Pat Metheny: 80/81 (ECM 1180/81)

Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny guitar
Charlie Haden bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Dewey Redman tenor saxophone
Michael Brecker tenor saxophone
Recorded May 26-29, 1980 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

With 80/81, Pat Metheny took one step closer to his dream of working with The Prophet of Freedom (a dream he finally achieved with 1985’s Song X), and what better company than Coleman alumni Charlie Haden and Dewey Redman, both fresh off the boat of Keith Jarrett’s newly defunct American Quartet and both welcome additions to the extended Metheny family. Along with the technical mastery of reedman Mike Brecker and drummer Jack DeJohnette, plus a dash of post-bop spice, the result was this still-fresh sonic concoction. The atmospheres of the opening “Two Folk Songs” invite us with that expansive pastoralism so characteristic of Metheny. This makes Brecker’s highly trained yet raw stylings all the more marked, bringing as they do a sense of presence that explodes into a million pieces. Metheny’s benign sound catches at the threshold of perfection with every turn of phrase, allowing Brecker fiery bursts of abandon. DeJohnette throws on a log or two with his rocketing solo, while Haden wipes the slate clean with shadings of his own. Metheny shows off his unparalleled command of two-string harmonies, fading on a lightly skipping snare. This feeling of perpetual motion lingers throughout the title track. Content in sharing the revelry, Metheny relays to Redman who, though he may not fly as high, emits no less intensity in his groove. “The Bat” gives us a minor-keyed shadow of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” before diving headfirst into Coleman’s “Turnaround.” This trio setting boasts inventive melodies and a plunking solo from Haden. “Open” is, suitably enough, the freest track on the album, emboldened by trade-offs between Redman and Brecker, while “Pretty Scattered” dances more lithely with John Abercrombie-like exuberance. A ringing high from Metheny laser-etches this track into our memory. Balladry abounds in “Every Day (I Thank You),” one of his most gorgeous ever committed to disc. This is music that grins even as we grin, and shines through the darkest cloud of a Midwestern storm. Metheny ends alone with “Goin’ Ahead.” This breath-catching piece works its farewell into our hearts with every suspended note, effortlessly walking the beaten path of all those souls who have traveled before, so that those yet to be born might know where they come from, and to where they might return.

Like much of what Metheny produces, 80/81 is wide open in two ways. First in its far-reaching vision, and second it its willingness to embrace the listener. Like a dolly zoom, he enacts an illusion of simultaneous recession and approach, lit like a fuse that leads not to an explosion, but to more fuse.

<< Bengt Berger: Bitter Funeral Beer (ECM 1179)
>> Corea/Burton: In Concert, Zürich, October 28, 1979 (ECM 1182/83)

Jack DeJohnette New Directions: In Europe (ECM 1157)

ECM 1157

Jack DeJohnette New Directions
In Europe

Jack DeJohnette drums, piano
Lester Bowie trumpet
John Abercrombie guitar, mandolin guitar
Eddie Gomez bass
Recorded June 1979, Willisau, Switzerland
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

There is a moment in “Bayou Fever” when Jack DeJohnette, showing his adeptness at the keyboard, lapses into “America the Beautiful.” This brief quotation anchors the piece, making it all the more poignant for having appeared in this historic live set. This eighteen-and-a-half-minute juggernaut is as gentle as it is lengthy, and embodies well the lively spirit that infused the drummer’s New Directions project. With the introduction of Eddie Gomez on bass, we hear the call of vocation, the instinct that allows us to persevere through even the most trying circumstances, if only to taste the beauties of creation one more time. Six-stringer John Abercrombie weaves his fingers through the loom of reflection, adjusting the microscope until the dividing cells of Lester Bowie’s trumpet come clearly into focus. This quintessential chunk of tactile birth cycles through a chain of experiences, each the sum of another life before. Once DeJohnette reverts to his forte, he nurtures an inward-looking fluttering of sticks. Abercrombie matches with a fluttering of his own as his nimble hands leap across the fingerboard with an energy that seems to draw audible gasps of expectation from the audience, but which never quite materializes into the full rupture we might expect. One hears in this not hesitation, but rather a more subdued commitment to melodic integrity that praises the living effect of performance over its virtuosity.

It’s a far cry from the album’s opener, “Salsa For Eddie G.,” which begins in the mountains before sliding down their sunlit faces amid scintillating articulations from Abercrombie. With prime support on all sides, DeJohnette is free to move forward without ever looking back. No matter how exploratory he becomes at the skins, his foot keeps the hi-hat going steady, leaving crumbs of light on a dark and winding trail. “Where Or Wayne” begins quietly enough, but then strains a terse improvisatory energy through a fine mesh. The palpable charm throughout provokes laughter from musicians and audience alike. During this portion of the show, DeJohnette introduces the musicians, after which Bowie returns to the foreground and blows out the candle with a flourish of finality.

While the music on In Europe does stretch its very skin to the limits, especially in the trumpet, it manages never to injure itself irreparably. The closest we get to pure abandon is “Multo Spiliagio,” a free-for-fall which contorts its body through many acrobatic challenges. Yet even the most explosive moments are somehow delicately circumscribed. It is an exercise in maturity and critical thinking that ends in sheer delicacy.

This altogether respectable outing gives us a concerted taste of an unrepeatable period in musical history, a time in which the music world’s progress was being most clearly charted on the jazz stage. The concert is miked in such a way that the listener feels situated right between audience and band. We can almost imagine Bowie—this recording’s brightest star—roaming about the stage, projecting his cackling brilliance into every corner of the venue, and hopefully further onto the shelf of any lover of marvelous music.

<< Kenny Wheeler: around 6 (ECM 1156)
>> Bill Connors: Swimming With A Hole In My Body (ECM 1158)

Mick Goodrick: In Pas(s)ing (ECM 1139)

1139 X

Mick Goodrick
In Pas(s)ing

Mick Goodrick guitar
John Surman soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet
Eddie Gomez bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded November 1978 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After guesting on three Gary Burton collaborations (The New Quartet, Ring, and Dreams So Real), guitarist Mick Goodrick broke out with his first album as leader—and what better place than ECM to open his art to its fullest, for this would be his last recording for the label. In Pas(s)ing consists entirely of Goodrick originals, save for the collectively improvised title cut, giving us an unassuming view of the thoroughly sanded figures that are his themes.

“Feebles, Fables And Ferns” is morning and dusk, a crepuscular confection wrapped in drums (DeJohnette), bass (Gomez), and tenor sax (Surman), and all tied with Goodrick’s sonic filaments. The latter’s airy, John Abercrombie-like tone is pensive and glows like embers. The bass is shallowly miked, making it seem an extension of the guitar. Its player often vocally anticipates his supporting lines, as in the lovely solo granted passage here. Surman’s equally mellifluous sound rolls off the tongue like a poem. “In The Tavern Of Ruin” continues the lush quartet sound, only this time with a brittle edge. Surman leads a slow procession of hooded figures before his soprano trails into Goodrick’s darkening clouds. Distant cries seize us as Surman again wraps his cosmic fabric around our ears. This makes “Summer Band Camp,” the album’s shortest track, all the brighter in its nostalgia. Surman smiles through his sound, as do all gathered, gently kissing the art into which they have grown. Gomez’s doublings add a chorused, rhythmic aphasia that foreshadows an ecstatic close. A tender bass clarinet lacquers “Pedalpusher” with molasses, sealing in an array of tactful changes which do nothing to obscure the phenomenal bass work therein. In closing, we find ourselves “In Passing,” which throbs with yielding yet intense sentiment. DeJohnette stitches a fine seam here, even as Surman cuts his thematic restraints in favor of more visceral forms of communication.

Goodrick’s elasticity throughout is a comforting presence, while Surman shines in what amounts to a starring role. These energies, buoyed by a plastic rhythm section, coalesce into what is easily one of my favorite ECM releases.

<< Paul Motian Trio: Le Voyage (ECM 1138)
>> Gary Burton/Chick Corea: Duet (ECM 1140)

Jack DeJohnette: New Directions (ECM 1128)

ECM 1128

Jack DeJohnette
New Directions

Jack DeJohnette drums, piano
John Abercrombie guitar, mandolin
Lester Bowie trumpet
Eddie Gomez bass
Recorded June 1978 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This album was indeed a new direction for drummer Jack DeJohnette, by then an ECM mainstay who with this effort flirted with the free-flowing atmospheres then characteristic of the label’s popular European projects. John Abercrombie—another household name whose amplified strings do wonders for DeJohnette’s impulses—forms, along with Chick Corea veteran Eddie Gomez on bass, a triangular foundation upon which trumpeter Lester Bowie—the album’s shining star—builds his towering sentimentalism. Fresh off the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Nice Guys session, Bowie lays it on thick, eschewing his whimsical asides for straight-on lyric fortitude. One is hard-pressed to keep from sweltering in the “Bayou Fever” that opens this forgiving tale. Abercrombie’s buttery-soft licks seem to adhere the rawer intensities of DeJohnette and Gomez, while Bowie deploys one potent bundle of melody after another. “Where Or Wayne,” a rubato pun anchored by a harder-edged bass, relays moments of ecstatic abandon with majestic guitar solos, expertly played off of by Gomez, who lights a few aesthetic candles of his own. The nebulous imagery of “Dream Stalker” and the old-school virtuosity of “One Handed Woman” make for a kindly pair and leave us with no other recourse than to take shelter in the “Silver Hollow.” Abercrombie goes acoustic in the album’s closer, trading sweeping lines with bass, all the while drowning in DeJohnette’s dawn-like pianism.

A spacious inner current, heir apparent to a straightforward jazz with no strings attached, feeds into every moment of New Directions. The performances are attentively recorded with a present, live feel that gives the drums all the room they need, and us all the sonic candy we crave.

<< Arild Andersen Quartet: Green Shading Into Blue (ECM 1127)
>> Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians (ECM 1129 NS)

Rypdal/Vitous/DeJohnette: s/t (ECM 1125)

ECM 1125

Terje Rypdal/Miroslav Vitous/Jack DeJohnette

Terje Rypdal guitar, guitar synthesizer, organ
Miroslav Vitous double-bass, electric piano
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded June 1978 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Terje Rypdal/Miroslav Vitous/Jack DeJohnette joins its eponymous crew in a one-off trio date for the ages. Although billed as something of a Rypdal venture, the album is primarily a canvas for Vitous, who bubbles forth with all the viscous potency of oil from a crack in the earth. The bassist and Weather Report founder culls from that selfsame influential oeuvre his classic tune, “Will” (a lilting and sentimental ride which made its first appearance on Sweetnighter), and pairs it with “Believer,” another original that is more Rypdal-driven. These two form the heart of a tripartite experience that begins with a pair of Rypdals. The first of these, “Sunrise,” floats in on DeJohnette’s scurrying drums, spurred by the air currents of Rypdal’s Fender Rhodes. Suspended plucking from bass stands out like heat lightning against Rypdal’s grittier monologues. Overdubs balance out the spacious surroundings with their fallow echoes. The guitar dominates here, its trembling accents seeming to grab clouds by their collars and shake them until melodies come falling out in patchy storms. He scrapes his pick along the strings, as if tearing holes in the very fabric of space-time. With respectful stealth, his gorgeous chording in “Den Forste Sne” manages to undercut the bowed bass, the latter recalling the tender songs of David Darling. This one is a stunner in its grandiose intimacy, accentuated all the more by Rypdal’s low-flying passes. We end with a diptych of group improvisations, each the shadow of the other. Between the frenetic syncopations of “Flight” and the pointillism of “Seasons,” we are given plenty of poetry with which to narrate our inner lives.

While, arguably, a pronounced variety of modes would have made this a “stronger” record, it seems content in being the languid organism that it is, and constitutes another enchanting landscape deservedly hung in the hallowed ECM Touchstones gallery. It might not be the best place to start, but what a detour to be had along the way…

<< Steve Kuhn: Non-Fiction (ECM 1124)
>> Art Ensemble of Chicago: Nice Guys (ECM 1126)

Gateway 2 (ECM 1105)

ECM 1105

Gateway 2

John Abercrombie guitar, electric mandolin
Dave Holland bass
Jack DeJohnette drums, piano
Recorded July 1977 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

In this era of tawdry sequels, it’s almost difficult to believe that John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette could have surpassed the profundity of 1975’s seminal Gateway. I say “almost” only because each member of this dream trio has yet to let this committed listener down and always comes to the studio bearing a basket overflowing with fresh ideas. Not only do the results of this 1978 follow-up not disappoint, they ascend into their own category.

At first we aren’t sure what to think in the carefully executed half-sleep of the 16-minute “Opening.” Amid tinkling icicles Abercrombie’s guitar wavers above the bass as it gradually forms intelligible words out of the scattered letters with which we are confronted. The process is so intensely organic that we find ourselves being lulled into its speech-like rhythms. As the snare becomes more forthcoming with its intentions, Holland fleshes out its implications with a tantalizing loop, through which Abercrombie hooks his song with a sound that is wiry yet ethereal. Just as engaging in his supportive statements, he provides ornamentation for Holland as DeJohnette rides with fierce precision into a fine solo of his own. The steam of malleted cymbals condenses into the following “Reminiscence.” Holland and Abercrombie blend into a larger instrument in this pensive track that sounds like the acoustic shadow of Pat Metheny’s “Midwestern Night Dream” (see Bright Size Life). “Sing Song” is another dose of milk-and-honey goodness. Wonderfully nuanced drumming here from DeJohnette uplifts even as it placates. Meanwhile, Abercrombie leans back into an ergonomic continuity that soon plateaus into an engaging turn from Holland, whose quintessential bass line in “Nexus” opens the band to a limber display of virtuosity. Abercrombie is again transcendent in this tower of syncopation, from which trails the Rapunzel-like strands of a limitless creative cache. DeJohnette’s piano turns “Blue” into an ending that is as bitter as it is sweet.

For those who haven’t heard this unit’s first album, I recommend doing so before settling into this one. Not because either is “better” than the other, but only because the development between the two is more readily appreciated when experienced chronologically. In any case, Gateway 2 is its own animal that thrives best in the habitat of our appreciation.

<< Richard Beirach: Hubris (ECM 1104)
>> Art Lande and Rubisa Patrol: Desert Marauders (ECM 1106)

Jack DeJohnette: New Rags (ECM 1103)

ECM 1103

Jack DeJohnette
New Rags

Jack DeJohnette drums, piano
John Abercrombie electric guitar, electric mandolin
Alex Foster tenor and soprano saxophones
Mike Richmond bass, electric bass
Recorded May 1977 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Directions was a short-lived unit from the evolving mind of drummer Jack DeJohnette, who on this ECM joint proved once again that his deftness at the keyboard is almost on par with his mainstay. New Rags features the same line-up (John Abercrombie on electric guitar and mandolin, Alex Foster on reeds, and Mike Richmond on basses) as 1976’s Untitled, sans Bernhardt. Our frontman meanders into the thick of things with three originals, of which the title track bristles with luscious work from Richmond in a steady interplay with all. The consistent improv comes to a head at the halfway point, where Foster pulls his fingers as if in a vast string game by way of transition. We lapse into a brief, somnambulant carnivalesque before merging back on track as Abercrombie leads the charge, loosing a thematic call to arms that concludes in delight. An energetic groove awaits us in “Minya’s The Mooch,” in which sax and guitar are more than happy to hop onto the rhythmic bandwagon. Energies subside as quickly as they flare, leaving Abercrombie to hang in space like the brightest star on a cloudy night. Meanwhile, the elegant sax trio of “Lydia” is a short but sweet diamond in the rough that is sure to win your heart.

Foster counters with two sucker punches of his own. “Flys” is an upbeat number with attentive chording from Abercrombie. The final “Steppin’ Thru,” however, outshines the others combined in a 10.5-minute exposition with the raw intensity of an Everyman Band. Abercrombie wrenches out the album’s best solo here, more than willing to take us along for the ride. The energy accumulates with a funky electric bass before fading out, having no other recourse to finish.

While perhaps not as melodically solid as its previous effort, New Rags lives up to the group’s name. With purposive commitment and forward-looking arrangements, DeJohnette serves up another piping hot dish of auditory comfort food.

<< Kenny Wheeler: Deer Wan (ECM 1102)
>> Richard Beirach: Hubris (ECM 1104)

Gary Peacock: Tales Of Another (ECM 1101)

ECM 1101

Gary Peacock
Tales Of Another

Gary Peacock bass
Keith Jarrett piano
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded February 1977, Generation Sound Studios, New York
Engineer: Tony May
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The grouping on this album represents a milestone in ECM outfits, persevering to the present day as it has in the form of Keith Jarrett’s mighty standards trio. Though a far cry from the ecstatic overloads honed over years of synergy and touring, there is an almost naïve charm to this effort and the evenhanded musicianship that sustains it. Each of these six “tales” begins in loveliness. Piano and bass bring the most urgency to bear, as in the gorgeous “Vignette,” in which Peacock gets his first lilting solo, and its follow-up, “Tone Field.” Both start off slow and sure, with DeJohnette giving the barest hint of traction and Jarrett biting deeply into fractured themes. “Major Major” gives us the steady beat we crave beneath majestic chording from the piano man, who offers up a prime slab of linear sirloin. Yet the album’s juiciest sediments can be found in the massive “Trilogy” that makes up its second half. DeJohnette skirts the rims with requisite flair while Peacock slathers on a bright veneer. Jarrett grunts ecstatically with every new development, shooting fire from his fingers. Such is the energy one has come to expect from this nonpareil threesome. Jarrett cuts off our air supply before the final stretch, the hair-trigger precision and on-your-toes syncopations of which make this pensive journey more than worth taking.

Peacock’s moody compositions make for a strikingly different experience. His fingers pull with accomplished ease at the strings of his bass. DeJohnette sticks to the margins, but fills them like no one else can. Jarrett, it might be noted, is more vocal here than I’ve ever heard him. For many, this seems to be the album’s only downfall. As far as this listener is concerned, his woops, grunts, and squeals merely underscore a musician who is unafraid to let his heart sing.

<< Keith Jarrett: Sun Bear Concerts (ECM 1100)
>> Kenny Wheeler: Deer Wan (ECM 1102)

Jack DeJohnette: Pictures (ECM 1079)

ECM 1079

Jack DeJohnette

Jack DeJohnette drums, piano, organ
John Abercrombie electric and acoustic guitars
Recorded February, 1976 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Hot on the heels of his stellar Directions debut, drummer Jack DeJohnette settled down in the studio for this cool duo album with guitarist John Abercrombie. Less a side project than a chance to open the mind to more introverted images, Pictures is the spark behind the fire.

The steady beats of “Picture 1” grow in scope with every new added detour. What at first seems a drumming exercise quickly turns haunting as an organ rises up from the earthen tide. After the ode to toms and cymbals that is “Picture 2,” the following three Pictures feature Abercrombie’s improvisatory accents, which range from meandering to cathartic. But the real pièce de résistance is “Picture 6.” As its temperate piano introduction works its way into a swell of gongs, we begin to see the melody behind the fire. It is a Keith Jarrett moment if there ever was one, the Ruta and Daitya that could have been.

Like any good picture, DeJohnette’s curious little project has everything it needs in frame. Nothing extraneous; stripped-down music-making for its own sake, offered up to the listener with humility and respect. This is not an album meant to titillate or to excite or to make any sweeping statements on the nature of its own becoming. It professes to be nothing beyond the space implied, never the sum but the equation laid bare. Get this album for its stunning closer, and open yourself to its other intimacies. Pictures gives us unique insight into the craft of a musician more widely known for his equally arousing timing and delivery.

<< Enrico Rava: The Plot (ECM 1078)
>> John Abercrombie/Ralph Towner: Sargasso Sea (ECM 1080)