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.

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.

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.

Contact Trio: Musik (JAPO 60036)


Contact Trio

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.

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.

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.

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.