Bill Connors: Swimming With A Hole In My Body (ECM 1158)

 

Bill Connors
Swimming With A Hole In My Body

Bill Connors guitars
Recorded August 1979 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Bill Connors’s follow-up to his solo debut, Theme To The Guardian, is more than the latter’s other half; it is a deeper look inward. From the moment we step “Feet First” into this veritable sonic field, there is moonlight to be savored. It is a place where shadows open their arms to embrace other shadows. From the playful (“Frog Stroke”) to the plaintive (“Wade”), the inspirational (“Sing And Swim”) to the romantic (“Surrender To The Water”), Connors covers a travel diary’s worth of temporal terrain in 43 minutes. These qualities crumble like spring snow, each a reflection upon slightly disturbed surfaces. Other pieces, like “Survive” and “With Strings Attached,” lie somewhere between a wing’s beat and a song. All the more the appropriate, then, that we should end with “Breath,” expelling the very air that will condense into the lifeblood of the earth.

Every cell of Swimming… throbs with aquatic humility throughout its gallery of miniatures. Connors’s fingers are always in motion, transporting us to a place where rain never comes but where the sun is almost always hidden. Despite what the title might have you believe, there is no diving to be experienced in this album until you, fair listener, take the plunge.

Bill Connors: Of Mist And Melting (ECM 1120)

Bill Connors
Of Mist And Melting

Bill Connors guitar
Jan Garbarek saxophones
Gary Peacock bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded December 1977, Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Three years after his astonishing acoustic turn on Theme To The Guardian and fresh from Jan Garbarek’s Places session, guitarist Bill Connors returned as leader for this moody quartet, for which one could hardly dream up a better roster: Garbarek (saxophones), Gary Peacock (bass), and Jack DeJohnette (drums) fill out the spectrum of this sound palette with the best of them. The synergy for which the latter two musicians have come to be so highly regarded is already plain to see here and spins the free and easy flow that characterizes the album’s ethos from beginning to end. While one might expect an electric guitar at anchor, Connors maintains his wireless interests with no loss of potency. One “side effect,” if you will, of this configuration is that the backing generally keeps its volume low and fades to near silence in order to give Connors ample soloing room. Garbarek’s chops are kept in check, for instance, in the opening cut, given only a single cosmic needle through which to thread their potentially overpowering strains. Similarly attractive negotiations abound in the heartrending tenor of “Not Forgetting,” in the lullaby effect of “Face In The Water.” Garbarek reignites in “Aubade” as if he were embodying the wavering reflections of a pool of fire. Where much of the album is diffuse and liquid, the groove of “Café Vue” is undeniably solid and allows for some engaging breaches of calm before being restored in “Unending.”

While perhaps less specific than Connors’s ECM debut, Of Mist And Melting is a worthy successor. It holds on to that same sense of freedom while charting an ethereal sound that could only come from those gathered.


Original cover

Julian Priester: Love, Love (ECM 1044)

Julian Priester
Love, Love

Julian Priester trombones, horns, whistle flute, percussion, synthesizers
Pat Gleeson synthesizers
Hadley Caliman flute, saxophones, clarinet
Bayete Umbra Zindiko pianos, clavinet
Nyimbo Henry Franklin basses
Ndugu Leon Chancler drums
Mguanda David Johnson flute, saxophone
Kamau Eric Gravatt drums, congas
Ron McClure bass
Bill Connors electric guitar
Recorded June 28 & September 12, 1973 at Different Fur Music, San Francisco
Engineers: John Viera and Dane Butcher
Produced by Julian Priester and Pat Gleeson

With a title like Love, Love, Julian Priester’s ECM debut could be nothing but a warm embrace, an abstract melodrama lifted from the pages of an epic story. Hot on the heels of Bennie Maupin’s The Jewel in the Lotus, this album gives us more than we might expect and electrifies like a Mwandishi joint sans Herbie Hancock. Between the groovy “Prologue” and brass-laden “Epilogue” lie three interconnected pieces in two 20-minute suites, each a head-nodding peregrination couched in the vibrant expanse that only an ensemble of this size can maintain. Congregations of horns abound in a funky milieu of drums and bass. The spell is immediate and unrelenting, heightened by an elegant application of synths. The late Hadley Caliman captivates with binding contributions to Priester’s own arsenal of raw materials. Guitarist Bill Connors, who would soon explore his acoustic leanings, shines on the electric, at times grazing the upper atmosphere with almost Steve Mackey-like ebullience. The first set ends as it began, fading into an originary space, leaving wisps of energy in the darkening skies. The second set arises from a tangle of sine waves. Drums stand tall like a stone circle, circumscribing the ritual within with rapt skyward attention. An electric piano courses through every gesture of this activity, petering out into a light flute-driven melody that rests confidently at the lower lip of dissonance. A fiery trombone solo from Priester forges an ecstatic peace. Bayete Umbra Zindiko works wonders at the keys, drawing lines from music to listener with every note struck, even as Connors lays a grungy scream of white noise in the face of possible self-destruction. The kinesis builds like a train until each instrument falls to the wayside, if not crushed under wheel by its passage. From this is pulled a thin urban stream of staccato harmonies that derail into a heap of conclusive breaths.

The music on this much-needed reissue at once sails through the clouds of its infatuations and plunges into the oceanic expanse of its fears. It knows exactly where it’s going, and hopes that you will be waiting on the other side.

Bill Connors: Theme To The Gaurdian (ECM 1057)

Bill Connors
Theme To The Gaurdian

Bill Connors guitar
Recorded November 1974 at Arne Bendiksen Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Guitarist Bill Connors famously left Chick Corea’s Return to Forever outfit (for which he had provided dynamic electric stylings) in 1974, making the switch to acoustic and recording this, his first solo album. Not one year later he would launch into an intensive period of self-directed study, making Theme To The Gaurdian an even more remarkable effort for the fact that he had had virtually no classical training to speak of before stepping into the studio. Using a technique and mood all his own, Connors overdubs his way through a soothing and soulful set of guitar-scapes. With a gossamer sound, he works his strings with gentle assurance. The melodic lines are purpose-driven and secure, all the while elastic enough to bear the weight of their implications. The rhythms are generally laid back, the leads as bright as they are ephemeral. Time seems to slow down, waiting for a chime that never sounds to snap itself back into awareness. While listening to this album, every track bleeds into the next, so that the end leaves one with a blurry memory of something beautiful. The recording is buttery soft, just close enough to hear every finger scraping on strings while far enough away to court reverb’s gentler incarnations. Connors’s legato stylings are sure to sooth and inspire and will complement any Ralph Towner solos in one’s collection in need of some righteous companionship.

At only 40 minutes long, this is an album you will want to listen to again the moment it ends.