Old And New Dreams: s/t (ECM 1154)

ECM 1154

Old And New Dreams

Don Cherry trumpet, piano
Dewey Redman tenor saxophone, musette
Charlie Haden bass
Ed Blackwell drums
Recorded August 1979 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Hot on the heels of Old Friends, New Friends comes Old And New Dreams, an operation meant as a new flagship for Ornette Coleman, whose lack of enthusiasm for the project left a gap duly filled by Dewey Redman. The result is this delightful excursion into post-bop outlands that sounds as alive as ever. Two Coleman pieces comprise nearly half of its duration—which is saying much, for like many of ECM’s joints of the 70s, this one breezes by in under 50 minutes. The first Coleman piece, “Lonely Woman,” walks the tightrope stretched by Haden, who hugs the solo spotlight after a string of progressive fadeouts in this otherwise drum- and horn-heavy opener. Redman and Cherry elicit a peculiar distance in their playing, speaking in tongues from beyond a wall of silence. The second is the more upbeat “Open Or Close.” Its buoyant drumming and unhinged horn soloing do nothing to obscure Haden’s brilliance as he kick-starts his usual pensiveness into overdrive. Not to be outdone, Blackwell whips his snare into a froth before the group reconvenes.

With these territories covered, each band member completes the experience with one tune apiece. Blackwell’s “Togo” is a prime vehicle for Cherry, as is the latter’s own “Guinea.” The music here is reflective of the long journey that had led Cherry from the limelight into political protest and back into ECM’s fold. We hear this in his biting themes and pianistic wanderlust. Redman breaks out the musette (or suona, a Chinese shawm) for his “Orbit Of La-Ba,” a mystical detour into sere grooves. “Song For The Whales,” courtesy of Haden, is the last piece of the puzzle, and shows the bassist in a more experimental mode. Even as he glides along his harmonic slides like some large creaking vessel that is part cosmic ship and part bird, we are held firmly into place. Drums and horns tremble like the very gut of the earth letting its voice be known.

This is a superb album, and regardless of whether these dreams are old or new, they never seem to fade. What makes it so strong is its careful balance of sidewinding monologues and the sense of direction that a full band sound brings. One craves that sound throughout and the expectation it manifests, so that when it comes in such thick doses, it heightens our involvement in the listening. It acknowledges us.

<< Ralph Towner: Old Friends, New Friends (ECM 1153)
>> Pat Metheny Group: American Garage (ECM 1155)

Haden/Garbarek/Gismonti: Magico (ECM 1151)

ECM 1151

Charlie Haden
Jan Garbarek
Egberto Gismonti

Charlie Haden bass
Jan Garbarek saxophones
Egberto Gismonti guitars, piano
Recorded June 1979 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Along with the work of CODONA, Magico is perhaps a forerunner in what would come to be known as “world music,” and a pinnacle among ECM’s fruitful productions of the 1970s. Although the talents assembled could hardly be more geographically disparate, their musical heartbeats trace the same calm graph across the EKG paper that is our appreciation. What appears a modest effort in number (the group gives us a humble quintet) plies massive depths in execution. The tracks “Bailarina” and “Silence” alone comprise more than half of the album’s duration. The former’s graceful arcs and burnished veneer sparkle with understated virtuosity, while the latter features some of the gentlest relays between Garbarek and Haden alongside Gismonti’s frothy pianism. The jangly guitar of the title track guides us confidently through Garbarek’s incisive overlay before Gismonti switches over to classical on through “Spor.” Haden’s unassuming posture yields its darkest colors here, drawing a thick arco line beneath our feet just as we are about to fall. Where the album began in a blur, with “Palhaço” it ends in rounded focus, rendered portrait-like in pastels of agreement.

A companion album to the later Folk Songs, this is an all too easily overlooked soundtrack to a beautiful life, brimming with passions of the quietest kind. Like its title, it is a little piece of wonder wrapped in an enigma too real to deny.

<< Keith Jarrett: Eyes Of The Heart (ECM 1150)
>> Jack DeJohnette: Special Edition (ECM 1152)

Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Jasmine (ECM 2165)

Keith Jarrett
Charlie Haden

Keith Jarrett piano
Charlie Haden double-bass
Recorded March 2007 at Cavelight Studio
Mastered at MSM Studios
Produced by Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher

“This is spontaneous music made on the spot without any preparation save our dedication throughout our lives that we won’t accept as a substitute. These are great love songs played by players who are trying, mostly, to keep the message intact. I hope you can hear it the way we did.”
–Keith Jarrett

We sometimes think that the older we get, the more complicated we become, and that in our complexity we have more ammunition with which to defend our individuality in a dying world. This album proves that maturity is about filtering out all that distracts us from being who we are and finding just the right melody, taking comfort in the method over the message. The title of the first track, “For All We Know,” says it all. That two musicians, walking such different paths, can come together and create something so powerfully understated, so viscerally unfettered, is a testament to the creative potential of knowledge and the gift of life that allows it. Recorded in Jarrett’s home studio, this is more than just The Melody At Night, With You with an added bass. It is a heartfelt meditation on the philosophy of experience, a direct statement regarding the lives of its performers. This album might as well be called “Jazzmine,” for that’s exactly what it is: a mine of tried-and-true standards, each plucked carefully from the surrounding rock and arranged in a row of sparkling gems.

The album is generally mellow, but always effective. Tracks like “Where Can I Go Without You” brim with soulful introspection. Others like “One Day I’ll Fly Away,” “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out,” and “Goodbye” talk of resignation, filling our cup with unkept promises in the hopes that one final showing will make up for all of them. It is a bittersweet sadness, born from the pain that comes with loving someone who is too far away to requite, much less know of, that same love. “Body and Soul” strikes a delicate balance between recollection and regret and just grazes the edges of dissonance, giving certain traction to the tune. Jarrett sings as he spins a subtle energy. In this track we also get the most unmitigated bass solo, Jarrett merely providing the punctuation marks to Haden’s poetry. “No Moon At All” is more upbeat, a touch more joyful. And yet we come to realize this joy has been lost upon us with the passing of time. Haden’s solo here revels in the simple things that bring it melodic joy. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is one of the shorter tracks, further reminding us that our happiest moments are also the most fleeting. Last but far from least is “Don’t Ever Leave Me,” a comforting ballad that closes the album in near silence.

Over thirty years in the making, Jasmine was already a classic before Jarrett and Haden ever stepped into the studio to record it. It is as if the music had already existed and our dynamic duo merely needed to catch up with it. As Jarrett observes, Haden singularly embodies a “dichotomy between control and letting it go,” laying down righteous melodies that at once support and lead the way. Haden’s renderings are supremely gentle, the subtlest retouches on an already masterful painting. His solos go down easy like good advice, while Jarrett’s gorgeous supporting chords put that advice into action. Jarrett himself adopts a more autobiographical approach that manifests itself in a uniquely laid-back passion. He displays an intuitive sense of rhythm in the left hand, and with his right weaves variegated threads through the four-stringed loom of Haden’s bass. This mesh produces an unmatched synergy: take one variable away and you are left with an unsolvable equation.

The album jacket could hardly express more visually the magic that resides within its sleeve. Each rectangle, separate but also sharing the same line, is like the life of its respective musician. Neither is perfectly straight at the edges; a life drawn in freehand, as all lives are. There is an eternity contained in each, and yet for an indeterminate amount of time these two lives intersect, and from that overlap comes music so transparent that only its borders remain clear. For the musicians those borders are their instruments. Heavy and tangible, they respond only to the touch of those who know them best. For the listener those borders are the song titles, each telling a different side of the same story.

This is an album in the past tense, every sound a memory caught in the branches of our curiosity. Jarrett and Haden would seem to prize nostalgia above all—not by putting it on a pedestal, but by laying it at the pedestal’s feet. And while each track essentially follows the same format—i.e., a democratic entrance, a piano introduction followed by adlibbing, and solos from Haden and Jarrett before the two equalize—the formula never grows tedious, if only because its subtle negotiations speak volumes of an invisible history. And that is exactly the point. They’re not trying to break new ground here, but to see what can still be built upon the old ground before it disappears. And why not, for their materials are still resilient, pliant, and reliable. Listen to Jasmine for its quiet charm, for the way it sings without words, for the tireless care it embodies, but above all listen to discover just how honest music can be. Jarrett puts it best when he says: “An ecstatic moment in music is worth the lifetime of mastery that goes into it, because it can be shared.” How fortunate we are to be on the receiving end.

Keith Jarrett: Arbour Zena (ECM 1070)

1070 XKeith Jarrett
Arbour Zena

Keith Jarrett piano
Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Charlie Haden bass
Mladen Gutesha conductor
Recorded October 1975, Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The moment I lie in bed and begin listening to this album in my dorm room for the purposes of this review, my suitemate launches into a volatile argument with his girlfriend. As their loud verbal match breaches the gap under my door, I trace its implications across the geography of Arbour Zena. I think about the fallibility of relationships, about the trials and rewards of a musical life, and about the often contrived ways in which we attempt to validate our own experiences through the art of others.

Against a backdrop of accusations of infidelity, “Runes” blooms to quiet life with a slow orchestral tremolo. Jarrett disturbs the crystalline stillness with shafts of light and the bass falls like thick droplets as the orchestra turns to the morning sun, treading lightly upon the water so as not to disrupt its surface tension. The piano fades, leaving Haden to amble along the banks, skirting the limits of our visible world. Jarrett returns as if back from a foraging expedition, peering carefully into the scene laid before us as he unfurls a background of epic dimensions. He then pulls the orchestra in a new direction, leaving the bass to contemplate the fate of its own path. At first, we aren’t sure if the two are even connected. Perhaps they will join again, we wonder. Jarrett’s intimate piano improvisations dip their toes into waters familiar to fans of his solo work. Yet for all the music’s scope, we don’t so much travel as burrow deeper into the recesses of indecision until Garbarek’s entrance wakes us. In its own strange way, the music does resolve itself as these disparate voices achieve harmony over time. Where Luminessence was a conversation, “Runes” feels more like a narrative that jumps from one character’s head to another. It is also very difficult to picture the music, for Jarrett works in emotions here rather than in images. These aren’t simply the antagonistic ramblings of a polemicist, but rather the careful scripts of one whose relationship to determinacy is as complex as life itself, fragile as the flutter of breath over reed that ends the piece.

“Solara March” draws its plaintive curtains back to reveal an orchestra and bass. This is but the preamble to some stunning passages in which the piano touches off a lush tripping of orchestral sound while the bass seems only to meander, as if content to face an oncoming storm. As Jarrett plays a linear melody on the keyboard’s higher register, the bass continues to murmur in the background, as if unaware of its own critical potential. Garbarek injects some liveliness halfway through the “March.” With a characteristic buoyancy, Jarrett nudges us toward an opulent climax. The music finds its stride and renders worthwhile our disjointed path to getting there.

The third and final piece, entitled “Mirrors,” reflects a keening orchestral introduction, segueing into an extended meditation for piano and strings. As improviser over his own orchestral writing, Jarrett draws from the same threads and with the same colors, whereas his other improvisers mix their hues on an entirely different palette, if on the same canvas. With Jarrett leading the way, Garbarek has a much easier time fitting into the constantly shifting puzzle of the former’s evocative presence: the din of a distant flock of birds conveyed by the wind from an unseen field, or perhaps the sound of waves flitting in and out of our audible range. The lack of bass here is somehow comforting, leaving Jarrett and Garbarek to glide ever more assuredly across the album’s opaque surface. During this movement my suitemate’s girlfriend shouts, “That’s it! We’re through,” leaving behind not only a silent partner, but also emptiness in what would otherwise be a Saturday evening filled with laughter and sounds of lovemaking bleeding through these hollow walls.

This album is strangely recorded. The orchestra is given very little breathing room while Haden stands aloof, sounding as if he were recorded in a separate room and eased in later at the mixing board. In many ways, the bass is our mediator, our interpreter between languages and worlds, operating as it does a subliminal space. The music on Arbour Zena is diffuse, composed of blurry snatches of memory. There is nothing incredibly arresting about it. It doesn’t invite the listener and only barely acknowledges that it is being heard, playing not even for itself. It is like a dance missing a few steps, a garden with a trampled flowerbed and only a few unblemished specimens holding fast to their roots. It is the liberation of desire from the trappings of its own desire to be desired. Jarrett’s fellow musicians are rather well suited to this project, for to provide such continual commentary must be a challenge to even the most skilled.

Since writing this review, I am happy to report that my suitemate and his girlfriend have gotten back together, and I have taken to listening to Arbour Zena anew as an expression of hope—a musical talisman of emotional harmony in an unsympathetic world.

<< Kenny Wheeler: Gnu High (ECM 1069)
>> Tomasz Stanko: Balladyna (ECM 1071)