Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Om - 1978 - Om with Dom Um Romao

Om with Dom Um Romao

01. Chipero 10:47
02. Back To Front 7:38
03. Dumini 6:25
04. De Funk 17:03

Urs Leimgruber - Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Percussion
Christy Doran - Guitar
Bobby Burri - Bass
Fredy Studer - Drums, Percussion
Dom Um Romao - 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?

Tyran Grillo

Rena Rama - 1977 - Landscapes

Rena Rama

01. Enok 12:27
02. Rumanian Folk Song 8:05
03. Circle Dance 9:40
04. På Campagnan II 7:27
05. Royal Song From Dahomey 5:29

Lennart Åberg - Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Percussion
Bobo Stenson - Piano, Percussion
Palle Danielsson - Bass
Leroy Lowe - Drums, Percussion

Recorded June 1977 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Saxophonist, flutist, and composer Lennart Åberg is among ECM’s sleeper talents. Having graced the label only as sideman to 1994’s Dona Nostra, his brilliance was saved instead for the limited JAPO imprint. On this record he is joined by fellow Swedes Bobo Stenson (piano) and Palle Danielsson (bass), both familiar to ECM listeners. Perhaps not is American drummer Leroy Lowe, who rounds out this incarnation of the quartet known as Rena Rama and played with the group from 1975 to 1983. Born 1944 on a Pittsburg farm, Lowe began playing drums in his high school marching band and later befriended such greats as Billy Hart in his quest for a personal voice. After a two-year period of study at the Berklee School of Music, he joined Otis Redding’s Big Band on tour. The rigorousness of this experience led him to renounce the lifestyle that came with it. In need of recovery, he randomly picked Oslo as a holiday destination and, after some shuffling around, ended up in Sweden, where he sadly died of cancer in 1999…but not before leaving behind a legacy spanning 30+ years. I note Lowe’s background not only because it’s worth telling, but also because it seems indicative of Rena Rama’s aesthetic: it spins a globe and plays whatever its finger lands on.

From the drum solo that opens the Stenson-penned “Enok,” it’s clear that Lowe was a moving force in this outfit. Colorful as an ice cream shop’s selection of toppings, he opens a spacious sound together with Stenson’s entrance, to say nothing of Thomas Stöwsand’s engineering, while Danielsson adds good vibes to the growing message. With this skyward energy behind him, Åberg need only open his wings and let the wind do the talking. That powerful tenor sheds its earthly weight in favor of a boisterous key that with its dancing unlocks gurgling leaps of intuition from Stenson. Danielsson offers two tunes. The composer’s darkly melodic intro in “Rumanian Folk Song” kicks into a light groove with Lowe along for the ride—the bed of the quartet’s energy. Stenson again scales the z-axis, landing only to relay his altitude to Åberg’s soprano. The latter, soft and sure, casts a gray spell. Throughout, the contours of the rhythm section are much like patterned cloth, wispy yet boldly imprinted. Stenson gives us the alphabet of “Circle Dance” before Åberg’s tenor puzzles it out into words and sentences. He is happy to wander far afield, knowing the band’s footprints will always catch up. A veritable tributary of invention. The reedman closes out with two compositions of his own. First is the soprano-infused “På Campagnan II,” which threads galleries of needles in single strokes of intuition. The pianism’s frenzied beauty and hip contributions from the rhythm section are surpassed only by Åberg himself. Those same infections spread in “Royal Song From Dahomey.” This caravan of purposeful melodizing is at once cold and warm and rains percussion on us as if in a desert without oasis.

Like most JAPO releases, this is another elusive jewel, but well worth the digging.

Tyran Grillo

Manfred Schoof - 1978 - Light Lines

Manfred Schoof 
Light Lines

01. Source 11:09
02. Light Lines 6:12
03. Criterium 5:51
04. Lonesome Defender 7:18
05. Resonance 7:06

Manfred Schoof - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Michel Pilz - Bass Clarinet
Jasper Van't Hof - Piano, Electric Piano, Organ
Günter Lenz - Bass
Ralf Hübner - Drums

What distinguished him from the avant-garde demimonde was an insistence on melodic integrity. For Schoof, “the term ‘free’ not only stands for a specific style of jazz that, in its beginnings, opposed with revolutionary gesture everything redolent of the past and reminiscent of tradition but rather the freedom to choose between a multitude of very different means of expression. Tradition, therefore, is viewed as a past experience that merges with and enriches a new style of sound.” His band mates in these recordings include Pilz, pianists Jasper van ‘t Hof and Rainer Brüninghaus, bassist Günter Lenz, and drummer Ralf-R. Hübner, most of whom will be familiar to the more adventurous ECM listeners.

Source introduces the second disc with the world of Light Lines. The middle of this JAPO sandwich finds Schoof swimming in an ocean of fire. Overall, the sound is more sparkling by way of Hübner’s clear and present kit work. The album boasts not only its own title track, a splash of sonic goodness in which Schoof’s trumpet is the very image of a bird in flight, but also that of the set as a whole. “Resonance,” for that matter, is more than a catchy word. It is the credo of a musician whose focus unnerves with its precision. Working through the changes like a card shark riffling to his cull, he holds our attention by means of powerful misdirection. “Criterium” and “Lonesome Defender” round things out, on the one hand, the glint of a blade catching sunlight and, on the other, an evocative blend of sweet and savory flavors.
Two worthy, if confected, tracks have been elided from Horizons—strange when you consider the collection could have accommodated both. “The Abstract Face Of Beauty,” penned by Hübner, paints a vista of clouds and barren land, every bit the sonic analogue to the album’s cover, and features prime soulful blowing from Pilz. “Sunrise” taps a similarly rubato vein and throws the spotlight on Schoof’s technical prowess. The 14-minute loss isn’t likely to matter to those new to this material, of whom many listeners of Resonance are likely to be. In any event, Schoof himself assembled the included tracks, and one can only imagine his good reason.

Although he is one diamond in a mine already chock full of them, Manfred Schoof deserves any ECM fan’s close attention. As a composer, he builds a welcoming world. As a player, he turns fantasy inside out and makes it feel possible. Like the solo concerts of Keith Jarrett, if the reader will forgive the otherwise groundless simile, his pieces are distinguished by their ostinatos, which thrum with the invisible energy of ley lines. This is music that looks at itself in the mirror and asks, “Am I the reflection after all?”

Tyran Grillo

Ken Hyder's Talisker - 1977 - Land Of Stone

Ken Hyder's Talisker 
Land Of Stone

01. The Strathspey King 3:02
02. The Men Of Barra Know How To Drink, But The Women Know How To Sing 5:35
03. Close The Window And Keep It Down 3:37
04. See You At The Mission, Eh, If It’s No’ Full 6:20
05. Derek Was Only A Bairn 5:43
06. Pibroch In Three Parts 19:20

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.

Tyran Grillo

Stephan Micus - 1977 - Implosions

Stephan Micus 

01. As I Crossed A Bridge Of Dreams
02. Borkenkind
03. Amarchaj
04. For The 'Beautiful Changing Child'
05. For M'schr And Djingis Khan

Stephan Micus sitar, acoustic guitar, vocal, Bavarian zither, shakuhachi, sho, Thai flute, rabab

Recorded March 1977 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

As of this month (August of 2015), ECM’s intrepid Stephan Micus has released his 21st album for the label, Nomad Songs. In recognition of this achievement, and of the prescience of that title, I thought it only appropriate to acknowledge Implosions, his first album for producer Manfred Eicher, released on the JAPO sub-label in 1977. What might the first-time listener have imagined when spreading roots into its soil? What fantasies or lamentations? What creeds or philosophies? Micus’s sound art, assembled as it is from a uniquely global perspective, is one in which such questions, but never their answers, reign supreme. Like the sitar solo which opens “As I Crossed A Bridge Of Dreams,” it contains many possible universes but yields only one. One sitar becomes three, and one instrument two as Micus adds an acoustic guitar, all the while spirographing this inner sanctum with the curvature of his singing. The two lap instruments reveal themselves to be indeed rooted in seated chakras, while the voice treads with more luminescent footprints to show for its passage. Crossing threshold after threshold, it shakes the sky out as if it were a laundered sheet, until the stars release their hands from prayer.

Although Micus has most often crafted albums at his home studio and sent them to Eicher for mixing and mastering, earlier ones such as this were recorded at Tonstudio Bauer in Ludwigsburg, Germany, where many of ECM’s formative releases were also realized. The studio dynamics imbue these travels with a rather different intimacy, one which brings its own climate and bounces back sunlight like the moon. Three Bavarian zithers, each with its own signature, form a dense and percussive bed for Micus’s singing in “Borkenkind.” His floating transpositions trail sutras of memory, spinning from them a yarn of forgetting. This becomes the sole purpose of the music: to detach oneself from the snares of fame and recognition until only the sound and the ear are left to dance unhindered. And indeed, when Micus sings again in “For M’schr And Djingis Khan,” accompanied by the uncut diamond of the rabab (Afghani lute), he balances on a tipping point into infinity, his mouth filled with empty pages.

Even when he doesn’t sing, his heart resounds through the four shakuhachi of “Amarchaj,” each chamber a bird with its own ritual warble, threading clouds to their shadows on earth below. This leaves only the Thai flute of “For The ‘Beautiful Changing Child’” to cast itself into an ocean without language. Lifted by three sho (Japanese mouth organs), it resists even these words struggling to catch it, riding the waves from one dawn to the next, waiting for my well to run dry.

Tyran Grillo

Om - 1976 - Rautionaha


01. For Ursi 9:51
02. Stephanie 11:55
03. Song For My Lady 11:11
04. Rautionaha 13:47

Urs Leimgruber - Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, 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, for all like a flag without a country, a star without a sky. In the absence of definite shape, we are free to induce our own.

Tyran Grillo

Herbert Joos - 1977 - Daybreak

Herbert Joos

01. Why? 9:44
02. When Were You Born? 4:51
03. Leicester Court 1440 4:05
04. Daybreak 6:17
05. Black Trees 7:19
06. Fasten Your Seatbelt 4:12
07. The Dark Side Of Twilight 15:19

Herbert Joos fluegelhorn, trumpet, cornet
Thomas Schwarz oboe
Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart - Strings

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

Tyran Grillo

Glen Moore & Larry Karush - 1976 - May 24, 1976

Glen Moore & Larry Karush
May 24, 1976 

01. Untitled 3:10
02. Duet 3:59
03. Country 7:02
04. Transit Boogie 3:53
05. Violin Suite 6:09
06. Flagolet 1:21
07. Abstinence 5:07
08. Vicissitudes 3:23
09. Pamela: At The Hawk's Well 4:07
10. Triads 4:20

Glen Moore - Bass, Violin
Larry Karush - Piano

Recorded May 1976 at Talent Studios, Oslo

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.

Tyran Grillo

Manfred Schoof Quintet - 1976 - Scales

Manfred Schoof Quintet

01. Scales 10:38
02. Ostinato 12:46
03. For Marianne 7:01
04. Weep And Cry 10:14
05. Flowers All Over 7:36

Manfred Schoof - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Michel Pilz - Bass Clarinet
Jasper Van't Hof - Piano, Electric Piano, Organ
Günter Lenz - Bass
Ralf Hübner - Drums

The title track of Scales opens both album and set with a primal trumpet cry. It is Schoof’s calling card: a rip in the ether from which flows undeniable light. Van ‘t Hof poeticizes this light from a place beyond waking. And indeed, the more instruments are added, the dreamier the music becomes. Over time, Pilz’s gorgeous rasp adds tactility, so that surreal gestures begin to feel familiar. Pilz stands out also in “Ostinato,” which finds him sharing a stepwise ground line with Lenz. We are so fully mired in this swampy unison that when he breaks free from the waves, his voice feels like a shaded benediction in what is easily among the finest tracks in the ECM archive. Van ‘t Hof’s organ drone is also notable here. Over it drums seem to describe abandoned castles, stone by stone, until they loom before us unscathed by time. The keyboardist provides deep color shifts throughout the program, evoking early Steve Kuhn vis–à–vis electric piano in “For Marianne” and spacy atmospheres in “Weep And Cry.” The former’s cloud rolls give Schoof vast chromatic freedom, while the latter evokes sunset before cooling into a twilit canopy, now alive as the darkness reveals its dance through the bass clarinet. The scene closes its eyes with “Flowers All Over” in the album’s most joyous music. Schoof rides a harmonic dolphin, plunging variously into intuitive digs, likewise inspiring Pilz to grand emotional heights.

Tyran Grillo

Om - 1975 - Kirikuki


01. Holly 8:29
02. Lips 5:17
03. Karpfenteich 6:00
04. Hommage À Mme. Stirnimaa 15:46
05. Sykia 4:15

Urs Leimgruber - Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Percussion
Christy Doran - Guitar
Bobby Burri - Bass
Fredy Studer - Drums, Percussion

Recorded October 1 and 2, 1975, at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg

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 enervating 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.

Tyran Grillo

Magog - 1976 - Magog


01. Lock 4:19
02. Gogam 8:12
03. Rhoades 7:07
04. Der Bachstelzer 6:18
05. Summervogel 7:31
06. New Samba 8:25

Andy Scherrer - Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Percussion
Hans Kennel - Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Percussion
Paul Haag - Trombone, Percussion
Klaus Koenig - Piano, Electric Piano, Percussion
Peter Frei - Bass
Peter Schmidlin - Drums, Percussion

Recorded November 1 and 2, 1974 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg

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.
Tyran Grillo

Enrico Rava - 1976 - Quotation Marks

Enrico Rava 
Quotation Marks

01. Espejismo Ratonera 6:11
02. Short Visit To Malena 3:58
03. Sola 5:29
04. San Justo 8:54
05. Water Kite 6:39
06. Quotation Marks / Naranjales 7:24
07. Melancolia De Las Maletas 9:53

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
AND Recorded April 1974 at Audion Studio, Buenos Aires

“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)

Tom Van Der Geld - 1975 - Children at Play

Children at Play
Children at Play

01. Tamarind 18:14
02. Wandering I 4:31
03. Sweet My Sweet 7:10
04. Reason 5:04
05. Patch Of Blue 11:29

Tom Van Der Geld - Vibraphone, Percussion
Roger Jannotta - Reeds, Percussion
Larry Porter - Piano, Electric Piano, Percussion
Richard Appleman - Bass
Jamey Haddad - 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.
Tyran Grillo

Jiri Stivin & Rudolf Dasek - 1975 - System tandem

Jiri Stivin & Rudolf Dasek 
System tandem

01. Puddle On The Muddle 5:43
02. Moravian Folk Song - Forman Going Down The Valley 5:19
03. Hey, Man (Let's Play Something About Spain) 9:08
04. Sheperd Song 10:32
05. What's Your Story 8:03
06. Puzzle Game 2:59

Jirí Stivín - Flute, Recorder, Saxophone
Rudolf Dašek - Guitar

Recorded May 1974

Jirí 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 enervating 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.

Tyran Grillo

Edward Vesala - 1976 - Nan Madol

Edward Vesala
Nan Madol

01. Nan Madol 6:07
02. Love For Living 3:54
03. Call From The Sea 2:03
04. The Way Of ... 12:14
05. Areous Vlor Ta 12:43
06. The Wind 9:23

Edward Vesala: drums, percussion, harp, flutes
Juhani Aaltonen: saxophones, bells, flutes, voice
Sakari Kukko: flute
Seppo Paakkunainen: flute, soprano saxophone
Pentti Lahti: soprano saxophone, bass clarinet
Charlie Mariano: alto saxophone, flute, nagaswaram
Elisabeth Leistola: harp

Recorded April 25/26, 1974 at Alppi Studio, Helsinki
Engineer: Harry Bergman
An ECM Production

If jazz was ever meant to be a religion, its prayers might sound something like Nan Madol. The title means “spaces between,” and no description of this music could be more apt. The album is an eclectic mandala of drones, eruptions of ecstatic liberation, and snatches of melody from both near and far. Influences range from Japanese folk melodies to Alpine herding calls, and all of them strung by a powerful understatement of continuity.

We open our eyes to find ourselves in a field at night in which a nearby forest looms with untold life. Soprano sax verses mingle with the shawm-like nagaswaram, dripping with the luscious slowness of honey from a broken hive as abstract solos bounce over a corroded surface of ever-so-slightly detuned harps. We proceed from meditation to incantation, calling upon the sounds of spirits rather than the spirits of sound. Melodies drag, are picked up, only to drag again: the final paroxysms of a dying organism laid bare for our imaginations. Motifs flit in and out of earshot like radio transmissions struggling to hang on. The instruments weep as if the entire album were nothing but a cathartic ritual. On the surface, the musicians seem unaware of each other, all the while reveling in their secret synergy far beyond the threshold of audibility. This is music on its own plane and we must approach it as we are. There is no middle ground, no meeting point to be had.

This may not be “fun” album to listen to, and certainly not an easy one to describe, but it is rewarding in more metaphysical ways. Far from a jazz album to tap one’s foot to, it is instead a free-form surrender to the possibilities of automatic music. Its mood is inward while its exposition is extroverted and full of exquisite contradictions. If nothing else, the stunning “Areous Vlor Ta” will leave you breathless and vulnerable to the grand Return that brings the listener full circle to where it all began.

Tyran Grillo

Bobby Naughton - 1973 - Understanding

Bobby Naughton Units

01. Understanding 3:53
02. Austin Who 5:28
03. Ictus 4:53
04. Snow 6:03
05. Generous 1 3:54
06. Gloria 5:59
07. V.A. 9:11
08. Nital Rock 3:38

Bobby Naughton - Vibraphone, Piano, Clavinet
Perry Robinson - Clarinet
Mark Whitecage - Flute, Basset Horn
Mario Pavone (tracks: 3,4,7,8), Richard Youngstein - Bass
Laurence Cook (tracks: 3,7,8), Randy Kaye - Percussion

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.

Tyran Grillo

Dollar Brand - 1974 - Ancient Africa

Dollar Brand 
Ancient Africa

01 Medley 23:04
 Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro
 African Sun
02 Medley 15:40
 African Sun (Continued)
 Peace - Salaam
03 Air 6:17

Dollar Brand: piano, flute

Recorded live June 1972, Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen

South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, known in a bygone era as Dollar Brand, is a soothsayer at the keyboard, and on this out-of-print JAPO release from 1974 he divines from the ebony and the ivory a lifetime’s worth of bones. Like its label predecessor, African Piano, this album was recorded live at the Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen, but adds nearly three years of additional life experience to show for its mesmerizing rewards.

The original vinyl is a gorgeous thing in and of itself. Sleeved in a photograph of flaking, painted wood, it reads like a structure worn by time but which is also stronger for it. The performance consists of a long piano medley of original tunes plus an encore on flute. The bulk of the set opens, as did African Piano, with an extended take on “Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro,” a quintessential tune in Ibrahim’s personal archive. Its deep-set, rocking ostinato provides all the rachises he needs to strut with plumage burning bright. If not already obvious, Ibrahim is a brother of a different feather, one whose gifts are every bit as intuitive as those of Keith Jarrett, whose likeminded penchant for gospel-infused anthemism makes an early reveal before lighting a rocket into the jubilation of “Mamma.” Ibrahim’s lush comping fleshes out the atmosphere to its fullest, smoothing with bravado into the calmer “Tokai.” A joyful spread of chords flings us into the train ride of “Ilanga” with such traction that no tracks are required. As with so much of Ibrahim’s output, an underlying propulsion lends sanctity to the overarching message.

“Cherry” is a buoyant morsel of lyricism that sets us up for the heat of “African Sun,” which fades out of Side 1 and into Side 2. Both this and the following tune, “Tintinyana,” show an artist who understands the blues like few other contemporary pianists can. His take on the form is as nostalgic as a childhood tree, which continues to grow in mind even when its physical form succumbs to the axe of time. The roots of his left hand are so thick that every burst of foliage is like salt in the wounds of evil, for it knows that the divine await the righteous with open arms. In light of this, the romping swing of “Xaba” comes across as a purifying dance, an invitation to commune with exclusively musical worlds. The prayers of those worlds are to be found in “Peace – Salaam,” which ladders its way into the clouds as if they were puffs ejected from the pipe of history. Here we are invited to relax, unwind, and let our cares consume themselves into nothingness. A swell of applause brings us back to reality, and to the final “Air,” for which the keys are rested and the flute leaves the final word. And final it most certainly is, for it begins melancholy and finishes in a hunter’s dash, swift and sure.