Jiří Stivín/Rudolf Dašek: System Tandem (JAPO 60008)

System Tandem

System Tandem

Jiří Stivín alto sax, soprano sax, flute, alto flute, recorder
Rudolf Dašek guitar
Recorded May 1974

Jiří Stivín is a true renaissance man. Widely involved as a classical musician in especially early and Baroque music circles, the flutist and composer is also one of the most highly regarded jazzmen of the Czech Republic. The son of an actress and an inventor, he has absorbed both of his parents’ talents, combining their passion for expression and utility in an immediately recognizable style. On System Tandem, he joins guitarist Rudolf Dašek, a partner in crime since 1971. This out-of-print session owes its verve to time spent at London’s Royal Academy of Music, which put Stivín in touch with the exciting jazz-rock fusions proliferating in the late sixties, and found him in the midst of Cornelius Cardew’s legendary Scratch Orchestra. His project with Dašek—probably the most successful jazz outfit to emerge from his homeland—enjoyed great festival circuit success on the continent and abroad. System Tandem came on the heels of a collaboration with bassist Barre Phillips, and the latter’s balance of form and spontaneity is certainly in the air. Dašek, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 79, was another stalwart of the Czech jazz scene known for crossing the genre divide. From his trio with George Mraz and Laco Tropp (among other drummers) to work as soloist before the Prague RSO, his dedication to new music was unflagging. Together, he and Stivín stayed true to that exploratory spirit, working alongside Pierre Favre and Tony Scott, big bands, and countless other configurations.

For its second album (following a debut on RCA Victor in Finland), System Tandem focuses the integrity of the music. Stivín pens the first cut and arranges the second. “Puddle On The Muddle” shows off the duo’s sense of light and shadow in a steely combination of registers. The lively interplay and ping-ponging of ideas allows Stivín to veer down wilder paths of squealing abandon in a robust opening gambit. The Moravian folk song that follows, “Forman Going Down The Valley” is the first of a few pairings of flute and guitar. The theme here is mountainous, painterly, and segues into the album’s remainder, all of which bears Dašek’s stamp. “Hey, Man (Let’s Play Something About Spain)” is the first standout and deepens the fluted streams of its predecessor. Buoyed by echoes of “Hasta Siempre” and quasi-flamenco touches, Stivín jumps into the deep end in another inspired solo turn. He speaks in tongues, becoming more vocal by the moment, for stretches abandoning the flute altogether. “What’s Your Story” mark’s the flute’s last appearance in a forlorn piece of restrained melodic shape. As it progresses, the virtuosity adjusts its sights a few clicks to the left. Stivín breaks out the soprano for “Shepherd Song,” evoking a dance party of undomesticated wildlife. This leaves us with the album’s pièce de résistance, “Puzzle Game.” For this marvelous foray into Baroque territory, Stivín plays a dizzying recorder against an invigorating Django Reinhardt rhythm. Dašek’s finger picking works wonders in the final stretch.

This rare gem is due for reissue not only for its content, but also because the lackluster engineering could do with an overhaul. At many points throughout, the guitar’s audibility is torn to shreds by Stivín’s sharp edges. This is especially true in “Hey, Man” and “What’s Your Story.” It’s as if Dašek were playing with his back to the listener, which makes him feel not so present and obscures his contributions. Thankfully, the recording levels are more graciously tweaked in the final track. Engineering caveats aside, the perks of System Tandem are in its well-muscled compositions. Building enough emotional resonance to undermine the need for a rhythm section is no easy trick for any unconventional duo, but Stivín and Dašek have no problems pulling the rabbit out of the hat.

To all you vinyl collectors, I say: Seek this one out.

Larry Karush/Glen Moore: May 24, 1976 (JAPO 60014)

May 24, 1976

Larry Karush
Glen Moore
May 24, 1976

Larry Karush piano
Glen Moore bass, violin
Recorded May 1976 at Talent Studios, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Bassist and Oregon cofounder Glen Moore joins pianist Larry Karush (who can be found lurking elsewhere on ECM as part of Steve Reich’s ensembles) in a fascinating encounter recorded on the titular date for the JAPO label. Perhaps because the two had already nurtured a deep synergy, what might have been a straight-up duo project instead turned into a spacious and variegated statement. Karush serves up four memorable solo portions, including opener “Untitled.” Balancing cloudy textures with sudden intakes of breath, it leaves only ash to tell of the fire that once burned there. “Transit Boogie,” on the other hand, is a forward-moving piece of ragtime nostalgia that delights in interlocking parts. “Vicissitudes” and “Pamela: At The Hawk’s Well” round out the solo ventures with introspections and intense descriptiveness. Moore’s single lone contribution is “Flagolet,” an overdubbed piece for bowed basses that grinds and twists its own sonic licorice.

“Duet,” the first in a handful of the same, marries these two uncompromising talents in such intuitive ways you’d swear they were separated at birth. Moore’s resonant bassing swims, keens, and prophesies at horsehair’s touch. Like a pinwheel tickled by the fringe of an incoming storm, his energies flourish in a whirl of colors. “Country” finds the bassist leaving deep pizzicato footprints along Karush’s sandy trail. The bluesy serration of this emerging path arcs beautifully into the late-night atmosphere of “Abstinence.” This masterful exchange of air and water finds likeminded release in “Triads,” which concludes with pointillist reflections at the keyboard from behind a David Darling-like gauze. The session’s crowning jewel, however, is “Violin Suite,” which places a smaller bow in Moore’s hands. Its flip-flopping of scratching and melodic itching makes for a sparkling field of contrast that pairs well with the Pifarély/Couturier vintage of Poros.

Sitting at a cerebral interstice between categories, Karush and Moore cover their cardinal bases and then some, leaving us in the end with one of the most wondrous JAPO sessions, period.

Bobby Naughton Units: Understanding (JAPO 60006)


Bobby Naughton Units

Perry Robinson clarinet
Mark Whitecage flute, basset born
Richard Yongstein or Mario Pavone bass
Randy Kaye or Laurence Cook percussion
Bobby Naughton vibraphone, piano, clavinet
Recorded October 30, 1971 in concert at Yale University and at Blue Rock Studio, New York
Engineer Eddie Korvin
Originally produced in USA by Otic Records, a musicians’ cooperative

Self-taught composer-performer Bobby Naughton has been playing the vibraphone professionally since 1966. From silent film scoring to a stint with the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, not to mention a regular spot alongside Leo Smith (see 1979’s Divine Love), Naughton has since developed his craft by way of a unique, eclectic career. In 1971, Naughton and a handful of trusted musicians took a dip into the JAPO pool with Understanding. Recorded both in studio and in concert (with a slight change in roster between each), it documents a singular shuffle of original tunes and those of Carla Bley.

Bley and Naughton’s styles could hardly be more different, making their combination on this album all the more appropriate. Comparing the former’s title track with the latter’s follow-up, “Austin Who,” one finds a shift from the charcoal strokes of drummer Randy Kaye and Naughton’s own balance of melody and affect to a haunting look inward to places of delicate unrest. It is a fascinating diptych. Of the remaining Bley selections, the popular “Ictus” gets a gargling treatment, finding chaos and color in the tactile playing of clarinetist Perry Robinson. In it one can taste sunset and the excitement of evening’s promise. “Gloria” is the glistening heart of the set, a tender and questioning act of impression which, much like the opener, brushes its way into the ear, catching hair cells unawares with its jaggedness, pausing as if inhaling.

Naughton’s compositions unfurl a uniquely uplifting spread of descriptive moods. Sleigh bells, for instance, let us know that “Snow” is on the way. What ensues is not a song of winter’s dread, however, but of its thaw, each touch of percussion another clump rattling from the branches. Laurence Cook’s beautiful cymbal work in “V.A.” sparks an unusual conversation of wind and water, while for “Nital Rock” Naughton breaks out the clavinet for some electric throwback. Mark Whitecage does phenomenal things with the basset horn here, running a hundred errands at once.

This is a pot of water ever on the verge of boiling.

… . …

In an effort to better understand the context in which this album took shape, I interviewed Mr. Naughton, who kindly offered his succinct wisdom. Below is what transpired.

Tyran Grillo: Can you tell me a little about how you came to the vibraphone? Or did it come to you?
Bobby Naughton: I had been playing a lot of funky and out-of-tune pianos. The clarity of the vibraphone was appealing. And the keyboard was familiar. I went for it.

TG: As a self-taught musician, do you find that you approach performance in any way different from those with strictly formal training?
BN: I have no idea. As a child I had years of piano lessons, but am self-taught on the vibraphone. My formal education is in the liberal arts. My approach to performance? Prepare to lay it all on the line. Every time.

TG: How did Understanding come to fruition?
BN: I don’t know. Not by plan. It evolved.

TG: What was behind your decision to focus on the music of Carla Bley? Was she involved in the project in any way?
BN: No decision. Investigations led me to Carla’s compositions. Incredibly meaty and detailed stuff. No, Carla had no involvement.

TG: Looking back at your recorded output, how does Understanding fit into the sounds you have forged in, say, The Haunt or Zoar? What does the album mean for you?
BN: Each album covers quite a different area. Understanding is broader in scope and personnel. For example, the title composition is a tone row, a twelve tone piece, and “V.A.” is a graphic score.

TG: What were the circumstances that led you to work with Leo Smith?
BN: In the early 70s a JAPO employee wrote to me that Leo lived a few towns away in Connecticut. I called him and we met.

TG: Can you sketch me a picture of how the Divine Love recording session went down?
BN: A happening at the highest level.

TG: How would you describe your own compositions to those who haven’t heard them?
BN: Melodic and suggestive. Structures for improvisation.

TG: What would you say has been the most fulfilling aspect of your career thus far?
BN: Survival. It’s been musically rewarding but tempered by resources. You have to love it to do it.

Children At Play: s/t (JAPO 60009)

Children At Play

Children At Play

Tom van der Geld vibes, percussion
Roger Janotta reeds, percussion
Larry Porter piano, electric piano, percussion
Richard Appleman bass
Jamey Haddad drums
Bob Gulotti drums
Recorded 1973 at Rennaissance Studios, Maynard, Massachusetts
Engineer: C. Ange
Produced by Tom van der Geld

Vibraphonist Tom van der Geld’s distinct musical wanderings have left behind some of the choicest among ECM’s out-of-print relics. Whether the trio settings of Path or the broader palette of Patience, his sound is at once soft and unbreakable, forthright yet ecumenical. His footsteps also found purchase in the rarer soil of the JAPO sub-label, of which this self-titled date from his legendary group Children At Play was the first. Here van der Geld is joined by Roger Janotta on reeds, Larry Porter on keyboards, Richard Appleman on bass, and Jamey Haddad on drums. Basking in opener “Tamarind,” it’s clear why the ensemble has attained such high status among collectors. This power statement awakens to a wealth of morning light every bit as descriptive as Grieg’s. The brittle bass line that ensues nets a flavorsome admixture of piano, vibes, and soprano sax that positively exudes personality. Between Porter’s grounding keys and a drum circle-like interlude, there is much to take in throughout this 18-minute journey as it pulls down the sun to where it began.

“Wandering I” lumbers further into the album’s storybook scenography, bringing illustrations to life with a hint of whimsy. In addition to the group unity forged in such tracks, Janotta’s reeds work a most vivid magic throughout, but especially in “Sweet My Sweet,” in which he sets up a tropical narrative from van der Geld, trembling and sunbathed, swaying like the album cover’s long grasses. Drummer Bob Gulotti replaces Haddad on “Reason,” a rubato outing of multifaceted inner dimensions. A gnarled, lethargic bass solo paints the picture of sleep before van der Geld’s dreams touch off lens flare accents.

If pushed to find a point of critique regarding this album, I might comment only on the sequencing, for the tracks might have better served themselves in reverse. As the order stands, it’s like starting with an enormous dessert and working one’s way back through smaller main courses. Either way, the album is another beautiful entry in the van der Geld travelogue and finds rich closure in “Patch Of Blue.” The only track not written by the bandleader (this one comes from Porter’s pen), it molds a pastiche of all that came before, combining the time of “Tamarind,” the fantasy of “Wandering I,” the warmth of “Sweet My Sweet,” and the introspection of “Reason” in smooth detail. The feeling is one of sand—not of desert, but of beach—between the toes, honest down to the last grain.

Globe Unity Orchestra: Improvisations (JAPO 60021)


Globe Unity

Gerd Dudek soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute
Paul Lovens drums
Günther Christmann trombone
Paul Rutherford trombone
Tristan Honsinger cello
Peter Kowald bass, tuba
Kenny Wheeler trumpet
Evan Parker soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
Albert Mangelsdorff trombone
Peter Brötzmann alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
Buschi Niebergall bass
Michel Pilz bass clarinet
Manfred Schoof trumpet
Derek Bailey guitar
Alexander von Schlippenbach piano
Recorded September 1977 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Ashes, ashes, we all fall…up? Yes, says the Globe Unity Orchestra. The autonomous improvisation collective was formed in 1966 and has shifted ever since with as much openness to the unknown as the music it unleashes. Over the years, it has seen a veritable who’s who of modern jazz flit through its cage, including Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, Enrico Rava, and Toshinori Kondo. Because of the wealth of riches at its employ, the GUO’s eponymous unity undermines the need to dwell on individual talents. All the same, this early JAPO release, recorded in 1977, is an endearing document for, among other reasons, so nakedly marking the early careers of its great improvisers. Whether through Michel Pilz’s visceral baying, Peter Brötzmann’s gurgling of midnight oil, Derek Bailey’s jangly aphorisms, Kenny Wheeler’s playful fancy, or Evan Parker’s sopranic emulsions, the character of every voice remains prominent—astonishing when one thinks of just how many are involved.

Together these musicians are something greater than the sum of their parts, each an integral element in an alchemy that espouses the new by tapping into something that predates all of us. Throughout the album’s four numbered improvisations, the GUO sharpens ears as if they were pencils. With the epic concentration and polar range of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, “Improvisation 1” clings to some alien monolith in pure instinctual discovery, while “Improvisation 2” teeters in the sonic equivalent of a groggy yawn. It pulls every limb from the muck of dreams until it pops with renewed life. The feeling of tension is palpable: plucking, striking, and exhaling into infinity. Yet where the first half seems chained to an alternate reality, “Improvisation 3” taps into those cortical implosions sooner and measures their perimeter before diving headlong into the resulting froth. It is a brilliant percussive mash of banshees and waterfalls.

“Improvisation 4” is the album’s pièce de résistance. Longer than the first three combined, it teases with jazzy beginnings. Like the third, however, it locates the problem early on and unpacks it with guttural aptitude. The more one surrenders to this music, the more it splits into pieces and slides down vocal tracts like children at a playground. The depth of color and texture—of sustained light flecked with disturbing rhythmic shadows—dwarfs all that came before. The intimacy, too, with which it ends is arresting: only cello and bass overlapping to the clatter of a teapot without a whistle, burying themselves as deeply as they can until the bulldozers arrive.

A worthy curio for your cabinet.

Barre Phillips: For All It Is (JAPO 60003)

For All It Is

Barre Phillips
For All It Is

Barre Phillips bass
Palle Danielsson bass
Barry Guy bass
Jean-François Jenny-Clark bass
Stu Martin percussion
Recorded March 12, 1971 at Alster Film-Tonstudios, Hamburg
Engineer: Klaus Bornemann
Produced by Barre Phillips

This unusual meeting of minds pits bassists Barre Phillips (who also penned the proceedings), Palle Danielsson, Barry Guy, and Jean-François Jenny-Clark with percussionist Stu Martin in a tactile playoff with mixed results. It’s remarkable to think that four behemoths could sound so open, and so one shouldn’t be surprised to encounter a few tangles in “just 8.” For the most part, however, this introductory track maintains the clarity of separation that characterizes the album’s latter remainder. Either way, it’s a jaunty ride into an unprecedented sound-world. Martin anchors “whoop” with his engaging loops amid a menagerie of pizzicato signifiers. Along with “few too” it evokes a jack-in-the-box weeping for want of exposure. From that unrequited lament comes a bright promise, skewed by a hope that the world turns not even for itself. It’s a melancholic hope, to be sure, but hope nonetheless. Martin’s absence here makes the track an early standout: just the rocking of bows pressed into myriad shapes by insistent fingertips. “la palette” and “y en a” form another pair, taking a decidedly architectural approach to this most warped string quartet. Together, they form a cycle of destruction, pain, and healing.

The album only really comes together in the final two tracks. Where “dribble” proves an apt title for its dotted ritual, “y. m.” dances like an anonymous car alarm stripped of its batteries and given new acoustic life. The latter is a particularly complex, anchored piece that spits out some utterly brilliant turns of phrase.

For All It Is, for all it is, is above all an exercise in linguistics. Its cognates are familiar, even if the grammars are not. Although I’d likely recommend this one least out of Phillips’s otherwise astonishing ECM outings, for the completist it will be an intriguing blip on the radar of all four bassists’ careers.

Magog: s/t (JAPO 60011)



Hans Kennel trumpet, fluegelhorn, perussion
Andy Scherrer soprano and tenor saxophones, flute, percussion
Paul Haag trombone, percussion
Klaus Koenig piano, e-piano, percussion
Peter Frei bass
Peter Schmidlin drums, percussion
Recorded November 1 and 2, 1974 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineers: Martin Wieland and Carlos Albrecht
Produced by Solitron Productions, S.A.

Magog was the brainchild of trumpeter Hans Kennel, who made a name for himself in the 1960s as a hard-bop king of the Swiss jazz scene. After earning his chops with the likes of fellow countryman Bruno Spoerri and American bassist Oscar Pettiford, he continued to work with other brilliant outliers, including Mal Waldron, George Gruntz, and Pierre Favre. The band documented here arose in the mid-seventies and was something of a stepping-stone as he grew into his own as a purveyor of “New Alpine Music” (including an alphorn quartet outfit called Mytha), combining now the traditional music of his ancestors with modern jazz idioms.

As it stands, this self-titled album from the short-lived Magog is a worthy JAPO outing. There is plenty to admire in the sounds forged by Kennel and his cohorts. Reedman Andy Scherrer, trombonist Paul Haag, pianist Klaus Koenig, bassist Peter Frei, and drummer Peter Schmidlin round out a sometimes-formidable sextet in this program of as many cuts. Haag pens opener “Lock.” It’s the album’s weakest, building a loose groove from base (read: bass) elements to Kennel’s breezy adlibbing. Despite the pleasant jam aesthetic, it feels like a studio warm-up in comparison to the sprawling entity that is Scherrer’s “Gogam.” This bubbling spring promises stronger themes and realizes them with a tuck and a roll into swinging traction. The big-band-on-a-shoestring sound achieved here is remarkable, as is the steamy action between the composer and the rhythm section.

Koenig counters with two. Haag’s trombone is a prominent voice in “Rhoades,” threading the piano’s claustrophobic maze of needles with ease. This and Kennel’s visceral squeals, not to mention the sleepwalking bass solo, make for some inspiring journeying toward the final pop. “Der Bachstelzer” finds Koenig plugged in, providing somber introductory remarks to the smoothly paced excursion that ensues. More inspired, erratic brushwork from Kennel (whose musicianship stands a head above the others) and lithe sopranism from Scherrer lay a rough yet fluid track. The group really hits its stride, however, in the closing tunes from Kennel. Between the hauntingly atmospheric beginnings of “Summervogel,” replete with ancestral ululations, and the solid groove of “New Samba,” there is much to warrant return fare.

Magog doesn’t seem to have been afraid to test the waters on tape. Their honesty is apparent throughout and makes for a transparent listening experience. The group flicks through dreams like a Rolodex, working fingers to the bone in search of closure. Although said closure never quite materializes, it leaves us free to interpret the sounds however we choose.

Herbert Joos: Daybreak – The Dark Side Of Twilight (JAPO 60015/ECM 3615)

Daybreak Dark

Herbert Joos
Daybreak -­ The Dark Side Of Twilight

Herbert Joos fluegelhorn, trumpet, cornet
Thomas Schwarz oboe
Wolfgang Czelustra bass, trombone
Strings of Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart
Recorded October 1976 and July 1988 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Carlos Albrecht
Produced by Herbert Joos and Thomas Stöwsand

German trumpeter and fluegelhornist Herbert Joos’s flirtations with ECM have been few, contributing to the big brass sound of Eberhard Weber’s Orchestra and notably to Cracked Mirrors, a marvelous and, it would seem, overlooked date with guitarist Harry Pepl and drummer Jon Christensen. Yet it was with Daybreak, recorded in the fall of 1976 for sister label JAPO, that the knot of Joos first audibly untied itself alongside Thomas Schwarz (oboe), Wolfgang Czelustra (bass and trombone), and the strings of the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart.

The emphasis on classical textures will feel familiar to admirers of Keith Jarrett’s likeminded forays, especially In The Light and Bridge Of Light. That being said, the overall effect is shadowy, overhung, though equally honest. “Why?,” for example, answers its own question up front in the very asking. Although an obvious reference to Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question, its progression spins closure from an interrogative oboe. The normally pastoral associations of the instrument are shed along with lingering symphonic details, such that when Joos’s breath cuts the air with its golden knife, the strings drip like lifeblood from its plane. None of which is meant to suggest that the music is in any way macabre. For what can there be but hope in the cyclical motif that churns during fadeout? “When Were You Born?” asks another question answered by its own sounding. The delicacies of Joos’s high-register playing render far more expansive maps in this instance, touching proboscis to firmament and sampling sunlight until nightfall. “Leicester Court 1440” features Joos in muted soliloquy. Riding a horse of compressed time, he enacts an agitated recession into the title piece. Joos has only his own echo for company before the inward journey is externalized by the dark arrival of strings. Hence, the “Black Trees” looming not far away. Yet despite the title, they actually let down the brightest of the album’s seeds with an approach that gives voice to nature and seeks universal truth in a bird’s nest. Joos’s lines bespeak haughty quest in “Fasten Your Seatbelt.” This playful frolic through arco fabric balances laughter and fearless arpeggios, while scuttling crabs and landlocked others communicate without need for sound. And when the seatbelt fails us, we are thrown into a life of slower motion, lit by “The Dark Side Of Twilight.” The latter appears only on the 1990 CD re-issue (ECM 3615) and, at 15 minutes, is the album’s most brooding texture. Relaying brass-synth and string chorale settings, it walks a broken circle with its head hung in thought, an outlier among the album’s modest population.

The music of Daybreak speaks to children in the language of adults. It photographs the illusion of age and melts it into a sea of numbers. Not every detail will be preserved in that translation, but in the process we come to understand that history and music are sometimes like water and oil. In this chamber of the past, futures hide in corners the light struggles to reach.

Original cover

Manfred Schoof Quintet: Resonance (ECM 2093/94)


Manfred Schoof Quintet

Manfred Schoof trumpet, flugelhorn
Michel Pilz bass clarinet
Jasper van ‘t Hof piano, electric piano, organ
Rainer Brüninghaus piano, synthesizer
Günter Lenz double-bass
Ralf-R. Hübner drums
Recorded August 1976 (Scales), December 1977 (Light Lines), and November 1979 (Horizons) at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

Resonance compiles two discs of vital material from the early JAPO releases by German trumpeter Manfred Schoof: Scales, Light Lines, and Horizons. The first two albums are presented in full, while only half of the third is excerpted. As co-member with bass clarinetist Michel Pilz of the Globe Unity Orchestra (another group with a hefty JAPO footprint), Schoof was a hot ticket in the 1970s, when his quintet was all the rage in the European free jazz scene.


What distinguished him from the avant-garde demimonde was an insistence on melodic integrity. For Schoof, “the term ‘free’ not only stands for a specific style of jazz that, in its beginnings, opposed with revolutionary gesture everything redolent of the past and reminiscent of tradition but rather the freedom to choose between a multitude of very different means of expression. Tradition, therefore, is viewed as a past experience that merges with and enriches a new style of sound.” His band mates in these recordings include Pilz, pianists Jasper van ‘t Hof and Rainer Brüninghaus, bassist Günter Lenz, and drummer Ralf-R. Hübner, most of whom will be familiar to the more adventurous ECM listeners.

Scales (JAPO 60013)
The title track of Scales opens both album and set with a primal trumpet cry. It is Schoof’s calling card: a rip in the ether from which flows undeniable light. Van ‘t Hof poeticizes this light from a place beyond waking. And indeed, the more instruments are added, the dreamier the music becomes. Over time, Pilz’s gorgeous rasp adds tactility, so that surreal gestures begin to feel familiar. Pilz stands out also in “Ostinato,” which finds him sharing a stepwise ground line with Lenz. We are so fully mired in this swampy unison that when he breaks free from the waves, his voice feels like a shaded benediction in what is easily among the finest tracks in the ECM archive. Van ‘t Hof’s organ drone is also notable here. Over it drums seem to describe abandoned castles, stone by stone, until they loom before us unscathed by time. The keyboardist provides deep color shifts throughout the program, evoking early Steve Kuhn vis–à–vis electric piano in “For Marianne” and spacy atmospheres in “Weep And Cry.” The former’s cloud rolls give Schoof vast chromatic freedom, while the latter evokes sunset before cooling into a twilit canopy, now alive as the darkness reveals its dance through the bass clarinet. The scene closes its eyes with “Flowers All Over” in the album’s most joyous music. Schoof rides a harmonic dolphin, plunging variously into intuitive digs, likewise inspiring Pilz to grand emotional heights.

Original cover

Light Lines (JAPO 60019)
“Source” introduces the second disc with the world of Light Lines. The middle of this JAPO sandwich finds Schoof swimming in an ocean of fire. Overall, the sound is more sparkling by way of Hübner’s clear and present kit work. The album boasts not only its own title track, a splash of sonic goodness in which Schoof’s trumpet is the very image of a bird in flight, but also that of the set as a whole. “Resonance,” for that matter, is more than a catchy word. It is the credo of a musician whose focus unnerves with its precision. Working through the changes like a card shark riffling to his cull, he holds our attention by means of powerful misdirection. “Criterium” and “Lonesome Defender” round things out, on the one hand, the glint of a blade catching sunlight and, on the other, an evocative blend of sweet and savory flavors.

Light Lines
Original cover

Horizons (JAPO 60030)
Brüninghaus steps from the Jan Garbarek/Eberhard Weber mold and into open Horizons, where he adds lilting undercurrents and cascading solos throughout. Pilz’s fierce, uncompromising blues is downright brilliant amid the pianist’s sparkle in the waterlogged title track, in which Schoof emerges like a butterfly from its chrysalis, fluttering to and fro with the determination of a man on fire in search of water. In “Hope,” he sweeps a guiding hand through waves of thematic life, Pilz ever the underwater acrobat. The band rounds up a school of fish hungry for soul in “Old Ballad,” with Brüninghaus and Lenz hauling a fair catch each, while the final “Sunset” fronts the trilogy’s brightest stars, Schoof and Pilz, against a gradual rhythm section, carrying us out toward a forever receding waterline.

Two worthy, if confected, tracks have been elided from Horizons—strange when you consider the collection could have accommodated both. “The Abstract Face Of Beauty,” penned by Hübner, paints a vista of clouds and barren land, every bit the sonic analogue to the album’s cover, and features prime soulful blowing from Pilz. “Sunrise” taps a similarly rubato vein and throws the spotlight on Schoof’s technical prowess. The 14-minute loss isn’t likely to matter to those new to this material, of whom many listeners of Resonance are likely to be. In any event, Schoof himself assembled the included tracks, and one can only imagine his good reason.

Original cover

Although he is one diamond in a mine already chock full of them, Manfred Schoof deserves any ECM fan’s close attention. As a composer, he builds a welcoming world. As a player, he turns fantasy inside out and makes it feel possible. Like the solo concerts of Keith Jarrett, if the reader will forgive the otherwise groundless simile, his pieces are distinguished by their ostinatos, which thrum with the invisible energy of ley lines. This is music that looks at itself in the mirror and asks, “Am I the reflection after all?”