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.

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.

Ken Hyder’s Talisker: Land Of Stone (JAPO 60018)

Land Of Stone

Ken Hyder’s Talisker
Land Of Stone

Ken Hyder drums
John Lawrence bass
Marcio Mattos bass
Davie Webster alto saxophone
John Rangecroft tenor saxophone, clarinet
Ricardo Mattos soprano and tenor saxophones, flute
Brian Eley vocals
Frankie Armstrong vocals
Phil Minton vocals
Maggie Nichols vocals
Recorded April 1977 in London
Engineer Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Over a career spanning more than four decades, Scottish percussionist and vocalist Ken Hyder has developed a strong body of work, though perhaps none so robust as his Talisker outfit. Combining Celtic and jazz influences, Talisker debuted in 1975 with Dreaming Of Glenisla on Virgin Records. Yet as Hyder’s musical interests began to expand to traditional Irish music and further to Asian monasticism, his sound opened itself to a world of possibilities. Enter album the second, Land Of Stone, which found a home on the JAPO label two years later.

“The Strathspey King,” a strangely swinging ode to Scottish master fiddler James Scott Skinner (1843-1927), sets a homegrown tone. Clarinetist John Rangecroft proves to be a vital presence in this increasingly enigmatic session, adding swagger aplenty. Like a young hopeful decked out in fresh threads and money in the pocket, he tricks the heart into thinking that harm is a while away. Hyder’s militaristic drum solo intercepts street-side, as if offering free samples of reality before a chorus of bidders drops into view with its haunting brand of Hebridean choral music in “The Men Of Barra Know How To Drink, But The Women Know How To Sing.” A boisterous and colorful chain, its syllables become actions, teetering like drunken instruments into “Close The Window And Keep It Down.” This likeminded island song is an onomatopoetic excursion into the inner lives of house wares and propriety. The latter quickly disintegrates as bonds loosen their friction and slide from grasp in screeching ululations, courtesy of ECM margin-bearer Maggie Nichols. The color wheel darkens further in “See You At The Mission, Eh, If It’s No’ Full,” in which a brood of instruments strains unison phrasings through an upturned colander. Bass and drums form a knot of support, eyes in a flowing wood grain. In the wake of these dirt-caked fingernails, “Derek Was Only A Bairn” rides into the dawn, a smooth caravan lead by Ricardo Mattos on flute and horse’s trot.

Hyder insists that improvisation was a vital component of Scottish bagpipe playing, and in a tripartite pibroch he explores the crossover from the Highlands to the fringes of American free jazz, dedicating parts respectively to the MacCrimmons (a notable family of pipers), John Coltrane, and Albert Ayler. After a microscopic dialogue between bassists John Lawrence and Marcio Mattos, soprano saxophone masquerades as bagpipe in piercing shepherd’s call. Hints of a jig rise and fall from deeper drones, a sky behind mountain silhouettes. Over the click of cymbal, dense voices weave in and out of earshot, taking solid presence in the loam of memory, to slumber and to molt. The banshees return with gentle persuasions, their ashen hair and earthward grins blistered by the rub of their limbo. Yet with the coming of rhythm they achieve communication somewhere on the other side of fear, ecstatic totems each passing through sea and grain until the wind puts fingers to lips and blows.

Cleaning off the dust of age, Talisker shakes out tunes old and new, and with the chaff pieces together charcoal fields as would a cobbler hammer a sole. Or is it soul? There’s plenty to be had in this land of stone.

Es herrscht Uhu im Land: s/t (JAPO 60037)

Es herrscht Uhu im Land

Es herrscht Uhu im Land

Christoph Anders voice, guitar, organ
Heiner Goebbels synthesizer, piano, saxophone, voice
Alfred Harth saxophones, bass clarinet, voice
Paul Lovens drums, percussion
Rolf Riehm english horn, alto saxophone, voice
Annemarie Roelofs trombone, violin, voice
Recorded December 9-11, 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

This early collaboration from saxophonist Alfred Harth and composer Heiner Goebbels is a telling lens of intersection through which to mine two fascinating careers. Harth will be familiar to ECM devotees as the progenitor of the label’s second album, Just Music, and would go on to release two further albums in other venues before meeting Goebbels in 1975. The two came together musically in a jazz-rock outfit called Rauhreif which, being to neither’s liking, dissolved, leaving these powerhouses itching for freer means of expression. It was in the context of this collaboration that Harth introduced the young Goebbels to the music of Hanns Eisler, which would of course lead to Eislermaterial, his most successful project to date. After connecting the dots for five years as a duo in various German settings, Harth called on the services of an old friend, Thomas Stöwsand, who’d played cello and flute on Just Music and was now headlong into the ECM storm. Stöwsand agreed to produce and welcomed into the studio Chris Anders, Rolf Riehm, and Annemarie Roelofs, each accomplished multi-instrumentalists, and drummer Paul Lovens. Such is the tangled web of Es herrscht Uhu in Land.

In it ideas were already taking shape that would become touchstones for Goebbels’s work, such as “Autobahn,” which meshes rallying songs with a field recording of its eponymous motorway, while “Wertkauf” betrays a less delicate side, sounding like something out of an Otomo Yoshihide free-for-all. The reversed vinyl and crunchy guitar make for a powerful contrast, each groove a cavity waiting for a tooth. “Mahlzeit” is a trembling gift, enacting a sacred touch of tongue to circuit. And one can’t help but uphold the frozen wasteland and creaking wonders of “Durch Den Wald” as a precursor to Stifters Dinge.

Riehm also makes a significant contribution with “Der Main.” Composed around poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin, it thus lays another important keystone in the ECM ethos. This skip through space is like a sonic parlor trick, a knock on the door of memory, a wishful thought. Through a deft admixture of songs, the relay of word to voice moves in an extended meditation. At nearly eight minutes, it towers over the outlying tracks, which average around two minutes each, and underscores the otherwise restless musings therein with a bold cohesion.

The musicians turn air to solid with their touch. Intimate musings, talking brass, laughter, and wires share a bed, rolling in the sheets until something musical takes shape. Each body part becomes a note that in combination with other, activates instrumental ideas. Harth, for one, writhes in soprano-gilded spirals over the song of a hungry whale in “Echter Lachs” and pops the electronic bubble in “Knecht U.” Yet for the most part, the group works as a whole, spitting watermelon seeds out of cartoon mouths in “Ich Nicht Mich Dich” alongside the jackhammer of self-questioning. It pulls us into an underworld of radio signals, waltzing to the beat of a perverse drum (“El Salvador”) and changing channels with the twist of a rein (“Uhu”), all the while feeding voices through a sluice pipe of craft. A spate of translation (“Superbirdsong”), dust for wings and air, and we are in the forlorn wakeup call of “Tilt!” smoking monosyllables until they stain the lungs with honesty.

In this bedtime story for the escaped mind, the main characters are an adroit political insight, a leak in the colonial pen that ruins a fluid takeover with exposition of intent, and a crucible of retrospection. Neither derisive nor derivative, this project takes a good long look at the sandy areas of our consciousness and pours water on them for sandcastles. The water jug drains itself. The water jug waits for no one.

Es herrscht Uhu im Land (Back)
Back cover

OM: Kirikuki (JAPO 60012)


Urs Leimgruber soprano and tenor saxophones, percussion
Christy Doran guitar
Bobby Buri bass
Fredy Studer drums, percussion
Recorded October 1 and 2, 1975, at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by OM

Like its contemporary, the Everyman Band, the Lucerne-based quartet known as OM succeeded in blending rock and free improv idioms to gnarled perfection. Composed of guitarist Christy Doran (Dublin-born but Swiss-raised) and fellow countrymen Urs Leimgruber (reeds), Bobby Burri (bass), and Fredy Studer (drums), the group was an espresso shot in all four careers. ECM has, of course, given just dues with a 2006 retrospective. Still, there’s no better place to get acquainted with OM than through the four complete albums for sister label JAPO, of which this is the first (the fourth, Cerberus, survives fully intact on said retrospective).

Doran is the compositional heart and soul of the set. The only track not penned by him is “Lips” (Leimgruber/Burri), which stands out for its inspired flute playing. Leimgruber sings into the instrument for a bit of polyphonic panache against a gorgeously primal backing, Doran providing industrial touches throughout. Yet it is “Holly” which introduces the album’s distinctly nocturnal sound. Leimgruber’s talents abound here, casting him in the melodic lead from the start. Smoky atmospheres are blown into rings at his lips through a pure, oboe-like soprano. His gorgeous, full highs, complemented by Doran’s crunch, make for an energizing sound and bring their smoothness to the burnished field that is “Sykia.” The buoyant drumming makes this an enchanting epilogue. The color wheel of “Karpfenteich” begins with reedless trio action before launching us horizonward in a lob of flame. More propulsive action from the rhythm section here backs some artful crosstalk between reed and guitar. Yet it is the “Hommage à Mme. Stirnmaa” that takes this cake and bakes another one in its place. From the lovely solo by Duran that starts, it builds to a slightly burnt frenzy, out of which arises a bass of flesh and wires. The tenor solo is like a coda, rough and unleashed, and opens into a percussion solo from Studer, this but the carpet for a grand underwater raga. A masterstroke, and proof enough to seek out OM’s dates in full.

There is something strangely melancholic about the river of Kirikuki. The sunshine is in its sediments.

Rena Rama: Landscapes (JAPO 60020)

Rena Rama

Lennart Åberg tenor and soprano saxophones, percussion
Bobo Stenson piano, percussion
Palle Danielsson bass
Leroy Lowe drums, percussion
Recorded June 1977 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Saxophonist, flutist, and composer Lennart Åberg is among ECM’s sleeper talents. Having graced the label only as sideman to 1994’s Dona Nostra, his brilliance was saved instead for the limited JAPO imprint. On this record he is joined by fellow Swedes Bobo Stenson (piano) and Palle Danielsson (bass), both familiar to ECM listeners. Perhaps not is American drummer Leroy Lowe, who rounds out this incarnation of the quartet known as Rena Rama and played with the group from 1975 to 1983. Born 1944 on a Pittsburg farm, Lowe began playing drums in his high school marching band and later befriended such greats as Billy Hart in his quest for a personal voice. After a two-year period of study at the Berklee School of Music, he joined Otis Redding’s Big Band on tour. The rigorousness of this experience led him to renounce the lifestyle that came with it. In need of recovery, he randomly picked Oslo as a holiday destination and, after some shuffling around, ended up in Sweden, where he sadly died of cancer in 1999…but not before leaving behind a legacy spanning 30+ years. I note Lowe’s background not only because it’s worth telling, but also because it seems indicative of Rena Rama’s aesthetic: it spins a globe and plays whatever its finger lands on.

From the drum solo that opens the Stenson-penned “Enok,” it’s clear that Lowe was a moving force in this outfit. Colorful as an ice cream shop’s selection of toppings, he opens a spacious sound together with Stenson’s entrance, to say nothing of Thomas Stöwsand’s engineering, while Danielsson adds good vibes to the growing message. With this skyward energy behind him, Åberg need only open his wings and let the wind do the talking. That powerful tenor sheds its earthly weight in favor of a boisterous key that with its dancing unlocks gurgling leaps of intuition from Stenson. Danielsson offers two tunes. The composer’s darkly melodic intro in “Rumanian Folk Song” kicks into a light groove with Lowe along for the ride—the bed of the quartet’s energy. Stenson again scales the z-axis, landing only to relay his altitude to Åberg’s soprano. The latter, soft and sure, casts a gray spell. Throughout, the contours of the rhythm section are much like patterned cloth, wispy yet boldly imprinted. Stenson gives us the alphabet of “Circle Dance” before Åberg’s tenor puzzles it out into words and sentences. He is happy to wander far afield, knowing the band’s footprints will always catch up. A veritable tributary of invention. The reedman closes out with two compositions of his own. First is the soprano-infused “På Campagnan II,” which threads galleries of needles in single strokes of intuition. The pianism’s frenzied beauty and hip contributions from the rhythm section are surpassed only by Åberg himself. Those same infections spread in “Royal Song From Dahomey.” This caravan of purposeful melodizing is at once cold and warm and rains percussion on us as if in a desert without oasis.

Like most JAPO releases, this is another elusive jewel, but well worth the digging.

Sleeve back

A second look: Pirchner/Pepl/DeJohnette (ECM 1237)

Werner Pirchner / Harry Pepl / Jack DeJohnette

Werner Pirchner tenor vibes, marimba
Harry Pepl ovation guitar
Jack DeJohnette
Digitally recorded on a Sunday afternoon in June 1982 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Writing these reviews has been as much an opportunity to learn about the many fascinations of ECM (and music in general) as about myself. Part of that learning process involves reassessment. So far in my explorations of the label, there have been only two bumps in the road—no small feat for a catalogue of 1300 releases. One of these bumps was the self-titled record cut by Werner Pirchner, Harry Pepl, and Jack DeJohnette. Recorded on a Sunday afternoon in June of 1982, it came across to my ears as a one-off session that was perhaps better suited to remain in reissue limbo. Yet after posting a rare critical review, I incurred an unexpected backlash. Rather than let this underscore my defensiveness—which is useless, for how can one argue with another’s appreciation of art?—I took it to heart and have, over the past year, returned to this album on occasion to absorb its expressive secrets. The experience also revealed an imperfection in my system: because I am hearing so many of these records for the first time, and in my sometimes-overzealous efforts to reach synchronicity with ECM’s rigorous release schedule, I tend listen to albums only once before reviewing them. While on the one hand this gives (I hope) a freshness of feeling to my attempts at describing the indescribable, on the other it doesn’t always leave me prepared to expound upon an experience that may be a longer time in coming. I am also an ardent, if idealistic, believer that music tends to come into one’s life when it is meant to, but that sometimes its interest requires incubation. I simply did not give this date the attention it deserves.

“African Godchild” opens its eyes to a savannah dawn and draws us into a scene resonant with life. The depth of Pepl’s talent, now that I’m more familiar with it, is immediately evident in the spaciousness of his evocations. Pirchner matches that spaciousness on the inside, so that our understanding of it becomes unified. We can hear from this that the Pepl/Pirchner relationship is the nexus of the trio, the guitarist providing spider webs of support for the mallet man’s acute inscriptions. DeJohnette’s kick drum and cymbals add relief to their subtle crosstalk. The interrelatedness of foreground and background is deftly realized, especially as Pepl steps forth with an echoing solo, sculpting the drama with practiced fingers. “Air, Love And Vitamines” is perfect for an autumn afternoon. It is a prime vehicle for Pirchner, whose Jarrett-like inflections enchant at every turn and constitute the vertical to DeJohnette’s horizontal. The drummer balances the hidden urgency of this tune and blends seamlessly with Pirchner’s chording. After listless beginnings, “Good-bye, Baby Post” Pirchner leads the way into a resonant groove. Pepl acts the bass player’s part, even more so in his solo, before pinpointing the night with far-reaching flame in “Better Times In Sight,” for which Pirchner brings us back to earth but not to land, preferring as he does to skate the limpid waters of a forgotten sea.

I stand by my original opinion that the processing on Pepl’s instrument obscures what is already such a direct voice (compare this to the more organic buzzing of Pirchner’s marimba), yet I can understand the motivation for contrast. Ultimately, his gorgeous sustains and crunchy backing ring true in spite of the effects applied. And while I still think the recording levels could still use some tweaking, I have found a solution: listen to it loud.

This curious little gem may or may not hold you at first listen, but it does have the potential, like anything worth its salt, to endear as it endures.

<< Arild Andersen: Molde Concert (ECM 1236)
>> Dave Holland: Life Cycle (ECM 1238)

OM: Rautionaha (JAPO 60016)


Urs Leimgruber soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, percussion
Christy Doran guitar
Bobby Burri bass
Fredy Studer drums, percussion
Recorded December 1976 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

The Swiss quartet of OM, which found just the freedom it needed in ECM’s studios for a good decade, flung open the doors with colorful aplomb on Rautionaha, a rare JAPO release. To this early date the group brings a kaleidoscope of shared experience. The sound is appropriately splintered. Guitarist Christy Doran pens the kick-in-the-gut opener, “For Ursi.” Unable to resist the attraction from the get-go, saxophonist Urs Leimgruber colors the twilight with his heady tenor, chaining ladders of virtuosity with attentive form. His gurgling expositions of momentary abandon give Doran just the break he needs to cast a reverberant magic with tails flying. The superb rhythm work from percussionist Fredy Studer and bassist Bobby Burri completes this wall of light. The latter gives us “Stephanie,” his first of two cuts. This meditation of gongs and electronics coalesces into some fine soliloquies from the composer, while the full drumming and six-string picking shimmer like morning sun on the horizon’s lip. The prickly tenor is a bonus. Speaking of which, Leimgruber puts his writing to the test in “Song For My Lady.” Something of a ballad, in it he becomes a crying wayfarer who walks the same circle of self-reflection until there is only music left of the one that produced it. Lifting this ponderous weight off our shoulders is Burri’s title offering, which grows like weed in a groovy embrace. His bass work glows here. Leimgruber opts for soprano, reaching heights of multi-phonic brilliance that no footstool can reach. The effect is nothing short of extraordinary. The quartet ends on a whimsical punctuation mark: a flag without a country, a star without a sky. In the absence of definite shape, we are free to induce our own.