Children At Play: s/t (JAPO 60009)

Children At Play

Children At Play

Tom van der Geld vibes, percussion
Roger Janotta reeds, percussion
Larry Porter piano, electric piano, percussion
Richard Appleman bass
Jamey Haddad drums
Bob Gulotti drums
Recorded 1973 at Rennaissance Studios, Maynard, Massachusetts
Engineer: C. Ange
Produced by Tom van der Geld

Vibraphonist Tom van der Geld’s distinct musical wanderings have left behind some of the choicest among ECM’s out-of-print relics. Whether the trio settings of Path or the broader palette of Patience, his sound is at once soft and unbreakable, forthright yet ecumenical. His footsteps also found purchase in the rarer soil of the JAPO sub-label, of which this self-titled date from his legendary group Children At Play was the first. Here van der Geld is joined by Roger Janotta on reeds, Larry Porter on keyboards, Richard Appleman on bass, and Jamey Haddad on drums. Basking in opener “Tamarind,” it’s clear why the ensemble has attained such high status among collectors. This power statement awakens to a wealth of morning light every bit as descriptive as Grieg’s. The brittle bass line that ensues nets a flavorsome admixture of piano, vibes, and soprano sax that positively exudes personality. Between Porter’s grounding keys and a drum circle-like interlude, there is much to take in throughout this 18-minute journey as it pulls down the sun to where it began.

“Wandering I” lumbers further into the album’s storybook scenography, bringing illustrations to life with a hint of whimsy. In addition to the group unity forged in such tracks, Janotta’s reeds work a most vivid magic throughout, but especially in “Sweet My Sweet,” in which he sets up a tropical narrative from van der Geld, trembling and sunbathed, swaying like the album cover’s long grasses. Drummer Bob Gulotti replaces Haddad on “Reason,” a rubato outing of multifaceted inner dimensions. A gnarled, lethargic bass solo paints the picture of sleep before van der Geld’s dreams touch off lens flare accents.

If pushed to find a point of critique regarding this album, I might comment only on the sequencing, for the tracks might have better served themselves in reverse. As the order stands, it’s like starting with an enormous dessert and working one’s way back through smaller main courses. Either way, the album is another beautiful entry in the van der Geld travelogue and finds rich closure in “Patch Of Blue.” The only track not written by the bandleader (this one comes from Porter’s pen), it molds a pastiche of all that came before, combining the time of “Tamarind,” the fantasy of “Wandering I,” the warmth of “Sweet My Sweet,” and the introspection of “Reason” in smooth detail. The feeling is one of sand—not of desert, but of beach—between the toes, honest down to the last grain.

Globe Unity Orchestra: Improvisations (JAPO 60021)

Improvisations

Globe Unity
Improvisations

Gerd Dudek soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute
Paul Lovens drums
Günther Christmann trombone
Paul Rutherford trombone
Tristan Honsinger cello
Peter Kowald bass, tuba
Kenny Wheeler trumpet
Evan Parker soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
Albert Mangelsdorff trombone
Peter Brötzmann alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
Buschi Niebergall bass
Michel Pilz bass clarinet
Manfred Schoof trumpet
Derek Bailey guitar
Alexander von Schlippenbach piano
Recorded September 1977 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Ashes, ashes, we all fall…up? Yes, says the Globe Unity Orchestra. The autonomous improvisation collective was formed in 1966 and has shifted ever since with as much openness to the unknown as the music it unleashes. Over the years, it has seen a veritable who’s who of modern jazz flit through its cage, including Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, Enrico Rava, and Toshinori Kondo. Because of the wealth of riches at its employ, the GUO’s eponymous unity undermines the need to dwell on individual talents. All the same, this early JAPO release, recorded in 1977, is an endearing document for, among other reasons, so nakedly marking the early careers of its great improvisers. Whether through Michel Pilz’s visceral baying, Peter Brötzmann’s gurgling of midnight oil, Derek Bailey’s jangly aphorisms, Kenny Wheeler’s playful fancy, or Evan Parker’s sopranic emulsions, the character of every voice remains prominent—astonishing when one thinks of just how many are involved.

Together these musicians are something greater than the sum of their parts, each an integral element in an alchemy that espouses the new by tapping into something that predates all of us. Throughout the album’s four numbered improvisations, the GUO sharpens ears as if they were pencils. With the epic concentration and polar range of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, “Improvisation 1” clings to some alien monolith in pure instinctual discovery, while “Improvisation 2” teeters in the sonic equivalent of a groggy yawn. It pulls every limb from the muck of dreams until it pops with renewed life. The feeling of tension is palpable: plucking, striking, and exhaling into infinity. Yet where the first half seems chained to an alternate reality, “Improvisation 3” taps into those cortical implosions sooner and measures their perimeter before diving headlong into the resulting froth. It is a brilliant percussive mash of banshees and waterfalls.

“Improvisation 4” is the album’s pièce de résistance. Longer than the first three combined, it teases with jazzy beginnings. Like the third, however, it locates the problem early on and unpacks it with guttural aptitude. The more one surrenders to this music, the more it splits into pieces and slides down vocal tracts like children at a playground. The depth of color and texture—of sustained light flecked with disturbing rhythmic shadows—dwarfs all that came before. The intimacy, too, with which it ends is arresting: only cello and bass overlapping to the clatter of a teapot without a whistle, burying themselves as deeply as they can until the bulldozers arrive.

A worthy curio for your cabinet.

Magog: s/t (JAPO 60011)

Magog

Magog

Hans Kennel trumpet, fluegelhorn, perussion
Andy Scherrer soprano and tenor saxophones, flute, percussion
Paul Haag trombone, percussion
Klaus Koenig piano, e-piano, percussion
Peter Frei bass
Peter Schmidlin drums, percussion
Recorded November 1 and 2, 1974 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineers: Martin Wieland and Carlos Albrecht
Produced by Solitron Productions, S.A.

Magog was the brainchild of trumpeter Hans Kennel, who made a name for himself in the 1960s as a hard-bop king of the Swiss jazz scene. After earning his chops with the likes of fellow countryman Bruno Spoerri and American bassist Oscar Pettiford, he continued to work with other brilliant outliers, including Mal Waldron, George Gruntz, and Pierre Favre. The band documented here arose in the mid-seventies and was something of a stepping-stone as he grew into his own as a purveyor of “New Alpine Music” (including an alphorn quartet outfit called Mytha), combining now the traditional music of his ancestors with modern jazz idioms.

As it stands, this self-titled album from the short-lived Magog is a worthy JAPO outing. There is plenty to admire in the sounds forged by Kennel and his cohorts. Reedman Andy Scherrer, trombonist Paul Haag, pianist Klaus Koenig, bassist Peter Frei, and drummer Peter Schmidlin round out a sometimes-formidable sextet in this program of as many cuts. Haag pens opener “Lock.” It’s the album’s weakest, building a loose groove from base (read: bass) elements to Kennel’s breezy adlibbing. Despite the pleasant jam aesthetic, it feels like a studio warm-up in comparison to the sprawling entity that is Scherrer’s “Gogam.” This bubbling spring promises stronger themes and realizes them with a tuck and a roll into swinging traction. The big-band-on-a-shoestring sound achieved here is remarkable, as is the steamy action between the composer and the rhythm section.

Koenig counters with two. Haag’s trombone is a prominent voice in “Rhoades,” threading the piano’s claustrophobic maze of needles with ease. This and Kennel’s visceral squeals, not to mention the sleepwalking bass solo, make for some inspiring journeying toward the final pop. “Der Bachstelzer” finds Koenig plugged in, providing somber introductory remarks to the smoothly paced excursion that ensues. More inspired, erratic brushwork from Kennel (whose musicianship stands a head above the others) and lithe sopranism from Scherrer lay a rough yet fluid track. The group really hits its stride, however, in the closing tunes from Kennel. Between the hauntingly atmospheric beginnings of “Summervogel,” replete with ancestral ululations, and the solid groove of “New Samba,” there is much to warrant return fare.

Magog doesn’t seem to have been afraid to test the waters on tape. Their honesty is apparent throughout and makes for a transparent listening experience. The group flicks through dreams like a Rolodex, working fingers to the bone in search of closure. Although said closure never quite materializes, it leaves us free to interpret the sounds however we choose.

Herbert Joos: Daybreak – The Dark Side Of Twilight (JAPO 60015/ECM 3615)

Daybreak Dark

Herbert Joos
Daybreak -­ The Dark Side Of Twilight

Herbert Joos fluegelhorn, trumpet, cornet
Thomas Schwarz oboe
Wolfgang Czelustra bass, trombone
Strings of Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart
Recorded October 1976 and July 1988 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Carlos Albrecht
Produced by Herbert Joos and Thomas Stöwsand

German trumpeter and fluegelhornist Herbert Joos’s flirtations with ECM have been few, contributing to the big brass sound of Eberhard Weber’s Orchestra and notably to Cracked Mirrors, a marvelous and, it would seem, overlooked date with guitarist Harry Pepl and drummer Jon Christensen. Yet it was with Daybreak, recorded in the fall of 1976 for sister label JAPO, that the knot of Joos first audibly untied itself alongside Thomas Schwarz (oboe), Wolfgang Czelustra (bass and trombone), and the strings of the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart.

The emphasis on classical textures will feel familiar to admirers of Keith Jarrett’s likeminded forays, especially In The Light and Bridge Of Light. That being said, the overall effect is shadowy, overhung, though equally honest. “Why?,” for example, answers its own question up front in the very asking. Although an obvious reference to Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question, its progression spins closure from an interrogative oboe. The normally pastoral associations of the instrument are shed along with lingering symphonic details, such that when Joos’s breath cuts the air with its golden knife, the strings drip like lifeblood from its plane. None of which is meant to suggest that the music is in any way macabre. For what can there be but hope in the cyclical motif that churns during fadeout? “When Were You Born?” asks another question answered by its own sounding. The delicacies of Joos’s high-register playing render far more expansive maps in this instance, touching proboscis to firmament and sampling sunlight until nightfall. “Leicester Court 1440” features Joos in muted soliloquy. Riding a horse of compressed time, he enacts an agitated recession into the title piece. Joos has only his own echo for company before the inward journey is externalized by the dark arrival of strings. Hence, the “Black Trees” looming not far away. Yet despite the title, they actually let down the brightest of the album’s seeds with an approach that gives voice to nature and seeks universal truth in a bird’s nest. Joos’s lines bespeak haughty quest in “Fasten Your Seatbelt.” This playful frolic through arco fabric balances laughter and fearless arpeggios, while scuttling crabs and landlocked others communicate without need for sound. And when the seatbelt fails us, we are thrown into a life of slower motion, lit by “The Dark Side Of Twilight.” The latter appears only on the 1990 CD re-issue (ECM 3615) and, at 15 minutes, is the album’s most brooding texture. Relaying brass-synth and string chorale settings, it walks a broken circle with its head hung in thought, an outlier among the album’s modest population.

The music of Daybreak speaks to children in the language of adults. It photographs the illusion of age and melts it into a sea of numbers. Not every detail will be preserved in that translation, but in the process we come to understand that history and music are sometimes like water and oil. In this chamber of the past, futures hide in corners the light struggles to reach.

Daybreak
Original cover

Ken Hyder’s Talisker: Land Of Stone (JAPO 60018)

Land Of Stone

Ken Hyder’s Talisker
Land Of Stone

Ken Hyder drums
John Lawrence bass
Marcio Mattos bass
Davie Webster alto saxophone
John Rangecroft tenor saxophone, clarinet
Ricardo Mattos soprano and tenor saxophones, flute
Brian Eley vocals
Frankie Armstrong vocals
Phil Minton vocals
Maggie Nichols vocals
Recorded April 1977 in London
Engineer Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Over a career spanning more than four decades, Scottish percussionist and vocalist Ken Hyder has developed a strong body of work, though perhaps none so robust as his Talisker outfit. Combining Celtic and jazz influences, Talisker debuted in 1975 with Dreaming Of Glenisla on Virgin Records. Yet as Hyder’s musical interests began to expand to traditional Irish music and further to Asian monasticism, his sound opened itself to a world of possibilities. Enter album the second, Land Of Stone, which found a home on the JAPO label two years later.

“The Strathspey King,” a strangely swinging ode to Scottish master fiddler James Scott Skinner (1843-1927), sets a homegrown tone. Clarinetist John Rangecroft proves to be a vital presence in this increasingly enigmatic session, adding swagger aplenty. Like a young hopeful decked out in fresh threads and money in the pocket, he tricks the heart into thinking that harm is a while away. Hyder’s militaristic drum solo intercepts street-side, as if offering free samples of reality before a chorus of bidders drops into view with its haunting brand of Hebridean choral music in “The Men Of Barra Know How To Drink, But The Women Know How To Sing.” A boisterous and colorful chain, its syllables become actions, teetering like drunken instruments into “Close The Window And Keep It Down.” This likeminded island song is an onomatopoetic excursion into the inner lives of house wares and propriety. The latter quickly disintegrates as bonds loosen their friction and slide from grasp in screeching ululations, courtesy of ECM margin-bearer Maggie Nichols. The color wheel darkens further in “See You At The Mission, Eh, If It’s No’ Full,” in which a brood of instruments strains unison phrasings through an upturned colander. Bass and drums form a knot of support, eyes in a flowing wood grain. In the wake of these dirt-caked fingernails, “Derek Was Only A Bairn” rides into the dawn, a smooth caravan lead by Ricardo Mattos on flute and horse’s trot.

Hyder insists that improvisation was a vital component of Scottish bagpipe playing, and in a tripartite pibroch he explores the crossover from the Highlands to the fringes of American free jazz, dedicating parts respectively to the MacCrimmons (a notable family of pipers), John Coltrane, and Albert Ayler. After a microscopic dialogue between bassists John Lawrence and Marcio Mattos, soprano saxophone masquerades as bagpipe in piercing shepherd’s call. Hints of a jig rise and fall from deeper drones, a sky behind mountain silhouettes. Over the click of cymbal, dense voices weave in and out of earshot, taking solid presence in the loam of memory, to slumber and to molt. The banshees return with gentle persuasions, their ashen hair and earthward grins blistered by the rub of their limbo. Yet with the coming of rhythm they achieve communication somewhere on the other side of fear, ecstatic totems each passing through sea and grain until the wind puts fingers to lips and blows.

Cleaning off the dust of age, Talisker shakes out tunes old and new, and with the chaff pieces together charcoal fields as would a cobbler hammer a sole. Or is it soul? There’s plenty to be had in this land of stone.

OM with Dom Um Romao (JAPO 60022)

OM with Dom Um Romao

OM with Dom Um Romao

Urs Leimgruber soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet
Christy Doran 6- and 12-string electric guitars
Bobby Burri bass
Fredy Studer drums
Dom Um Romão percussion, berimbau
Recorded August 1977 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Is there a high road? This is the question asked by OM’s third of four albums for JAPO. For its junior effort, the renegade quartet of Urs Leimgruber (reeds), Christy Doran (guitar), Bobby Burri (bass), and Fredy Studer (drums) would seem to hold to a relatively accessible doctrine. But while it is the most groove-oriented in their potent discography—not surprising, given the driving center found in guest artist Dom Um Romão (1925-2005)—the core provided by the legendary Brazilian jazz drummer and percussionist, known for his work with Weather Report, allows a melodic brand of expressive freedom to take shape. The showdown is just as dreamy and feverish as anything OM had ever produced. This atmosphere comes about through the hypnotic effect of a steady pulse, the essence of all ritual. Burri’s “Chipero” opens the doors to a realm of bird and goddess, a forest where waters run shallow but sure. Romão provides the welcoming call, the rest evoking fauna and wounds of expectation. These energies sustain themselves throughout, especially in the two Doran-penned tunes. “Back To Front” swings us farther out into the cosmic stretch by way of some especially colorful picking from the composer, unwrapping a package of candy and strewing its contents over Saturn’s rings. The flow is not without its detours, as evidenced by the stark change of scenery as bass and guitar mellow for a concluding night flight. Doran’s other half is “De Funk,” which churns the butter to even smoother consistency. Romão’s Nana Vasconcelos vibe adds just the right touch of salt to Studer’s metronome. Doran, ebullient as over, can only defer to Burri, who works overtime to keep us in the here and now. Leimgruber’s bass clarinet turns like a jigsaw piece crying for fit and sets up a round of witty exchanges. Nestled among these propulsive journeys, the artful dodge of Leimgruber’s “Dumini” awakens the behemoth of memory in a lanky, sweltering pitch. Because it is the only track to have made the cut for OM’s retrospective album, this collaborative joint is worth checking out for the surrounding paths it lays. OM remains attentive to ebb and flow, an oarless boat reaching shore. What does oxygen breathe?

Es herrscht Uhu im Land: s/t (JAPO 60037)

Es herrscht Uhu im Land

Es herrscht Uhu im Land

Christoph Anders voice, guitar, organ
Heiner Goebbels synthesizer, piano, saxophone, voice
Alfred Harth saxophones, bass clarinet, voice
Paul Lovens drums, percussion
Rolf Riehm english horn, alto saxophone, voice
Annemarie Roelofs trombone, violin, voice
Recorded December 9-11, 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

This early collaboration from saxophonist Alfred Harth and composer Heiner Goebbels is a telling lens of intersection through which to mine two fascinating careers. Harth will be familiar to ECM devotees as the progenitor of the label’s second album, Just Music, and would go on to release two further albums in other venues before meeting Goebbels in 1975. The two came together musically in a jazz-rock outfit called Rauhreif which, being to neither’s liking, dissolved, leaving these powerhouses itching for freer means of expression. It was in the context of this collaboration that Harth introduced the young Goebbels to the music of Hanns Eisler, which would of course lead to Eislermaterial, his most successful project to date. After connecting the dots for five years as a duo in various German settings, Harth called on the services of an old friend, Thomas Stöwsand, who’d played cello and flute on Just Music and was now headlong into the ECM storm. Stöwsand agreed to produce and welcomed into the studio Chris Anders, Rolf Riehm, and Annemarie Roelofs, each accomplished multi-instrumentalists, and drummer Paul Lovens. Such is the tangled web of Es herrscht Uhu in Land.

In it ideas were already taking shape that would become touchstones for Goebbels’s work, such as “Autobahn,” which meshes rallying songs with a field recording of its eponymous motorway, while “Wertkauf” betrays a less delicate side, sounding like something out of an Otomo Yoshihide free-for-all. The reversed vinyl and crunchy guitar make for a powerful contrast, each groove a cavity waiting for a tooth. “Mahlzeit” is a trembling gift, enacting a sacred touch of tongue to circuit. And one can’t help but uphold the frozen wasteland and creaking wonders of “Durch Den Wald” as a precursor to Stifters Dinge.

Riehm also makes a significant contribution with “Der Main.” Composed around poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin, it thus lays another important keystone in the ECM ethos. This skip through space is like a sonic parlor trick, a knock on the door of memory, a wishful thought. Through a deft admixture of songs, the relay of word to voice moves in an extended meditation. At nearly eight minutes, it towers over the outlying tracks, which average around two minutes each, and underscores the otherwise restless musings therein with a bold cohesion.

The musicians turn air to solid with their touch. Intimate musings, talking brass, laughter, and wires share a bed, rolling in the sheets until something musical takes shape. Each body part becomes a note that in combination with other, activates instrumental ideas. Harth, for one, writhes in soprano-gilded spirals over the song of a hungry whale in “Echter Lachs” and pops the electronic bubble in “Knecht U.” Yet for the most part, the group works as a whole, spitting watermelon seeds out of cartoon mouths in “Ich Nicht Mich Dich” alongside the jackhammer of self-questioning. It pulls us into an underworld of radio signals, waltzing to the beat of a perverse drum (“El Salvador”) and changing channels with the twist of a rein (“Uhu”), all the while feeding voices through a sluice pipe of craft. A spate of translation (“Superbirdsong”), dust for wings and air, and we are in the forlorn wakeup call of “Tilt!” smoking monosyllables until they stain the lungs with honesty.

In this bedtime story for the escaped mind, the main characters are an adroit political insight, a leak in the colonial pen that ruins a fluid takeover with exposition of intent, and a crucible of retrospection. Neither derisive nor derivative, this project takes a good long look at the sandy areas of our consciousness and pours water on them for sandcastles. The water jug drains itself. The water jug waits for no one.

Es herrscht Uhu im Land (Back)
Back cover

Enrico Rava: “Quotation Marks” (JAPO 60010)

Quotation Marks

Enrico Rava
“Quotation Marks”

Enrico Rava trumpet
Jeanne Lee vocal
John Abercrombie guitar
David Horowitz piano, synthesizer
Herb Bushler bass
Ray Armando percussion
Warren Smith marimba, percussion
Jack DeJohnette drums
Finito Bingert tenor saxophone, flute, percussion
Rodolfo Mederos bandoneón
Ricardo Lew guitar
Matias Pizarro piano
El Negro Gonzales bass
Nestor Astarita drums
El Chino Rossi percussion
Recorded December 1973 at Blue Rock Studios, New York
Engineer: Jane…
Produced by David Horowitz and Jack Tafoya
Recorded April 1974 at Audion Studio, Buenos Aires
Engineer: Nello
Produced by Nano Herrera

“Quotation Marks” was a milestone for Italian trumpeter, now ECM mainstay, Enrico Rava. In addition to being his first of many projects on Manfred Eicher’s watch, it was his debut as leader. The record blends two sessions into a seamless program. The first (December 1973) went down in New York City, where he was backed by guitarist John Abercrombie, drummer Jack DeJohnette, keyboardist David Horowitz, bassist Herb Bushler, and percussionists Ray Armando and Warren Smith. The second (April 1974) placed Rava in Buenos Aires alongside Radolfo Mederos on bandoneón, Finito Bingert on tenor sax and flute, Matias Pizarro on piano, Ricardo Lew on guitar, and percussionists Nestor Astarita and El Chino Rossi.

Of this fine assembly, Mederos’s sound rings foremost. His lovely bellows open “Espejismo Ratonera” with a lilting air before Pizarro’s smooth pianism flushes its alleys clear for less straightforward melodic explorations. Touches of tango warm the cockles, making for an easy, patient entrance to Rava’s dancing grammar. Youth and joy are obvious in his playing, which by a clever turning of the knob bleeds back into the bandoneón with which the track began. American jazz vocalist Jeanne Lee sings lyrics by Argentine poet Mario Trejo in the “Short Visit To Malena” that follows. It too benefits from studio subtleties, fading in as if we were being escorted from one nightclub to another. We seem to wander in at mid-song and notice the crowd sipping their cocktails, arriving just in time for Rava’s trade-off to Abercrombie. (I cannot help but be reminded at this point, if you’ll forgive the comparison, of “Club Tropicana” by Wham!, which begins outside and plunges the listener into a club atmosphere once the door is opened.) “Sola” throws us headlong into the bounce of the South American band. A flute solo here from Bingert stands as the album’s highlight. Like a light streaking before an open lens, it lingers against the skip of bandoneón and snare. The track fades all too soon, just as Lew catches a tailwind. “San Justo” is another horizontal with dissonant verticals from Mederos and a gritty prison break from Lew. Lee rejoins the cast for the heavenly watercolors of the title track before her cathartic leaps float amid a heady beat of brassy beauty, while in the steady groove of “Melancolia De Las Maletas” she adds flips and dips. All of this gives plenty of ground for Rava to unleash his confidence, handing it over to Abercrombie for a crunchy and edible passage.

We know these musicians are capable of incendiary moves, which renders their restraint (and the occasional burst) all the more intense. Rava especially takes time to introduce himself into nearly every tune. Even those like “Water Kite” cloak him in a deceptively thematic role before asserting his personality at stage center. It is a testament to his maturity as a young player and deference to the talents with which he finds himself. The result is an unspoiled gem in the Rava discography that is more than worth the import price if you can afford it.

…. . ….

As a service to my readers, I’ve taken the liberty of translating the liner notes by Minoru Wakasugi that accompany the 2006 Japanese reissue, especially because the album has since become available far more cheaply via digital download, sans booklet:

Now available for the first time on CD is Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava’s 1973 work “Quotation Marks”, which shuffles together a New York session recorded that same year (tracks 2, 6, 7) and another recorded in Buenos Aires the following.

The story behind the South American session and its journey to CD is as vivid as the music’s colors.

At the very least, we can think of this record as marking the beginning of Rava’s relationship with Latin music. Since the 80s, imprints such as Soul Note (Italy) have boasted similar, richly hued sounds, but among ECM’s productions throughout the 70s there was nothing that so vividly repainted the label’s image. Unable to move about as he’d wished, and in something of a quagmire as he pondered his solo debut, Rava, no doubt inspired by ECM owner Manfred Eicher’s philosophy and the image he’d established, felt this was a good way to go.

Such instability wasn’t unknown to Eicher, as it had defined the young label’s activities thus far. Although that same year saw the production of Jazz a Confronto 14 – Enrico Rava on the Italian Horo label, by then the groundwork had already been laid in a slew of formative records.

And let us not forget his participation in soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy’s 1966 The Forest and the Zoo, also recorded in Buenos Aires. Although that album took him in an entirely unrelated musical direction, Rava’s first South American experience surely stirred the Latin blood lurking within him.

Not long after, he traveled to New York in 1967. In making the transition from the rundown streets of Buenos Aires to those of another metropolis, Rava was baptized in the waters of authentic free jazz. He returned home temporarily, only to find himself back in the Big Apple, by which time seven years had passed. In that period, he’d played with Carla Bley in the pianist-composer’s large-scale project Escalator Over the Hill (1971). Seeing as Bley’s WATT label had direct business relations with ECM, it was perhaps inevitable that Rava would come to know Eicher.

Living in a racial and cultural melting pot like New York placed Rava at world center. It was more than just a dollop of land in the eastern U.S.; it was a crucible of global influences that seeped into every part of the city and led him to Buenos Aires a second time.

He drew up his first South American sketch with Pupa o Crisalide, released on Vista (Italy), known for producing artists like Duško Gojković. Featuring such talents as Italy-based Brazilian percussionist Mandrake, the album was oriented more toward Brazilian fusion than Argentine tango and gained popularity even among the young club crowd. It was also my introduction to Rava.

One can hear from Pupa o Crisalide just how fulfilling his time in Buenos Aires was. He produced quite a few recordings there, and from them a wonderful body of work. “Quotation Marks” was essentially culled from the Vista outtakes.

Uniformity reigns in Pupa o Crisalide. And although the present CD is three recordings in one, laid down in Buenos Aires, New York (alternate takes), and locally in Rome, one can read balance into their triangular interrelationship. The colors are uniform, maintaining as they do a consistent temperature and climate.

On the other hand, it is also a sound-world where, by virtue of its intermingling, warmth and coldness, brightness and darkness butt up against one another, so that their urban commonalities come about through subtle variations. The stability of Pupa o Crisalide, then, no longer applies.

Not that “Quotation Marks” needs it. With Rava’s reverberant blat and tenacity, it obscures melancholy and sordidness, finding among the urban sprawl an inner spiritual world hitherto unseen. It is the same power of spirit that moves the Piazzolla Quintet’s Piazzolla at the Philharmonic Hall New York (1965) and anticipates the “neighborhood music” of Kip Hanrahan (of American Clavé fame) by decades.

None of this means that Rava was necessarily ready to jump the gun as leader, for he inevitably took on the “colors” of his costars, all of whom helped to draw out his magnetic attraction. Nevertheless, he made a huge impression. More than Rava’s skills and such, it was his commitment to a total concept that won listeners over, and the effect was incalculable. The combination with bandoneón was unique at the time, although now it will readily put ECM fans in mind of Dino Saluzzi. It was nothing so original as taking Saluzzi’s unique ambience and meshing it with the unsettling melodies of tango, but still one caught a glimpse of ECM’s innovation for treating the bandoneón as primary actor.

Rodolfo Mederos, who held the key to the South American session, is a bandoneón player of a generation younger than Saluzzi. And while he cherished his instrument as if he’d inherited it from Piazzolla himself, he also formed a rock-leaning band called Generación Cero (Generation Zero), and for a time was involved in activities that would seem to go against the Piazzolla grain. Nowadays we can chalk up these exploits to youthful indiscretion and self-reformation, but we need only look at tango master Osvaldo Pugliese, whose compositions were already heralding a new age of performance, to see their importance.

Ricardo Lew (guitar), Matias Pizarro (piano), and Nestor Astarita (drums), who assisted in Rava’s South American sketches with Mederos, were always looking to attract other local players. Pizzaro in particular was a central figure during this period in promoting and developing “folklorization,” an underground style of Andean fusion. Its effects continue to be an inspiration for modern-day outfits, like France’s Gotan Project, which trace their roots directly to tango. Along with late bombo drummer Domingo Cura (1929-2004), who inspired a reassessment of the genre from behind the scenes, these artists have charted the modernization of Andean music. We may not lay the same claims on “Quotation Marks”, but because we’re unveiling the album at this historical moment, in 2006, it is important to tease out the effects of everything going on around it. (Translation ©2013 Tyran Grillo)

Elton Dean Quintet: Boundaries (JAPO 60033)

Boundaries

Elton Dean Quintet
Boundaries

Elton Dean saxello, alto saxophone
Mark Charig cornet
Keith Tippett piano, marimba, voice, bottle
Louis Moholo drums
Marcio Mattos bass
Recorded February 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake and Elton Dean

Late saxophonist Elton Dean (1945-2006) was notable not only for his finely separated fingering and smooth alto playing, but also for giving due attention to the saxello, a soprano variant which has in recent years seen a comeback in production. Sounding like a cross between its cousin and an English horn, its tonal possibilities give this JAPO session a freshness that has a ways to go yet before its expiration date. From 1966-67, Dean played sideman to singer Long John Baldry in the British R&B outfit Bluesology. Incidentally, the band’s piano man, Reginald Dwight, would borrow from Dean’s and Baldry’s names to create a new stage persona as none other than Elton John. As for Dean, he would go on to make a name (keeping his intact) for himself as saxophonist for the Keith Tippett Sextet, Soft Machine (for which he is perhaps best known), and a string of his own groups. The quintet featured here was among the freer of the latter incarnations, and included Tippett on piano and marimba, cornetist (and fellow Soft Machinist) Mark Charig, bassist Marcio Mattos, and South African drummer Louis Moholo.

EDQ
(Elton Dean Quintet, Rome 1980)

Dean takes on all composing duties, save for the group improv “Out Of Bounds.” This one is their creed. Between Tippett’s mysterious vocals and his marimba’s sprightly appearance (its only of the set) to the fantastic puckering from both horns and Mattos’s flint sparks, there’s much to savor. Yet it’s the title track that welcomes the album’s weightiest theme. Saxello and cornet make a piercing duo in this wide rubato river, as they do in the concluding “Fast News,” which, though primarily a cascading pianistic excursion, goads the listener upstream. Said aquatic qualities crystallize, appropriately enough, in the impressionistic “Oasis.” Each cymbal tap is a glint of sun across the selfsame surface. Mattos stumbles to the edge and lowers lips to drink, only to be met by the saxello’s mocking reality. These sere awakenings come to head during the final showdown between survival and stasis, sinking in quicksand with choices intact. The hope we seek comes to us through a glass darkly in “Basho,” which, if not named for the famous Japanese itinerant, at the very least instills a poetry all its own. Again Dean is the leading voice, turning all sorts of somersaults to earn his keep, while Charig gets some face time in the latter half: frayed and shining gold.

The playing on the whole is robust and centered, though Tippett’s sparkling pianism stands out—all the more so for the crisply engineered recording. You certainly won’t find much in the way of swing, however. Each cut sounds like an introduction to a piece that never materializes. This doesn’t mean the music is ill formed. Rather, it emphasizes the openness of its emotional tact. My one complaint is that Charig isn’t given more airtime. He’s clearly an emotionally charged player, but it’s Dean who dominates the scene. Thankfully, both are so arresting that it ultimately matters little. Quality reigns.