides an entirely different experience. From Brettschneider’s throbbing beats and elastic chording to the groovy trio unity achieved thereafter, it climbs every tree in its way like a squirrel on a mission. The rhythm section positively shines in gorgeous geometries, sliding from one signature to the next with the ease and comfort of a fountain pen.

Back
The spine gets is due attention in “Silence,” which curves in a protracted arch. Stained guitar and arco bass lead into a plunking dream of youthful flexibility, edging a ghost town with its metal detector until it finds two rusted guns from a shootout, long forgotten…

Chest and arms
“Elbow Dance” completes this full-body workout with a slog through cement that finds resolution and strange comfort in the hardening.

At the risk of belaboring all of this analogizing, Musik is an intensely physical record. Not only in the sense that it feels weighted and animate, but also for its permeable compositions. Each is a thoughtful assemblage of lines that no longer has need for points of origin. Together, these lines leave the listener with a lasting meta-statement of harmless transgression.

A gem in ECM’s apocryphal bin.