Mark Isham/Art Lande: We Begin (ECM 1338)

 

Mark Isham
Art Lande
We Begin

Mark Isham fluegelhorn, trumpets, synthesizer, percussion
Art Lande piano, synthesizer, percussion
Recorded January 1987 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“All art is at once surface and symbol.”
–Oscar Wilde

This brooding session from Rubisa Patrol alumni Mark Isham and Art Lande is an odd one. Odd, because with the immensity of acoustic talents to be found in both musicians, the results tend toward a saccharine blend of electronics that detracts from the heavenly beauties being painted before them. Take, for instance, Isham’s swaths of trumpeted gorgeousness in “The Melancholy Of Departure,” which are at pains to harmonize with the drum machine that is the piece’s frail backbone. Neither does Lande have reason to augment his resonant pianism with the synthetic gamelan that deadens “Ceremony In Starlight” when he might have further explored the inside of the piano for similar effect. And are not Isham’s muted calls here far more cosmic than a few patching of wire ever could be? The same goes for the title piece and for the closing “Fanfare,” in which Isham might easily have multi-tracked himself (as he does later on) in lieu of the thin choir that we get.

Lande’s piano becomes more prominent as the album progresses, most effectively so in his tender solo piece, “Sweet Circle.” All the more ironic, then, that the live feel of “Lord Ananea” never quite gets off the ground. “Surface And Symbol,” on the other hand, is as transcendent as transcendent gets. One only wishes this veritable flower of layered horns, echoing like voices of ages past, and veiled pianism were more representative of the whole.

In spite of this album’s shortcomings, the melodic pictures it paints are so downright beautiful that one can forgive its cheap gilded frame. And far be it from me to criticize what was then an exciting new tool of the moment. Neither a must-have nor one to ignore. I’ll leave it for you to decide where it falls.

Lande/Samuels/McCandless: Skylight (ECM 1208)

 

Skylight

Paul McCandless soprano saxophone, English horn, oboe, bass clarinet, wood flute
Art Lande piano, percussion
David Samuels vibraharp, marimba, percussion
Recorded May, 1981 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

As one of the finest mallet players of his generation, Dave Samuels has treaded a wide and multifarious path. From Double Image (his gorgeous project with David Friedman) to the exciting territories of his work with the Caribbean Jazz Project (some of the best Latin jazz around), not to mention his fruitful years with Spyro Gyra, Samuels brings a signature delicacy to his playing that is comforting and domestic. His first two intersections with ECM, Dawn and Gallery, are both sadly out of print but make a flowing trilogy of sorts with 1981’s Skylight, which thankfully is still available and marks his last appearance on the label. Joined by one-and-onlys Art Lande and Paul McCandless, Samuels shows us his compositional brilliance in the airy title cut. Not to be outdone, Lande and McCandless offer two tunes apiece. Lande’s territories are more contradictory in their energies, at once twilit and dripping with morning dew, and undeniably engaging. The reed work of McCandless is awesome in its quiet power, particularly in his “Willow,” which closes the album in unified pleasure. Two improvisations round out this overlooked effort. The loamy tales of a bass clarinet thread every monochromatic turn of “Duck In A Colourful Blanket (For Here),” while the interludinal “Ente (To Go)” stands as one of the most effective pieces to employ a thumb piano I’ve heard in a long time.

While the album’s title may refer to an architectural feature, here one encounters its meteorological meaning (“the diffuse light from the sky, scattered by air molecules, as distinguished from the direct radiation from the sun”) in full. With a blend of joy and sorrow that is imaginative but never gaudy, this singular trio session shows us that, even in a darkening day there is music to be discovered.

Art Lande and Rubisa Patrol: Desert Marauders (ECM 1106)

Art Lande and Rubisa Patrol
Desert Marauders

Art Lande piano
Mark Isham trumpet, horns
Bill Douglass bass, flute
Kurt Wortman drums
Recorded June 1977 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Desert Marauders represents the final iteration of pianist Art Lande’s Rubisa Patrol quartet, which over its flash-in-the-pan tenure produced a solid, if modest, body of imaginative work. For this recording Kurt Wortman replaces Glenn Cronkhite on drums and provides plenty of adhesive for otherwise free-floating themes and ideas. His stop-and-start playing engages Lande in exciting conversation throughout the groovy opener. At 16 minutes, it is more main course than appetizer, but whets our expectations all the same with its vivid prime directive while offering food for thought via Mark Isham’s serpentine melodies. Bassist Bill Douglass works us back into the swing of things with consummate fortitude. After this epic journey, “Livre (Near The Sky)” feels like a piece of heaven. Driven by the fluid trumpet of its composer in the only non-Lande composition on tap, it’s a piece of and about imagination. Each piano chord is a branch to which Isham glues his own improvised leaves. We feel the entire tree swaying in the winds of an oncoming storm, the first drops of which hit our forehead in the piano of “El Pueblo De Las Vacas Tristes.” As it comes down in placid sheets, it flows at the feet of camels and worn sandals. Lande lays out the loveliness over his rhythm section in a blend of oil and chalk pastels. Douglass doubles Isham on flute in “Perelandra” for some airier moments. “Sansara” is a throwback of sorts. Its solid, infectious pianism, lively trumpeting, and tender bass solo combine for a smooth and rousing finish to a fine effort all around.

Art Lande: Rubisa Patrol (ECM 1081)

Art Lande
Rubisa Patrol

Art Lande piano
Mark Isham trumpet, fluegelhorn, soprano saxophone
Bill Douglass bass, flute, bamboo flute
Glenn Cronkhite drums, percussion
Recorded May 1976 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

With Art Lande’s Rubisa Patrol, ECM took a step in a much-heralded direction, one that pushed the scope of its reach even farther. An album like this proves there is no one sound for the label, but only many through which both musicians and listeners develop deeply personal connections, recollections, and changing identities. The vibrancy of its moods remains as potent as it was three-and-a-half decades ago. With Lande at the keys, Mark Isham (very much in a Kenny Wheeler mode) on horns and soprano sax, Bill Douglass on bass and flutes, and Glenn Cronkhite on drums and percussion, the results can only be magical. The opening strains of “Celestial Guests–Many Chinas” introduce the dizi, a Chinese bamboo flute, to the ECM instrument bank. Its clarity cuts through our expectations and embraces us with its immediacy. From behind this arresting tonal horizon arises a blazing sun of percussion and lyrical horns. Lande makes things complete by dropping his own potent melodies into this auditory tincture. The veil is lifted with “Romany.” Watching like a pair of eyes scanning an empty landscape in hopes of movement, it discloses the inner trepidation of an unstable politic. Our allegiance is broken and reformed again with the klezmer-like inteisity of “Bulgarian Folk Tune.” Throughout its enthralling single minute, we cannot help but be moved by its tightly executed energies. “Corinthian Melodies” is another stunning reworking of traditional sources. Here, those resilient fibers are spun into even thicker cords, allowing Isham and Douglass more traction in their solos. Anyone missing the groovier side of things gets just that in the piano-bass interplay of “For Nancy,” in and out of which Isham weaves with the deftness of a hummingbird, sampling nectar where it may until it vanishes in a spray of raindrops. “Jaimi’s Birthday Song” and it reprise feature a duet of flute and piano in two relaxed Red Lanta-esque messages. The latter of these leads us to “A Monk In His Simple Room,” bicycling through thematic material with a leisurely panache in this lavish closer.

A magical album from start to finish, Rubisa is an exercise in atmosphere. Lande captivates on all levels and seems to bring out nothing short of the best in his fellow musicians. And while the label has no shortage of fine horn players, on this recording we get an especially fluid example of the craft through Isham’s unmitigated wanderings. With its nods to folk elements and host of other influences, this makes for a fitting companion for the more recent Kuára.