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?

OM: A Retrospective (ECM 1642)


A Retrospective

Urs Leimgruber soprano and tenor saxophones, flutes, percussion
Christy Doran guitars, guitar synthesizer
Bobby Burri double-bass
Fredy Studer drums, gongs, percussion
Dom Um Romão percussion, berimbau
Erdman Birke accordion
Recorded 1975-80
Compiled by OM

The iconoclastic group known as OM (after John Coltrane’s album of the same name) took root in the musical wilds of Lucerne, Switzerland in 1972, and for the next decade filled its cup with an idiosyncratic blend of rock and free improvisation. Thus branded, its members launched into the electric jazz universe with comets blazing. Their brilliance had lain dormant in the Land of Out of Print for far too long until this program caught the ECM bug at last and made its way into the open. The current program, chosen by the band from its four JAPO releases, reflects an evolution that is both chronological and elliptical.


From Kirikuki (JAPO 60012) we get two representative tracks, with “Holly” firmly establishing OM’s spaces of conviction. The skittering drums of Freddy Studer, restless bass of Bobby Burri, punctuation of guitarist Christy Doran, and prophetic run-ons of reedist Urs Leimgruber bind a unique sonic book of ever-widening proportion. Leimgruber also plays flute, adding a flavor of incantation to “Lips.” Nourished by Doran’s metallic cries, he plants nostalgic flowers in trodden fields, whipping up a rustic and genuinely direct aesthetic.

From Rautionaha (JAPO 60016) comes the title track, of which the interaction between soprano and guitar is of special note. OM’s penchant for highly controlled insanity, its funneling of whistles and stomps, is elsewhere hardly more apparent. The power of making music together comes alive here. “Rautionaha” also boasts a memorable turning point when Doran unleashes a fluid dentist’s drill that sends the rest spiraling into a quiet, more introverted cause. From angular to curved, the contours turn in on themselves in an epic of sheer improvisatory credence.

Om with Dom Um Romao (JAPO 60022) also yields a single track: the enigmatic “Dumini.” Again, soprano and guitar lay out the welcome mat. Cymbals give them a trajectory to follow, a destination forever invisible because it calls from deep within. The flanged guitar cuts through the din like butter, melting the pain away.

Despite the forthrightness of the playing, many of the album’s moments remind us that even the most aggressive heat shelters a coolly beating heart, which is perhaps why Cerberus (JAPO 60032) makes it into the retrospective fully intact. “Dreaming for the People” begins its formula in much the same way as the previous two examples, only here Doran takes a decidedly fragmented approach, flinging packets of salt into the stew. Mystical turns abound thereafter in “Cerberus’ Dance” and “Asumusa,” each showing the breadth of OM’s sensitivity. “At my Ease” elicits watery textures from Doran as the rhythm section inspires some headstrong lyricism from Leimgruber on tenor. The guitarist’s moment in the sun, however, comes in the company of “Earworms,” a masterful hatching of dots and dashes in swirling pools of Morse code. Yet there is nothing so insightful as the final “Eigentlich wollte Johann auf dem Mond den andern Jazz kennenlernen.” This viscous fever dream, filled with galactic whale songs and lost answers, welcomes accordionist Erdman Birke into the fray for a haunting excursion into the soul. With the persistence of a flare drowning in an electronic swamp, it awakens hidden feelings. A radio blurs in and out of vision, intimations of faraway lands and rituals, painstakingly whitewashed until they bow in deference to the ether. In this music we can trace a satellite’s path.


To listen to OM is to witness an evolutionary process in biological time. This superbly assembled collection of music we can taste, smell, and touch, then, holds the key to its own reveal. It has a tinge of ash, a starchy texture, and licks like fire in a burning house, abandoned except for the music that has inhabited it for so long. Its magic has nothing to do with mystery, for it speaks with voices we already have in mind. Whether or not we recognize them is of no consequence. They know us inside and out.

Live OM

Although OM disbanded in 1982, its members did reunite for a live performance at Switzerland’s 2008 Jazzfestival Willisau. The resulting Willisau (2010, Intakt Records) throws us farther down the rabbit hole and bears seeking out for its playful intensities.

OM Cover.def


OM: Kirikuki (JAPO 60012)


Urs Leimgruber soprano and tenor saxophones, percussion
Christy Doran guitar
Bobby Buri bass
Fredy Studer drums, percussion
Recorded October 1 and 2, 1975, at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by OM

Like its contemporary, the Everyman Band, the Lucerne-based quartet known as OM succeeded in blending rock and free improv idioms to gnarled perfection. Composed of guitarist Christy Doran (Dublin-born but Swiss-raised) and fellow countrymen Urs Leimgruber (reeds), Bobby Burri (bass), and Fredy Studer (drums), the group was an espresso shot in all four careers. ECM has, of course, given just dues with a 2006 retrospective. Still, there’s no better place to get acquainted with OM than through the four complete albums for sister label JAPO, of which this is the first (the fourth, Cerberus, survives fully intact on said retrospective).

Doran is the compositional heart and soul of the set. The only track not penned by him is “Lips” (Leimgruber/Burri), which stands out for its inspired flute playing. Leimgruber sings into the instrument for a bit of polyphonic panache against a gorgeously primal backing, Doran providing industrial touches throughout. Yet it is “Holly” which introduces the album’s distinctly nocturnal sound. Leimgruber’s talents abound here, casting him in the melodic lead from the start. Smoky atmospheres are blown into rings at his lips through a pure, oboe-like soprano. His gorgeous, full highs, complemented by Doran’s crunch, make for an energizing sound and bring their smoothness to the burnished field that is “Sykia.” The buoyant drumming makes this an enchanting epilogue. The color wheel of “Karpfenteich” begins with reedless trio action before launching us horizonward in a lob of flame. More propulsive action from the rhythm section here backs some artful crosstalk between reed and guitar. Yet it is the “Hommage à Mme. Stirnmaa” that takes this cake and bakes another one in its place. From the lovely solo by Duran that starts, it builds to a slightly burnt frenzy, out of which arises a bass of flesh and wires. The tenor solo is like a coda, rough and unleashed, and opens into a percussion solo from Studer, this but the carpet for a grand underwater raga. A masterstroke, and proof enough to seek out OM’s dates in full.

There is something strangely melancholic about the river of Kirikuki. The sunshine is in its sediments.

OM: Rautionaha (JAPO 60016)


Urs Leimgruber soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, percussion
Christy Doran guitar
Bobby Burri bass
Fredy Studer drums, percussion
Recorded December 1976 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

The Swiss quartet of OM, which found just the freedom it needed in ECM’s studios for a good decade, flung open the doors with colorful aplomb on Rautionaha, a rare JAPO release. To this early date the group brings a kaleidoscope of shared experience. The sound is appropriately splintered. Guitarist Christy Doran pens the kick-in-the-gut opener, “For Ursi.” Unable to resist the attraction from the get-go, saxophonist Urs Leimgruber colors the twilight with his heady tenor, chaining ladders of virtuosity with attentive form. His gurgling expositions of momentary abandon give Doran just the break he needs to cast a reverberant magic with tails flying. The superb rhythm work from percussionist Fredy Studer and bassist Bobby Burri completes this wall of light. The latter gives us “Stephanie,” his first of two cuts. This meditation of gongs and electronics coalesces into some fine soliloquies from the composer, while the full drumming and six-string picking shimmer like morning sun on the horizon’s lip. The prickly tenor is a bonus. Speaking of which, Leimgruber puts his writing to the test in “Song For My Lady.” Something of a ballad, in it he becomes a crying wayfarer who walks the same circle of self-reflection until there is only music left of the one that produced it. Lifting this ponderous weight off our shoulders is Burri’s title offering, which grows like weed in a groovy embrace. His bass work glows here. Leimgruber opts for soprano, reaching heights of multi-phonic brilliance that no footstool can reach. The effect is nothing short of extraordinary. The quartet ends on a whimsical punctuation mark: a flag without a country, a star without a sky. In the absence of definite shape, we are free to induce our own.