Tom van der Geld/Children At Play: Out Patients (JAPO 60035)

Out Patients

Tom van der Geld
Children At Play
Out Patients

Tom van der Geld vibraharp
Roger Jannotta tenor and alto saxophones, bass clarinet, oboe, flute, whistles
Wayne Darling bass
Bill Elgart drums, percussion
Recorded July 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake and the band

Was it you?
was it me?
who said that if
two people think the same
then one of them is unnecessary.

Well if that’s true, my friend,
I hope it’s you.

–Tom van der Geld

Vibraphonist-composer Tom van der Geld’s ECM initiation came by way of the JAPO sister label when, in 1976, the self-titled Children At Play introduced listeners to an album of uncompromising originality. Recorded in 1973, the same year of van der Geld’s permanent relocation to Germany (where the band’s reedman, Roger Jannotta, and drummer, Bill Elgart, would also find new homes), it’s a formative release not only for being Children At Play’s first, but also for sharing its uniquely sunlit sound with the world at large. Tropical and sweet, the album is a sparkling endeavor that favors the lived reality of jazz over its descriptive pitfalls. Patience (1978) was van der Geld’s first dip into ECM proper and stands out for its bright geography. This time, however, the tectonic plates shift more abstractly below with the heat of friction. The freedom of this sophomore effort offers plenty of room for the listener to find a story. On its heels came Path (1979), the phenomenal trio album with Jannotta and guitarist Bill Connors. Hewn in pastels rather than oils, it’s a decidedly softer and sometimes-haunting affair.

(Photo by Peter Nimsky)

This brings us to 1980’s Out Patients, in which van der Geld closed the JAPO circle alongside the ever-versatile Jannotta (on tenor and alto saxophones, bass clarinet, oboe, flute, and whistles), bassist Wayne Darling, and Elgart on drums and percussion. Two of the vibraphonist’s compositions bookend the album, contrasting the free unity of “Things Have Changed” with the expressive rubato of “I Hope It’s You.” The first coheres into a loose brand of unity, the bass clarinet a noteworthy foil to van der Geld, who takes an early solo down a slippery slope yet maintains tactful balance within the rhythm section’s mosaic. The concluding tune finds Jannotta (on tenor) leading with truth. The reedman further contributes “Dreamer” for the listener’s fortunate consideration. It travels and unravels somewhere between starlight and sunrise, revealing a melodic core in Jannotta’s flute and Darling’s resonant bassing. The latter’s “Ballade Matteotti” awakens like a dawn chorus. Van der Geld describes so much of the image that, were his bandmates not so attuned, they might feel superfluous. Their ease of diction contributes to the group’s strength. Consequently, the music flips from intense to reflective at the turn of a phrase. Jannotta’s extended delivery in the second half is tour de force in the truest sense, for in it force prevails.

Yet nothing in the program surpasses Elgart’s “How Gently Sails The Moon Twixt The Arbour And The Bough (And The World Is Waiting For The Sun,” a tune as epic as its title, and one that adds some groove to the band’s loose equation. Smooth yet crisp, and brimming with a chamber jazz aesthetic, it explores a wide dynamic range, with a memorable midsection in which delicate utterances ripple through the quartet. Jannotta (now on alto) lends mystical qualities to the scene, finding scratchy-throated catharsis in the unfolding. Interpretive diffusions all around show a group becoming more unified the wilder it gets: proof that, at least in musical terms, letting go will sometimes be the key to being found.

Although Children At Play disbanded in 1981, its spirit lives on in these highly collectible recordings, as also through its leader’s commitment to jazz education. In the interest of making his mission known, below is an e-mail Q&A I conducted with van der Geld, who kindly shared his memories and thoughts. And for an exhaustive assessment of van der Geld’s career, plus a more extensive interview, check out Formosa Coweater’s fabulous article here.

Can you tell me about your musical background and about how you came to be a jazz musician?

Well, I come from a third-generation family of musicians, so I guess there is something hereditary here. I grew up in an environment where jazz was always being played or listened to. My parents had a “dance band” which played on weekends at officer’s clubs and private clubs. I played trumpet in that band for several years. Having been the world’s second worse trumpet player (!), I decided at age 21 to start playing the vibes. There was never really much of a choice regarding becoming a jazz musician. At one point, I did earn an engineering degree—mainly at the request of my father. Following that, I was devoted to music.

You seem to have followed in the footsteps of many American-born musicians who have found a musical home in Europe. Can you tell me what differentiates European approaches to jazz performance and pedagogy from their counterparts elsewhere?

The Europeans have, over the decades, developed a very special jazz signature. Significant input has come from English players like Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor. But throughout Europe there have been great players who have taken American music and blended it with their own particular cultural and musical expression. Names that come into mind would include Thomas Stanko, Jan Garbarek, Dave Holland and many more.

In the early seventies, there were very few schools in Europe with an adequate jazz curriculum. This is no longer the case. There are excellent jazz departments in many European universities.

Who did you count among your deepest musical influences when you began your professional career? Has that list changed since then?

As far as the vibes are concerned, my first influences were Lionel Hampton (the first LP I ever bought) and Milt Jackson (the first jazz concert I ever went to). When Gary Burton came to Albuquerque with his famous first quartet in 1969, I was completely blown away. Later I became one of his students at Berklee. Other important musical influences included Marion Brown, Ornette Coleman, Paul Bley, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, ESP, Archie Shepp, Eric Dolphy and Albert Ayler.

What role does teaching play in your musical life? What have you learned from your students?

I was fortunate to be able to teach and, in fact, to quite enjoy teaching. Teaching was also often the mainstay regarding things like paying the rent. And I have indeed learned very much from my students. The most important lesson: be open to questions and remain curious.

Each of the four albums you recorded for ECM/JAPO is distinct from the rest. How would you characterize their moods and styles? Is there an overarching theme that connects them all?

Those recordings are individually the result of circumstance and coincidence. There is no overarching theme connecting them. It was very rewarding to play with those great players/composers.

How has the experience of performing enhanced your understanding of jazz as an art form? Do you see jazz as an art form to begin with, or is it something else?

I don’t know: I never use the word “artist” when describing myself, and have never consciously considered these questions.

Who are you listening to these days?

Mostly piano players, with Bill Evans, John Taylor, Ahmad Jamal, Bud Powell and Art Tatum being on top of the list. I also listen often to “classical” music.

Your Ear Training textbook has enjoyed international success as a teaching tool. How did you come to write it? What did it mean for you to have Dave Liebman write its Foreword?

I had applied for a professorship at the Musikhochschule Köln (a school of music at the university level in Cologne). This must have been sometime during early 1994. Well, I didn’t get the professorship. They were, however, at that time looking for someone to teach the jazz ear-training courses. Since I had already been teaching ear-training at Berklee, they asked me to join the faculty. After a few semesters, I had produced a large amount of my own teaching materials. My subsequent method books are based on these materials.

I was extremely happy that Dave agreed to write the Foreword for these books: he is a player and teacher of great integrity for whom I have always had the greatest respect.

What is your best advice for aspiring jazz musicians?

Learn the science of our music (harmony) and develop your instrumental technique.

But NEVER forget: jazz improvisation begins and ends with your ears.

If you can’t hear it, don’t play it!

Out (Back) Patients
(Out Patients back cover)

Stephan Micus: Wings Over Water (JAPO 60038)

Wings Over Water

Stephan Micus
Wings Over Water

Stephan Micus acoustic guitar, nay, sarangi, voice, flowerpots, spanish guitar, Bavarian zither, suling
Recorded January 1981 at Ibiza Sound Studio and October 1981 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineers: Manfred Ballheimer and Martin Wieland

Wings Over Water is the third of five JAPO outings—the most by any artist on ECM’s sister label—by Stephan Micus. Featuring a rare turn by the intrepid multi-instrumentalist on that most quotidian tool of accompaniment, the guitar, it spins a web of enchantment across six numbered parts.

Part 1 uses the guitar to anchor that very web, its strings flexing before a soul-piercing tongue. The ney (an end-blown flute of the Middle East featured prominently in Micus’s work across the decades) is the breath behind it, a servant of the molecules swimming through its porous tunnel. These encirclings open a space into which the listener might step. Thus surrounded in the comfort of these repetitions, s/he may find that the ney’s improvisational flights have similarly taken solace within. Every rhythmic lapse is a micro-phase of organic awareness, attuned to said listener, to the perfect imperfection of things, which like the bird framed in the album cover photograph is austere yet warped in reflection. Gazing and gazed upon, it is self-sufficient, fragile as wind.

Part 2 gives insight into Micus’s unique approach to the sarangi, which in taking on such percussive function provides undulating waves for Micus’s voice and stretches arcs of flight over a ceramic pulse of flowerpots.

Part 3 rises from the mountains through the rusticity of a Spanish guitar and holds in its hands a dimly lit star, hewn in mineral and soil. The guitar becomes an agent of solace, its sound a meditation on meditation—two mirrors held soul’s distance apart and compounded by the interest of infinity. Flowerpots lend their pacing to the skeleton, marrying Sephardic and Southeast Asian influences by way of natural ligaments. The piece ends as it begins: in hermetic garments, tattered yet resilient to the elements, in fact becoming an element unto itself.

Part 4 is a spiritually unbound ney solo, an avian dream that remembers when sustenance was easier to come by, when one could freely roam the air currents to find all that was needed.

Part 5 is an open letter written in the language of flowerpots to the very cosmos. Its paths are as vast and unknowable as Nazca lines, a runway for the ether, embodied in ney and mapped by less visible instruments. Beats rise above the waterline, the breath an unbroken promise of sailing.

Part 6 unfolds, like Part 3, with hints of Andalusian soil. Joining Spanish guitar with Bavarian zither, it unleashes sweeping gardens of profusion, which then quiet to support the lilt of a suling (Indonesian bamboo ring flute) and with it sink into the ocean of forgetting.

An expressly visual journey that skips across rice paddies, this music moves as water strider on pond, and leaves in its wake the promise of a good harvest. It is a vestibule from the rain, a haven where bodies stretch in anticipation of sun.

Abdullah Ibrahim: African Piano (JAPO 60002)

African Piano

Abdullah Ibrahim
African Piano

Abdullah Ibrahim piano
Recorded live on October 22, 1969 at Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen

South African pianist-composer Abdullah Ibrahim (born Adolph Johannes Brand), still performing at the time of this 1969 live album under the moniker “Dollar” Brand, unleashed a mastery so enticing on African Piano, it’s a wonder that any of the folks at the club where it was recorded had the resolve to treat it as background to their dining. By the same token, reinforcement of that fact by constant ambient noises renders Ibrahim’s performance all the more sacred by contrast.

Amid a sea of chatter, cleared throats, and sudden intakes of breath, he breaks the surf with the gentle yet hip ostinato of “Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro,” working meditative tendrils into the bar light. Over this his right hand brings about an explosive sort of thinking that spins webs in a flash and connects them to larger others. With clarion fortitude, he drops bluesy accents along the way: a trail of crumbs leading to “Selby That The Eternal Spirit Is The Only Reality.” Ironically (or not), this is the most solemn blip on the album’s radar and blends into the ivory tickling of “The Moon.” Here Ibrahim’s heartfelt, dedicatory spirit comes to the fore, proving that, while technically proficient, he possesses a descriptive virtuosity that indeed evokes a pockmarked surface lit in various phases, harnessing sunlight as if it were skin in dense, vibrating harvest. The kinesis of this tune is diffused in the tailwind of “Xaba,” which then flows into “Sunset In Blue.” Ibrahim’s ancestral awareness is clearest here. The level of respect evoked for both the dead and the living lends a ritualistic quality by virtue of tight structuring, which despite hooks at the margins flies freely in its magic circle. “Kippy” is a smoother reverie with flickers of flame. A beautiful amalgam of measures and means, it slips an opiate of reflection into its own drink. After this, the intense two minutes of gospel and downward spirals that is “Jabulani—Easter Joy” takes us into “Tintinyana,” thereby crystallizing the album’s flowing energies. Tracks bleed into one another: they runneth from the same cup, their spiritual resonance deep and true.

African Piano is a gorgeous, thickly settled album, but one that is always transparent when it comes to origins. Such is the tenderness of Ibrahim’s craft, which speaks with a respect that transcends the sinews, muscles, and eardrums required to bring it to life. It finds joy in history, connecting to it like an Avatar’s tail to steed.

African Piano
Original cover

Herbert Joos: The Philosophy of the Fluegelhorn (JAPO 60004)

The Philosophy Of The Fluegelhorn

Herbert Joos
The Philosophy of the Fluegelhorn

Herbert Joos fluegelhorn, bass, bass recorder, bamboo flute, mellophone, trumpet, alto horn, vibes
Recorded July 1973 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer Carlos Albrecht
Produced by Herbert Joos

The Philosophy of the Fluegelhorn is Herbert Joos’s first of two albums for ECM’s sister label JAPO, the second being Daybreak. Where the latter was a lyrical, if longwinded, excursion, the former is something of a meta-statement for the German renaissance man—not only because he plays a bevy of overdubbed instruments, but also because its freer detailing gives pause over the sheer depth of realization.

The title track draws us into the outdoors, where field-recorded birds—and, among them, Joos’s horn—populate the trees with temporal awareness. Sibilant breath and popping bamboo flutes share the entanglement: the rhizomatic spread of Joos’s becoming-animal. Following this undulating prelude, “The Warm Body Of My True Love” opens the stage, a halved and hollowed whole. The nature of this soliloquy must be sought out in stirrings of life, excitations of molecules, and less definable physical properties. The horns are trembling, universal. “Skarabäus II” is of similarly finite constitution, navigating passage into darker dreams and adding to those horns a string’s uncalled-for response to the question of existence. Braided offshoots of trumpet fly around one another, each carrying its own flame of obsession. Next is the smooth and sultry “Rainbow.” Tinged by the alcoholic sunset of vibes, it is a hangover not yet shaken for want of the altered perspective. The squealing litter of horns that is “The Joker” segues into “An Evening With The Vampire.” Bathed in the sounds of nine arco basses, it enacts a morose ending to an otherwise luminescent session. Its sul ponticello screams recall George Crumb’s Black Angels and spin the echo-augmented horn like a chromatic Ferris wheel until the breath stops.

If you’ve ever been curious about Joos but didn’t know where to start, then by reading this you’ve already put your hand on the knob. Just turn it.

George Gruntz: Percussion Profiles (JAPO 60025)

Percussion Profiles Front

George Gruntz
Percussion Profiles

Jack DeJohnette drums, cymbals, gongs
Pierre Favre drums, cymbals, gongs
Fredy Studer drums, cymbals, gongs
Dom Um Romão percussion, gongs
David Friedman flat gongplay, vibes, marimba, crotales
George Gruntz gongs, keyboards, synthesizer, crotales
Recorded September 20, 1977 at Wally Heider Studios, Los Angeles
Engineer: Biff Dawes
Mixing: Georg Scheuermann and Manfred Eicher
Producer: Robert Paiste

Late Swiss composer, multi-instrumentalist, and artistic director George Gruntz (1932-2013) left behind a long and fruitful trail, one that intersected with ECM twice: once for the label proper as Theatre and before that for JAPO in the form of Percussion Profiles. The eminently influential Gruntz assembles here a veritable Who’s Who of the rhythmic circuit at the time of its recording (1977): namely, Jack DeJohnette, Pierre Favre, Fredy Studer, Dom Um Romão, David Friedman, and Gruntz in the architect’s chair on synths and keyboards. The project speaks less to Gruntz’s big band experiments than it does to his classical roots. Dedicated to Paiste brothers Robert (who also produces) and Toomas, the piece is a bona fide percussion concerto that approaches its performers as equal elements in a larger chemistry.

The piece is divided into six Movements, each illuminating a facet of the whole. Movement 1 introduces the pleasant blending of registers—from twinkles to full-throated calls—that defines the album’s broad trajectory. Like the sun on a cloudy day, its light shines variedly: sometimes in floods, sometimes in winks and flashes, but always with a clear conscience. There is a sensitivity of expression here that tells the stories of chamber music in the language of the Serengeti. Movements 2 through 4 bring out a veritable bouquet of fragrances: briny ocean (laced with intimations of birdsong and splashes of electronic marginalia), undercurrents of metal and oil, and resonant drones share a path toward the masterful “Movement 5.” This last opens in a vocal flower, which cups in its petals a sparkling array of notions and potions. The histrionic ways of this piece make it a beguiling standout, akin to Marion Brown’s Afternoon Of A Georgia Faun. Here is where the visuality of his medium is most apparent. If this record is a house, this movement enacts a thorough cleaning of its basement. Rusted tools and unused others share conversations of things past. Stuck between the water-damaged photographs and listless rodents are fortuitous becomings, blips and dots and dashes, sputtering pipes and creaking infrastructure. These are the feelings within, the memories of which “Movement 6” is a snare-inflected shadow, a spacy ride through keyboard textures and xylophoned exeunt.

Those who admire the work of Edgard Varèse will find much to sink their teeth into in Percussion Profiles, which begs repeated, unaccompanied listening, if only for its level of detail. A memorable rung on the JAPO ladder, and worth the climb to get there.

Percussion Profiles Back

Contact Trio: Musik (JAPO 60036)


Contact Trio

Evert Brettschneider electric and acoustic guitars
Aloys Kott electric and acoustic basses
Peter Eisold drums, percussion
Recorded October 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Musik was the second effort by the Contact Trio for ECM’s sister JAPO label. Inspired by the atmospheric developments of Wolfgang Dauner (see, for example, Output) and heavily invested in the softening distinctions between rock and jazz, the trio had by now perfected its rhizomatic sound in what was to be its final record. Here Peter Eisold takes the place of drummer Michael Jüllich, and the result is a truly aerobic experience.

The warm-up
The echoing guitar of “Air Lines” opens the session by straddling extremes of register and sharpness, and starts a snowball rolling down the bass’s equally resonant hill. Strangely, the ball doesn’t pick up speed for some time, but paces itself in a journey of textured reflection, tracing from each icy particle a possible trajectory of flight. Eisold’s unique percussive language is thus apparent. And then: traction as the rhythm section hurls the guitar to tell its story in anticipation of an untimely end.

The stretch
Muscles and tendons glow with flexion in “String Games.” Acoustic in hand, Brettschneider reflects on a past in which the only truth was a broken mirror. There is a feeling of dedication here, a deference to time at large for providing this opportunity to luxuriate in the creation of music. Like the first, this track hooks on to something more propulsive in the final minutes, only now running through the backstreets of a small Spanish town, chasing after a melody.

Lower body
“Daddy Longleg” is an invigorating turn featuring two overdubbed electric guitars and electric basses, each relaying torch light in palpitating dialogue with the other. Eisold again shines with colorful cymbal work that evokes nocturnal footfalls in the walls.

From its title alone, “Simple Symphony” would seem to be an allusion to Britten’s work of the same name. The music provides an entirely different experience. From Brettschneider’s throbbing beats and elastic chording to the groovy trio unity achieved thereafter, it climbs every tree in its way like a squirrel on a mission. The rhythm section positively shines in gorgeous geometries, sliding from one signature to the next with the ease and comfort of a fountain pen.

The spine gets is due attention in “Silence,” which curves in a protracted arch. Stained guitar and arco bass lead into a plunking dream of youthful flexibility, edging a ghost town with its metal detector until it finds two rusted guns from a shootout, long forgotten…

Chest and arms
“Elbow Dance” completes this full-body workout with a slog through cement that finds resolution and strange comfort in the hardening.

At the risk of belaboring all of this analogizing, Musik is an intensely physical record. Not only in the sense that it feels weighted and animate, but also for its permeable compositions. Each is a thoughtful assemblage of lines that no longer has need for points of origin. Together, these lines leave the listener with a lasting meta-statement of harmless transgression.

A gem in ECM’s apocryphal bin.

Jiří Stivín/Rudolf Dašek: System Tandem (JAPO 60008)

System Tandem

System Tandem

Jiří Stivín alto sax, soprano sax, flute, alto flute, recorder
Rudolf Dašek guitar
Recorded May 1974

Jiří Stivín is a true renaissance man. Widely involved as a classical musician in especially early and Baroque music circles, the flutist and composer is also one of the most highly regarded jazzmen of the Czech Republic. The son of an actress and an inventor, he has absorbed both of his parents’ talents, combining their passion for expression and utility in an immediately recognizable style. On System Tandem, he joins guitarist Rudolf Dašek, a partner in crime since 1971. This out-of-print session owes its verve to time spent at London’s Royal Academy of Music, which put Stivín in touch with the exciting jazz-rock fusions proliferating in the late sixties, and found him in the midst of Cornelius Cardew’s legendary Scratch Orchestra. His project with Dašek—probably the most successful jazz outfit to emerge from his homeland—enjoyed great festival circuit success on the continent and abroad. System Tandem came on the heels of a collaboration with bassist Barre Phillips, and the latter’s balance of form and spontaneity is certainly in the air. Dašek, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 79, was another stalwart of the Czech jazz scene known for crossing the genre divide. From his trio with George Mraz and Laco Tropp (among other drummers) to work as soloist before the Prague RSO, his dedication to new music was unflagging. Together, he and Stivín stayed true to that exploratory spirit, working alongside Pierre Favre and Tony Scott, big bands, and countless other configurations.

For its second album (following a debut on RCA Victor in Finland), System Tandem focuses the integrity of the music. Stivín pens the first cut and arranges the second. “Puddle On The Muddle” shows off the duo’s sense of light and shadow in a steely combination of registers. The lively interplay and ping-ponging of ideas allows Stivín to veer down wilder paths of squealing abandon in a robust opening gambit. The Moravian folk song that follows, “Forman Going Down The Valley” is the first of a few pairings of flute and guitar. The theme here is mountainous, painterly, and segues into the album’s remainder, all of which bears Dašek’s stamp. “Hey, Man (Let’s Play Something About Spain)” is the first standout and deepens the fluted streams of its predecessor. Buoyed by echoes of “Hasta Siempre” and quasi-flamenco touches, Stivín jumps into the deep end in another inspired solo turn. He speaks in tongues, becoming more vocal by the moment, for stretches abandoning the flute altogether. “What’s Your Story” mark’s the flute’s last appearance in a forlorn piece of restrained melodic shape. As it progresses, the virtuosity adjusts its sights a few clicks to the left. Stivín breaks out the soprano for “Shepherd Song,” evoking a dance party of undomesticated wildlife. This leaves us with the album’s pièce de résistance, “Puzzle Game.” For this marvelous foray into Baroque territory, Stivín plays a dizzying recorder against an invigorating Django Reinhardt rhythm. Dašek’s finger picking works wonders in the final stretch.

This rare gem is due for reissue not only for its content, but also because the lackluster engineering could do with an overhaul. At many points throughout, the guitar’s audibility is torn to shreds by Stivín’s sharp edges. This is especially true in “Hey, Man” and “What’s Your Story.” It’s as if Dašek were playing with his back to the listener, which makes him feel not so present and obscures his contributions. Thankfully, the recording levels are more graciously tweaked in the final track. Engineering caveats aside, the perks of System Tandem are in its well-muscled compositions. Building enough emotional resonance to undermine the need for a rhythm section is no easy trick for any unconventional duo, but Stivín and Dašek have no problems pulling the rabbit out of the hat.

To all you vinyl collectors, I say: Seek this one out.

Larry Karush/Glen Moore: May 24, 1976 (JAPO 60014)

May 24, 1976

Larry Karush
Glen Moore
May 24, 1976

Larry Karush piano
Glen Moore bass, violin
Recorded May 1976 at Talent Studios, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Bassist and Oregon cofounder Glen Moore joins pianist Larry Karush (who can be found lurking elsewhere on ECM as part of Steve Reich’s ensembles) in a fascinating encounter recorded on the titular date for the JAPO label. Perhaps because the two had already nurtured a deep synergy, what might have been a straight-up duo project instead turned into a spacious and variegated statement. Karush serves up four memorable solo portions, including opener “Untitled.” Balancing cloudy textures with sudden intakes of breath, it leaves only ash to tell of the fire that once burned there. “Transit Boogie,” on the other hand, is a forward-moving piece of ragtime nostalgia that delights in interlocking parts. “Vicissitudes” and “Pamela: At The Hawk’s Well” round out the solo ventures with introspections and intense descriptiveness. Moore’s single lone contribution is “Flagolet,” an overdubbed piece for bowed basses that grinds and twists its own sonic licorice.

“Duet,” the first in a handful of the same, marries these two uncompromising talents in such intuitive ways you’d swear they were separated at birth. Moore’s resonant bassing swims, keens, and prophesies at horsehair’s touch. Like a pinwheel tickled by the fringe of an incoming storm, his energies flourish in a whirl of colors. “Country” finds the bassist leaving deep pizzicato footprints along Karush’s sandy trail. The bluesy serration of this emerging path arcs beautifully into the late-night atmosphere of “Abstinence.” This masterful exchange of air and water finds likeminded release in “Triads,” which concludes with pointillist reflections at the keyboard from behind a David Darling-like gauze. The session’s crowning jewel, however, is “Violin Suite,” which places a smaller bow in Moore’s hands. Its flip-flopping of scratching and melodic itching makes for a sparkling field of contrast that pairs well with the Pifarély/Couturier vintage of Poros.

Sitting at a cerebral interstice between categories, Karush and Moore cover their cardinal bases and then some, leaving us in the end with one of the most wondrous JAPO sessions, period.

Bobby Naughton Units: Understanding (JAPO 60006)


Bobby Naughton Units

Perry Robinson clarinet
Mark Whitecage flute, basset born
Richard Yongstein or Mario Pavone bass
Randy Kaye or Laurence Cook percussion
Bobby Naughton vibraphone, piano, clavinet
Recorded October 30, 1971 in concert at Yale University and at Blue Rock Studio, New York
Engineer Eddie Korvin
Originally produced in USA by Otic Records, a musicians’ cooperative

Self-taught composer-performer Bobby Naughton has been playing the vibraphone professionally since 1966. From silent film scoring to a stint with the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, not to mention a regular spot alongside Leo Smith (see 1979’s Divine Love), Naughton has since developed his craft by way of a unique, eclectic career. In 1971, Naughton and a handful of trusted musicians took a dip into the JAPO pool with Understanding. Recorded both in studio and in concert (with a slight change in roster between each), it documents a singular shuffle of original tunes and those of Carla Bley.

Bley and Naughton’s styles could hardly be more different, making their combination on this album all the more appropriate. Comparing the former’s title track with the latter’s follow-up, “Austin Who,” one finds a shift from the charcoal strokes of drummer Randy Kaye and Naughton’s own balance of melody and affect to a haunting look inward to places of delicate unrest. It is a fascinating diptych. Of the remaining Bley selections, the popular “Ictus” gets a gargling treatment, finding chaos and color in the tactile playing of clarinetist Perry Robinson. In it one can taste sunset and the excitement of evening’s promise. “Gloria” is the glistening heart of the set, a tender and questioning act of impression which, much like the opener, brushes its way into the ear, catching hair cells unawares with its jaggedness, pausing as if inhaling.

Naughton’s compositions unfurl a uniquely uplifting spread of descriptive moods. Sleigh bells, for instance, let us know that “Snow” is on the way. What ensues is not a song of winter’s dread, however, but of its thaw, each touch of percussion another clump rattling from the branches. Laurence Cook’s beautiful cymbal work in “V.A.” sparks an unusual conversation of wind and water, while for “Nital Rock” Naughton breaks out the clavinet for some electric throwback. Mark Whitecage does phenomenal things with the basset horn here, running a hundred errands at once.

This is a pot of water ever on the verge of boiling.

… . …

In an effort to better understand the context in which this album took shape, I interviewed Mr. Naughton, who kindly offered his succinct wisdom. Below is what transpired.

Tyran Grillo: Can you tell me a little about how you came to the vibraphone? Or did it come to you?
Bobby Naughton: I had been playing a lot of funky and out-of-tune pianos. The clarity of the vibraphone was appealing. And the keyboard was familiar. I went for it.

TG: As a self-taught musician, do you find that you approach performance in any way different from those with strictly formal training?
BN: I have no idea. As a child I had years of piano lessons, but am self-taught on the vibraphone. My formal education is in the liberal arts. My approach to performance? Prepare to lay it all on the line. Every time.

TG: How did Understanding come to fruition?
BN: I don’t know. Not by plan. It evolved.

TG: What was behind your decision to focus on the music of Carla Bley? Was she involved in the project in any way?
BN: No decision. Investigations led me to Carla’s compositions. Incredibly meaty and detailed stuff. No, Carla had no involvement.

TG: Looking back at your recorded output, how does Understanding fit into the sounds you have forged in, say, The Haunt or Zoar? What does the album mean for you?
BN: Each album covers quite a different area. Understanding is broader in scope and personnel. For example, the title composition is a tone row, a twelve tone piece, and “V.A.” is a graphic score.

TG: What were the circumstances that led you to work with Leo Smith?
BN: In the early 70s a JAPO employee wrote to me that Leo lived a few towns away in Connecticut. I called him and we met.

TG: Can you sketch me a picture of how the Divine Love recording session went down?
BN: A happening at the highest level.

TG: How would you describe your own compositions to those who haven’t heard them?
BN: Melodic and suggestive. Structures for improvisation.

TG: What would you say has been the most fulfilling aspect of your career thus far?
BN: Survival. It’s been musically rewarding but tempered by resources. You have to love it to do it.