Michael Mantler: No Answer (WATT/2)

No Answer

Michael Mantler
No Answer

Jack Bruce voices, bass
Carla Bley piano, clavinet, organs
Don Cherry trumpet
Recorded February and July 1973
Blue Rock Studio, New York
Jack Bruce recorded November 1973
Island Studios, London
Mixed March 1974
Blue Rock Studio, New York
Produced by Carla Bley and Michael Mantler

when the panting stops yes so that was true yes the panting
yes the murmur yes in the dark yes
in the mud yes to the mud yes

After landing us in the scenery of Carla Bley’s Tropic Appetites, our journey through the land of WATT brings us to its first stopover in the form of Michael Mantler’s No Answer. Here we are exposed not to the snapshots of that first masterful traversal, but rather to the fitful dreams of our displacement following it, wounded by the act of travel in ways that only the unpunctuated prose of Samuel Beckett can articulate. Drawing on the globally talented trio of vocalist Jack Bruce, trumpeter Don Cherry, and Bley herself on piano, clavinet, and organs, Mantler sets passages from 1964’s How It Is (1964) as if each were a life to be shuffled rather than a memory to be pulled from its deck.

Consisting of two sections—NUMBER SIX and NUMBER TWELVE—of four parts each, No Answer is (curiously) an answer to its own question. This philosophical DNA repeats itself endlessly; only we are privy to a sliver of its helix. Bley’s pianism is the damp ground beneath gray-clouded vocal overdubs, yielding beneath every word as if it were a footprint in the making. The quality of Bruce’s singing lends itself organically to Mantler’s stage, as if the two were made for each other. His delivery is sardonic yet sincere, his falsetto particularly haunting in its naked vulnerability. He walks the line of theatrical refraction, rolling up the fourth wall like a backdrop no longer needed. Thus, he represents a lifelong fascination, pulled into an ephemeral mold.

Though the novel itself is a slog through mud and violence, there’s something unclothed about the music that adds an entirely different level to its interpretation. Bley is the curio collector in this regard, at some points rummaging through a closet of memory while at others dancing among the bits of relics she has unearthed. As for Cherry, he is a voice from the past, chanting and bubbling through terrestrial forms of communication.

The second half of the program is introduced via clavinet and Bruce’s congregation of selves. In the context of this vibrant execution, we find ourselves caught in the web of inner meanings over outward appearances. The effect is such that, even when Bruce breaks open a bottle of funk with his bass, there is little to be hopeful for in the bleakness of things. In a reversal of fortune, fire comes before smoke, sinking into the darkness of Bley’s organ in the slow tumble of a drunken tourist.

nothing to emend there no the arms spread yes
like a cross no answer
LIKE A CROSS no answer YES OR NO yes

No Answer back

Don Cherry: Dona Nostra (ECM 1448)

Don Cherry
Dona Nostra

Don Cherry trumpet
Lennart Åberg saxophones, flute
Bobo Stenson piano
Anders Jormin bass
Anders Kjellberg drums
Okay Temiz percussion
Recorded March 1993 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Trumpeter Don Cherry gets cozy with some of ECM’s brightest European talents for a onetime sextet of notable introspection: reedman Lennart Åberg, pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Anders Jormin, drummer Anders Kjellberg, and percussionist Okay Temiz. It’s hard not to love the very concept, and the music lives up.

“In Memoriam” opens the session’s eyes in a waking dream of deferential pianism and scurrying percussive accents. Jormin’s laddered circles sweep through Stenson’s, while lovely tenor work returns to the soil, even as it holds on to memories of the sun. “Fort Cherry” at last puts its namesake’s lips to brass, melding shades of Ornette Coleman into warm piano strains. For the direct Coleman digs, we need look no further than “Race Face” (which gives us the satisfaction of traction with some fresh and lively playing) and “What Reason Could I Give” (a noteworthy duet between Stenson and Cherry that is also the highpoint of this date). “Arrows” winds a stem of bass, pollinated by a flurry of spores. Well-rounded soprano and bass solos twist into a quietly spasmodic ending. “M’Bizo” begins as a viscous, Nordic-sounding dirge before emptying its waters into a Charles Lloyd-shaped vessel, cycling back and forth between these two modes toward “Prayer,” which features lovely playing from Jormin, searing lines from Cherry, and some beatnik style percussion thrown in for good measure. The suitably abstract color show of “Vienna” then sets us down in the ecstatic “Ahayu-Da,” all laced together by Stenson’s consonant presence for a breathless finish.

While everyone contributes to this deceptively open session, it would be a crime to neglect Temiz’s vital contributions. These and more make this an album of incredible subtlety to be savored.

<< Dino Saluzzi Group: Mojotoro (ECM 1447)
>> Trevor Watts/Moiré Music Drum Orchestra: A Wider Embrace (ECM 1449)

Don Cherry & Ed Blackwell: El Corazón (ECM 1230)

Don Cherry
Ed Blackwell
El Corazón

Don Cherry pocket trumpet, piano, melodica, doussn’gouni, organ
Ed Blackwell drums, wood drum, cowbell
Recorded February 1982 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Two powerful proponents of the avant-garde—Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell—bare their tender souls on this set for trumpet and drums. While on paper this looks like an unusual combination, one thinks nothing of it once they start playing. Blackwell’s approach to his kit is melodic enough to carry its own, and the superb engineering gives him a wide berth, ensuring that every element has its place. Cherry’s sidelong glances into piano, melodica, and organ, meanwhile, provide plenty of traction in the duo’s more adventuresome tunes. Blackwell slips only into samplings of rat-a-tat-tat sumptuousness, favoring instead headlong flights into innumerable and equally favorable directions. The opening cluster of tunes is calm but never restrained. Allowed to go where it may, it swings and stomps in the same fluid motion. On trumpet, Cherry works in arcs, while on piano he finds solace in sharper angles. The melodica-infused “Roland Alphonso” carves its delicate reggae lines into a pathway toward the more monochromatic “Makondi,” a brief incantation led by kalimba, which sweeps silently under Blackwell’s solo in “Street Dancing” before reemerging in “Short Stuff.” The latter sets off another trio of interlocking themes, cinched by Cherry’s clear-as-day trumpeting, and bringing us to  “Near-In.” This enchanting kalimba solo, dedicated to Blackwell’s daughter, debunks the myth of thumb pianos as touristy curios left unplayed on our shelves by laying its potential thick across common misconception. Cherry ends on a high note, literally, with “Voice Of The Silence,” a gentle yet declamatory trumpet solo, drawn into trailing threads by a tasteful appliqué of reverb. A rather heavenward ending to an otherwise firmly rooted chain of scenes.

Like sugarcane stripped of its husk, this is immediate music, pared down to its fibrous core, and in some ways feels like a child of CODONA taking its first well-formed steps into a sonic life. In the end, it’s really Cherry who provides the rhythmic impetus for this collaboration, and Blackwell the lead. Such comfortable switching out of roles is central to their message of liberation and expression.

<< Keith Jarrett: Concerts – Bregenz/München (ECM 1227-29)
>> Eberhard Weber: Later That Evening (ECM 1231)

Old And New Dreams: Playing (ECM 1205)

ECM 1205

Old And New Dreams

Don Cherry trumpet, piano
Dewey Redman tenor saxophone, musette
Charlie Haden bass
Ed Blackwell drums
Recorded live, June 1980, Theater am Kornmarkt, Bregenz (Austria)
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This fantastic set, recorded live in Austria, is the place to start for anyone wanting a glimpse into the attic of Old And New Dreams. The playing is on point, the crowd riled, and the stakes high. From that first lively jump into “Happy House,” one of three extended Ornette Coleman tunes, we are plunged into the group’s quintessential sonic parameters. Lithe syncopations from Dewey Redman relate to Ed Blackwell’s drumming like family, while the free-flowing trumpeting of Don Cherry loosens its grip on predictability for a style that is utterly devoid of pretense and ever eager to communicate. Charlie Haden’s melodious plasticity completes a formula that carries through to the last drop. Just listen to the gut-wrenching tenor solo in “New Dream,” the liquid horns and percolating toms of “Broken Shadows,” where Redman’s musette also unfurls for a fantastically CODONA-like sound, and tell me there isn’t something special going on here.

Cherry drops a groovy hit of his own with the pointillist “Mopti,” of which the infectious pianism from the composer and attuned percussion delight. Redman contributes “Rushour,” the album’s most incendiary flush. The incredible saxophonism and expansive lyric trumpeting spread their joys far and wide. The title track comes from the hand of Haden, around whose spine horns weave like a medical caduceus before being lobbed back into their familiar station like ping-pong balls at the ready.

Considering the heft of talents assembled here, the results are weightlessly executed. This shows not weakness or lack of fortitude, but the maturity everyone brings to the sonic table. This is a solid date from musicians who know the business inside and out, and then some. About as good as it gets. Reissue, anyone?

<< Egberto Gismonti: Sanfona (ECM 1203/04)
>> Gallery: s/t (ECM 1206)

Bengt Berger: Bitter Funeral Beer (ECM 1179)

ECM 1179

Bengt Berger
Bitter Funeral Beer

Bengt Berger ko-gyil (Lo Birifor funeral xylophone)
Don Cherry pocket trumpet
Jörgen Adolfsson violin, sopranino, soprano and alto saxophones
Tord Bengtsson violin, electric guitar
Anita Livstrand voice, bells, axatse (rattle)
Recorded January 1981 at Decibel Studios, Stockholm
Engineer: Thomas Gabrielsson
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Bengt Berger

Swedish percussionist Bengt Berger’s deep interest in Ghanaian folk music and Don Cherry’s wayfaring trumpet inform every moment of this stunning record, one of a handful in ECM’s back catalogue to be digitally unearthed, not unlike the site on the cover. In contrast to many likeminded projects since, which seek to augment the “indigenous” with the “ingenious,” in the dregs of Berger’s we encounter something all too rare in the world music market: unforced sincerity. Take, for instance, the song that forms the Kundalini spine of the title track. The eclectic listener will recognize it as the sampled hook in “Hypnoculture” by Tears for Fears frontman Roland Orzabal. While in the latter it adds a touch of the “exotic” where really it isn’t needed (to Orzabal’s credit, the song is, like all on the solo album on which it appears, a sketch of ideas and not meant to be taken as a definitive statement on anything), here it thrives in an utterly organic assemblage. The addition of thumb piano and rooted drumming heighten the sense of immediacy that pervades the album, and not even the reeds of Jörgen Adolfsson feel out of place. The ululations of vocalist Anita Livstrand hit the psyche like the paroxysms of Mary Margaret O’Hara in Morrissey’s “November Spawned a Monster.” The acutely percussive “Blekete” is a walkabout into a land that is as corporeal as it is immaterial. Cherry is the brightest ember in the hearth that is “Chetu,” which continues the trance. The Fela Kuti-like drive of “Tongsi” beckons us with open arms before leaving us in the care of “Darafo.” This funereal dance begins with more pronounced instrumentalism, presenting us not with a mystery to be untangled, but rather a clear set of variables to be re-tangled into the mystery from which they came. The infectious soloing tightens into a record scratch of ecstasy, leaving only the ever-present beat to navigate the inevitable fade.

As with the work of CODONA, Bitter Funeral Beer epitomizes ECM’s pioneering approach to the world music idiom. Integration is the keyword here, collectivity its modus operandi. Each voice is well-fermented, so that one always gets the feeling of listening to a field recording and not a piece of studio trickery. This is music that accepts us as we are and allows us the opposite of escapism: a pure awareness of the cavernous self that defines the open channels of our communities.

One of ECM’s absolute finest and a window into the label’s evolution toward a sound-world without borders. As bitter as this beer is, one sip is all you’ll need to convince yourself that the cup must be drained.

<< Barre Phillips: Music By… (ECM 1178)
>> Pat Metheny: 80/81 (ECM 1180/81)

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)