Lennart Åberg: Partial Solar Eclipse (JAPO 60023)

Lennart Åberg
Partial Solar Eclipse

Bertil Lövgren trumpet, fluegelhorn
Ulf Adåker trumpet, fluegelhorn
Jan Kohlin trumpet, fluegelhorn
Håken Nyquist french horn, trombone, fluegelhorn
Stephen Franckevich trumpet (VI)
Lars Olofsson trombone
Sven Larsson bass trombone, tuba
Jörgen Johansson trombone (VI)
Lennart Åberg soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone
Ulf Andersson alto saxophone, piccolo, flute
Tommy Koverhult soprano flute, tenor flute
Erik Nilsson baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, flute
Bobo Stenson piano, electric piano
Harald Svensson synthesizer (I, IV)
Jan Tolf electric guitar (I, II, III, VI)
Palle Danielsson bass (I-V)
Stefan Brolund Fender bass (I, II, VI)
Jon Christensen drums
Leroy Lowe drums
Okay Temiz percussion (I, II, III)
Recorded September 5-9, 1977 at Metronome Studios, Stockholm
Engineer: Rune Persson, Metronome
Produced by Håken Elmquist

Swedish saxophonist Lennart Åberg assembles a force to be reckoned with for this out-of-print JAPO release. Fronting a 20-piece ensemble that includes early appearances by pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen, Partial Solar Eclipse plays out in a six-part suite of epic proportions. The trumpet-led swell of Part I gives way to a groovy bass line amid big band brilliance infused with Brazilian percussion (courtesy of Okay Temiz). A soaring solo from Åberg flirts with the clouds even as it transcends them in fiery sunset. The twinned bass action from Stefan Brolund and Danielsson impels the spirit toward Stenson’s winding finish. Out of these dense beginnings comes a mosaic of hues and textures. From the flanged ground line and backing horns of Part II, which sound like a warped version of “Baby, You’re a Rich Man,” to the oozing finality of Part VI, the album as a whole bursts with a jazz that squeals, “I made it!” Jan Tolf’s guitar work is the conclusive highlight, along with the florid and soulful tenor work of Åberg himself. Between the two we find the Motown edge of Part III, with its radiant flute and oceanic pianism, and the killer baritone work in Part IV of Erik Nilsson, who also unleashes a fabulous bass clarinet solo over the chalky backdrop of Part V.

This is an album that foregrounds itself by foiling the otherworldliness of all that came before. In so doing, it offers the glare of its namesake without the need for glasses. It’s an intense thrill ride, to be sure, but one that offers choice rewards even (if not especially) for those not tall enough to enter.

Misha Alperin: North Story (ECM 1596)

Misha Alperin
North Story

Misha Alperin piano
Arkady Shilkloper French horn, flugelhorn
Tore Brunborg tenor saxophone
Terje Gewelt double-bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded September 1995 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Simultaneously drawing on his folk roots and paying homage to European jazz music’s openness to cross-cultural dialogue, Ukraine-born pianist and composer Misha Alperin gives us North Story, his paean to the selfsame region where fermented the vivid contributions already so well documented on ECM. Classically trained brass player Arkady Shilkloper, who became acquainted after hearing snatches of Alperin at practice from an open apartment window, joins the group on French horn and flugelhorn. Saxophonist Tore Brunborg, bassist Terje Gewelt, and drummer Jon Christensen round out the quintet. And what a quintet it is, for it is quite clear that this set of eight originals positively glistens under the breath, feet, and fingers of master craftsmen. That being said, the rewards require patience and an invested heart. Alperin’s painterly ways move as if in slow motion, taking in details and finding even more within them. Everything in the light of “Morning” takes shape by contrast, so that what may seem at first sluggish blossoms in hindsight of Alperin’s delicate fortitude. Shilkloper follows similarly delicate arcs in the two-part “Psalm” and “Ironical Evening,” each a prize of organic denouement so fine that it passes through fishermen’s nets unnoticed. The title track gives us a deeper version of the same, Christensen building his tracings into full-blown sketches as Brunborg’s erases in swaths of negative space. “Alone” finds Alperin just so in a lulling piano solo, providing reprieve from fitful slumber on the way to “Etude,” a lovely duet with Shilkloper that sounds like a lost track from Wave Of Sorrow. Its skittering lines and virtuosic doubling concretize the storytelling. This leaves only an arrangement of “Kristi Blodsdråper (Fucsia)” by Norwegian composer Harald Sæverud (1897-1992). It is a fitting epilogue to an album of ever-growing detail, which like the whole becomes a mirror as we back away from it, sounds blending into an all-encompassing hush of existence.


Alternate cover

Louis Sclavis Sextet: Les Violences de Rameau (ECM 1588)

Louis Sclavis Sextet
Les Violences de Rameau

Louis Sclavis clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Yves Robert trombone
Dominique Pifarély acoustic and electric violins
François Raulin piano, keyboards
Bruno Chevillon double-bass
Francis Lassus drums
Recorded September 1995 and January 1996 at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Assisted by Roger Amoros
Produced by the Louis Sclavis Sextet

The result of a 1994 French Ministry of Culture commission, Les Violences de Rameau is Louis Sclavis’s incisive study of its eponymous French galantist, drawing mostly from the operas Les Boréades, Les Indes Galantes, and Dardanus. The assembled sextet spins a web of textures, due in no small part to Sclavis mainstays Dominique Pifarély (violin) and Bruno Chevillon (bass). Trombonist Yves Robert, last heard on Heiner Goebbels’s Ou bien le débarquement désastreux, also joins the fray, adding a pliant undercurrent to the jagged oratories of the aforementioned. It is Pifarély who throws us into the swing of things, contorting his instrument with gymnastic variations in “le diable et son train,” a harrumphing romp of glee and fortitude that puts flaming tongue in cheek in anticipation of the jester’s soprano in “de ce trait enchanté.” The exhilarating bass work and gypsy violin twists make this one the joy that it is. “«venez punir son injustice»” is a dance at court and acts as a frame tale for the rhythm section’s unbridled enthusiasms, though one can hardly ignore Sclavis’s enchanting clarinet and the cosmic circular breathing that speaks through it. A few spins of the wheel, by turns lethargic and blasting, land us in the electric violin’s flailing purview as “réponses à Gavotte” whirls with the eclecticism of a John Zorn collaboration. The glittering murmurs thereafter incapacitate us with secrets, each a sketch bolder than the last, only to get lost in a “post-mésotonique” world. This sonic equivalent of a half-developed photograph stumbles into some of the band’s most evocative conjurations and ends in paroxysm, psychedelic and granular.

The dear listener can ignore the title. The only violence to be found in this treatment walks a sarcastic path, alone and laughing to itself. A blast and a half!

Eberhard Weber: Pendulum (ECM 1518)

Eberhard Weber
Pendulum

Eberhard Weber bass
Recorded Spring 1993, München
Engineer: Jochen Scheffter
Produced by Eberhard Weber

Eberhard Weber, perhaps best known as bassist for the Jan Garbarek Group, in addition to his own string of classic ECM albums as leader throughout the 1970s and 80s, brings his 5-string electric upright into a more focused spotlight with Pendulum. This solo date from 1993 marks yet another evolutionary step in this unmistakable musician, whose wings discover fresh space in which to flap in “Bird Out Of Cage.” Through its menagerie of overdubs and loops, Weber navigates the pops and jagged peaks of spontaneous creation. Yet despite its skyward beginnings, Pendulum tells an earthbound story that turns in its own cycle of life. Maternal shores skirt paternal oceans in “Notes After An Evening,” while in “Delirium” Weber unfurls visceral diversions against a droning canvas. “Children’s Song No. 1” picks up the thread, swaying to the rhythm of a playground swing, and continues to spin it into “Street Scenes.” Playful harmonics carry over into the meditative “Silent For A While,” reaching out to the birds that brought us here. The title track hones a robust thematic edge, dancing its slow dance across a hundred dreams and lifetimes, leaving “Unfinished Self-Portrait” to drip equal parts whimsy and grandiosity into the comforting “Closing Scene,” tingling with the taste of destiny.

With unerring delicacy yet with a weightiness that oozes security, Weber treats his bass at times pianistically, at times chorally, and often as both at once on an album that offers an intimate look at his compositional sensitivity. One of his absolute triumphs in that quiescent, fluid way he has.

John Abercrombie Trio: Speak Of The Devil (ECM 1511)

John Abercrombie Trio
Speak Of The Devil

John Abercrombie guitars
Dan Wall hammond B3 organ
Adam Nussbaum drums
Recorded July 1993 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Following up on 1992’s While We’re Young, guitarist John Abercrombie and his trio with Hammondist Dan Wall and drummer Adam Nussbaum returned one year later with Speak Of The Devil. A much looser date than its predecessor, it showcases three talents shunning restriction for want of a freer flow. As before, Wall defines the soundscape, drawing a sturdy mesh with the charcoal of his still-glowing coals. Sounding like some long lost voice given life in the creature comforts of the studio, his solos arc like rainbows into improvisatory gold. The heat distortion of that organ in the two opening tracks sets the mood against distant considerations found in strings and skins. Abercrombie’s smooth tractions grow magical, reaching high licks in “Mahat” against soft yet propulsive drumming, and later in “BT-U,” for which his octane triples in grade as Wall hands the reigns to Nussbaum, who gets his moment to dance on the pyre. Despite these virtuosic flourishes, it’s the group’s tender side that reveals most face. Between the rugged jewel that is  “Chorale” and the glittering susurrations from Nussbaum in “Farewell,” we can almost feel the sunlight through the trees, carving shadows at our feet before Abercrombie waxes nostalgic in “Early To Bed” and lures us into the monochrome fantasy of “Dreamland.” Ironically, “Hell’s Gate” is the coolest track on the album, with a smoothness of execution that makes the journey more than worthwhile, capping off a dynamic sophomore effort.

Edward Vesala/Sound & Fury: Invisible Storm (ECM 1461)

Edward Vesala
Sound & Fury
Invisible Storm

Jorma Tapio alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute, percussion, bass flute
Jouni Kannisto tenor saxophone, flute
Pepa Päivinen tenor, baritone and soprano saxophones, flute, alto flute
Matti Riikonen trumpet
Iro Haarla piano, harp, keyboards
Jimi Sumen guitar
Edward Vesala drums, percussion
Marko Ylönen cello
Recorded May/June 1991 at Sound & Fury Studios, Helsinki
Engineer: Jimi Sumen
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Edward Vesala

The late drummer and musical visionary Edward Vesala was a strange bird. As one of the few whose records became less accessible the more composed they were, he marked his path by leaving not breadcrumbs but entire loaves, piping hot and ready to serve. His was a fresh sound, a living sound that, as the moniker of his ensemble implies, thrived also on the richness of fury.

Invisible Storm is a suite of sorts. I see it as existing in two diurnal parts, though the split and its nature, assuming any, may rightly lie elsewhere for every listener. The first half opens the album’s daytime musings, shooting its eyes wide open from the start with the guttural menagerie of “Sheets and Shrouds” before a lachrymose violin and soprano sax woo us in “Murmuring Morning.” Next is “Gordion’s Flashes,” which lays a pleasant tangle of horns and electric guitar over an infectious savannah beat from Vesala, who further shows an aptitude for color as he adds samples of jackhammer and other mundane sounds from an eyedropper filled with chants and stale rituals. Harpist Iro Haarla threads gentler promises throughout “Shadows on the Frontier,” only to have them taken away by children smelling of patchouli and innocent observation. It is they who weave the set’s most masterful narrative, a cinematic flipbook of ghost towns and gravelly dreams that unfolds with the grace of a Philip Glass opera scarred by backstage secrets.

Which brings us to “In the Gate of Another Gate,” a transitory palindrome that opens us to the courtyard of “Somnamblues.” The latter is a ponderous matrix of distortion and metallic whispers that plunges us into the album’s nighttime anxieties. “Sarastus” lumbers through its porous moods riding the back of a roller rink organ, while “The Wedding of all Essential Parts” and the title track offer even more ponderous reflections, given shape by Haarla’s needlework and Vesala’s snare. Reprieve comes in “The Haze of the Frost,” a chain of snow owl talon-prints, rendered by flutes alone, which unearths a slab of mockery in the concluding “Caccaroo Boohoo.”

Because nearly every moment of Invisible Storm (with the possible exceptions of Vesala’s constant hitting and some of the reed work) feels carefully written out, one is confronted with the fullness of his philosophy. In the less straightforward projects like Nan Madol we encounter a sound-world so extraterrestrial that we cannot help surrendering ourselves to its rules. Here, however, Vesala draws much from personal, earthly experiences, choosing from a shoebox filled with hard-won postcards. For this reason, I recommend giving the earlier out-to-lunchers a taste test before downing this fiber-rich brew.

Heiner Goebbels: Hörstücke (ECM 1452-54)

Heiner Goebbels
Hörstücke
based on texts by Heiner Müller and featuring the talents of:
David Bennent
Peter Brötzmann
Peter Hollinger
Kammerchor Horbach
Alexander Kluge
René Lussier
Megalomaniax
Heiner Müller
Walter Raffeiner
Otto Sander
Ernst Stötzner
We Wear The Crown
Die Befreiung des Prometheus recorded and edited by Walter Brüssow, Heiner Goebbels, Peter Jochum, Gisbert Lackner, Gerlind Raue, Rainer Schulz, and Martha Seeberger
Produced 1985 by Hessischer Rundfunk and Südwestfunk
Verkommenes Ufer edited by Peter Jochum, Martha Seeberger, and Heiner Goebbels
MAeLSTROMSÜDPOL recorded 1987/88 at F.T.F. and Unicorn Studios, Frankfurt/Main
Engineers: Peter Fey and Jürgen Hiller
Mixed at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced 1984 by Hessischer Rundfunk
Wolokolamsker Chaussee recorded at Unicorn Studio, Frankfurt/Main and Südwestfunk Baden-Baden
Engineers: Thomas Krause and Alfred Habelitz
Mixing engineer: Alfred Habelitz
Produced 1989/90 by Südwestfunk, Hessischer Rundfunk and Bayerischer Rundfunk
Album produced by ECM

My respect for Heiner Goebbels only increases with each work I encounter. Yet while his art, not least through frequent collaborations with linguistic wizard Heiner Müller, has always had its heart in drama, from this collection of radio plays that drama emerges—in the wake of German reunification, no less—with a fresh, genuine voice.

The first of this massive collection’s four plays, Die Befreiung des Prometheus (The Liberation of Prometheus), will sound familiar to those who’ve followed Goebbels in chronological order, for its themes had already made an appearance on Herakles 2 two years before. Both are based on a chunk of text from Müller’s Cement, only here we actually come to know that text amid a filmic montage of others. This process of splicing places, spaces, and times for new mythology will be familiar to any Goebbels listener, but it rings more intensely than ever. From the opening nod to Laurie Andersen we feel right at home. Like her Superman, Müller’s Prometheus is deconstructed from the inside out. Rather than carrying the flame of knowledge, he roasts over that flame his own sustenance at the gods’ table, where he is doomed to eat himself in an eternal circle of hunger and release. Though freed by Heracles, he is plagued by a waning remembrance of godliness, chewed and spat by the rock of the earth. Where Goebbels excels is that, in setting all of this, he manages to evoke a wealth of environmental details that his mosaic of voices can only hint at. Through the bubbling crude of his electronic interventions, he unpacks intimations of the zeitgeist with enviable intelligibility. Incidental sounds turn and tumble, grasping at the enamel-hidden scraps of mastication in hopes of picking off a morsel, ending up instead with a fist full of weeds, and it is these we must weave into a basket if we are ever to catch a sense of things. Metallic edges, heavily serrated and rusted over with time, melt in our gaze. Goebbels marks these rhythms with clips and starts. Snatches of the everyday butt up against unpredictable and sometimes-confrontational turns, but always with a uniquely organic energy.

Verkommenes Ufer (Despoiled Shore) takes its seed from an early (1955) play by Müller. For this project, Thorsten Becker asked fifty strangers in Berlin to read the text in question, thus yielding the raw material for Goebbels’s subsequent mash-up. Because none of the readers were familiar with the text, their renderings bring out inner truths. What begins as a writhing and inarticulate being in the final product resolves itself into a landscape of hesitations, loops, and, above all, porous communication. The Argonaut’s promise kisses the face of chance too many times, leaving only the corpses of a onetime progeny swinging in the wind of manipulation. Poison seeps through the ground in reverse, seeking out those vials from which it was poured, but finding only the fullness of adolescent laughter wafting across the urban sprawl. A masterstroke in the Goebbels/Müller canon.

The album’s cover photo is taken from its third play, MAeLSTROMSÜDPOL (MAeLSTROMSOUTHPOLE). If its blood-red wash of solitude is any indication, we might easily know its fascination with reality and disconnect before a single word grabs us. The continuity of the text, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym, is its own contradiction, carving out of those syllables a subterranean world. Speech stores hidden desires in its vowels, misted by white noise and the song of an open cataract: drones and queens, reeds and marshes, all blended into a smoothie only a ghost might drink. It is a photograph that grows blurrier the more it develops. The only way to discern it is to drink the vat of chemicals that brought it to visible life. Echoes turn into birds, the shimmering backdrop of an open mike emceed by the mistress of our deepest nightmares. “OH KEEP THE DOG,” she croons, as if to cut the running line that binds us to everything. She overwhelms us with the responsibilities of liberation.

Last is Wolokolamsker Chaussee (Volokolamsk Highway). Based largely on motives from writers Alexander Bek and Anna Seghers, this self-reflective look at social change in the DDR’s last gasps is vitriolic through and through. Part I, “Russian gambit,” introduces the voice of stage actor Ernst Stötzner and music by heavy metal band Megolomaniax. The combination is a fortuitous one, for the sheer theatricality of the language almost screams for these experienced thespians of two not-so-different stages (though, as Verkommenes shows, this needn’t be so across the board). Bloodshed and total recall dance with one another, spinning their way to “Forest near Moscow.” Stötzner continues his tirade, only now with gentler guitar accompaniment. Death still looms in every pregnant pause, given just enough room to spread a pair of wings which, though flightless, can at least move enough to remember flight. Some preparatory shuffling in Part III, “The Duel,” opens a 20-minute call and response between Stötzner and men’s choir, all of whom join lungs to blow the dust off the mood of German Arbeiterlieder. Behind the scenes, the musc underscores an important truth: namely, that no matter how robust we spin our sentiments regarding human existence on paper, they would all burst into ashen death at the touch of a match. Part IV, “Centaurs” (the title of which, a booklet note reminds us, comes from the Old Greek for “red tape”), recasts Kafka’s Gregor Samsa in a world ordered by totalitarianism, a theme finds blatant traction in a recycling of Shostakovich’s (in)famous Symphony No. 7. The narrative is even more localized in the mouth, which bites a desk in order to prevent its screams from tearing out the still-beating heart of resistance. The fifth and final part, “The Foundling” (after Kleist), is perhaps the most unusual, if only for being backed by hip-hop group We Wear The Crown. Stötzner’s “rapping” is a mélange of generic signatures that transcends its surroundings even as it relies wholly on them. In this prison of madmen speaking in “MARXANDENGELSTONGUES” there is only room for forgetting.

German speakers and/or those up on their German history (I can count myself among neither) will surely get the most out of this recording whose booklet forgoes translating every word (especially in Prometheus)—a real shame considering the parodic depths awaiting our swan dive of relish. The language is visceral in the deepest sense, at times vulgar but always self-aware. Completists wanting the most unfettered glimpse into the architecture of Goebbels’s craft would do well to track down this invaluable set. Though the sentiments throughout are as complex as their politics, certain common themes exploit the connections between songs and conflicts. Through songs we can hide in the foxholes of life and cover our heads against any aerial assault, but in the end all of their lyrics flow through us, be they of the enemy, of our mothers, or of ourselves.

Andersen/Towner/Vasconcelos: If You Look Far Enough (ECM 1493)

 

If You Look Far Enough

Arild Andersen bass
Ralph Towner guitars
Nana Vasconcelos percussion
Audun Kleive snare drum
Recorded Spring 1988, July 1991, and February 1992 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Arild Andersen

Manfred Eicher strikes gold with yet another inspired melding of musical minds. The microphones at ECM’s Rainbow Studio this time are privileged to witness an emotionally powerful session from bassist Arild Andersen, guitarist Ralph Towner, and percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. The session begins with something of a title track in “If You Look.” From this swell of drones and metallic whispers comes “Svev,” a scintillating piece that finds Andersen in a buoyant mood. “For All We Know” is a stunningly gorgeous duet between him and Towner—a match made in heaven. Andersen’s tender spaces are the perfect sky for Towner to spread his careful, classical wings. “Backé” continues this intimate reflection, only now with Vasconcelos’s auguries providing a more focused berth for Towner’s spindly ruminations. Vasconcelos adds a vocal swoon for effect. These two tracks are the heart of the album and could continue for its full length if they wished. “The Voice” begins with Andersen’s sustained calls, drawn out like cloud wisps on the horizon and providing a long-forgotten plain for the rhythm and tackle of Vasconcelos’s well-traveled feet. Andersen dips into some electronic augmentations, sounding like an infant foghorn with melodic growing pains. “The Woman” is a beautiful little duet for percussion and bass that works its tender embrace one muscle of sentiment at a time. Andersen’s deft monologue of serpents and harmonics carries the conversation over into “The Place” at a more urgent pace, working sidelong into an inspiring spiral. “The Drink” is another transportive duet, swaying like a caravan transport in the unforgiving sun. Next is “Main Man,” which jumps back into the rhythmic deep end with some funkier vibes, while “A Song I Used To Play” is a slow and tender build to Towner’s 12-string ebullience. “Far Enough” is another haunting drone of spectral footsteps that brings us into “Jonah,” a bass solo that smiles with all the wonder of new life.

This album is something of a sleeper ECM hit and worth seeking out for fans of any and all of these musicians. Don’t pass it up.

Tamia/Pierre Favre: Solitudes (ECM 1446)

Tamia
Pierre Favre
Solitudes

Tamia voice
Pierre Favre percussion
Recorded April 1991 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Tamia and partner Pierre Favre continue the love letter begun in de la nuit … le jour with Solitudes. Tamia opens this even deeper dive in “Chant d’Exil” by wrapping her astonishing voice around a thread-like drone. Favre’s malleted energy unspools into a glassine bone walk of private ritual. And there it ends, leaving us in the silent answer from which “Drame” unmasks its rasps and gongs. Tamia upends the water’s waking dreams, singing of sulfur and magma, in places where lullabies can be sung only to the dead. The thin drone of circumstance returns in “Clair -­ obscur.” It is a circle under a microscope slide filled with cytoplasmic ululations, a flute hollowed out from a tree branch and smeared along a copper sky. That voice rises from its chorused depths like a flock of recorders. “Pluies” is a percussion-only piece, dancing between a drum’s low beat and the metallic swirl of cymbals. Amphibian croaks and avian cackles draw themselves into a fading tail-wisp of bowed gongs. Shades of Meredith Monk abound in “Allegria,” an interlude to the electrifying sprawl of “Erba Luce.” Over the slow arpeggios of “Sables” Tamia connects her dots all the way to the title track, which sings through a solemn organ pulled down from the sky and made earthly through breath alone. Tamia extends the threads of her craft through its intangible pillars for a mythology that echoes far into the icy silence of our future.