Friday, June 10, 2016

The Artwoods - 2014 - Steady Gettin' It

The Artwoods 
Steady Gettin' It

01. Chicago Calling
02. Hoochie Coochie Man
03. Talkin’ About You *
04. Kansas City *
Tracks 1-4 credited to The Art Wood Combo
05. Sweet Mary
06. If I Ever Get My Hands On You
07. Oh My Love
08. Big City
09. Goodbye Sisters
10. She Knows What To Do
11. I Take What I Want
12. I’m Looking For A Saxophonist Doubling French Horn Wearing Size 37 Boots
13. These Boots Are Made For Walkin’
14. A Taste Of Honey
15. Our Man Flint
16. Routine
17. I Feel Good
18. Molly Anderson’s Cookery Book
19. What Shall I Do
20. In The Deep End
21. Brother Can You Spare A Dime
22. Al’s Party
23. Smack Dab In The Middle (17.08.65) *
24. Goodbye Sisters (17.08.65) *
25. She Knows What To Do (17.08.65) *
26. Can You Hear Me (10.05.66) *
27. I Take What I Want (10.05.66) *
28. Jump Back (10.05.66) *

01. Can You Hear Me
02. Down In The Valley
03. Things Get Better
04. Walk On The Wild Side
05. I Keep Forgettin’
06. Keep Lookin’
07. One More Heartache
08. Work Work Work
09. Be My Lady
10. If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody
11. Stop And Think It Over
12. Don’t Cry No More
13. One More Heartache (08.08.66) *
14. I Feel Good (08.08.66) *
15. Things Get Better (08.08.66) *
16. Stop And Think It Over (16.12.66) *
17. In The Deep End (16.12.66) *
18. What Shall I Do (18.03.67) *
19. Day Tripper (18.03.67) *
20. Steady Gettin’ It (18.03.67) *
21. Devil With A Blue Dress On – Good Golly Miss Molly (18.03.67) *
22. In The Deep End (18.03.67) *

Steady Gettin’ It *
Keep Lookin’ *
I Need Your Loving *
Love Have Mercy – Bony Moronie -Love Have Mercy *
Be My Lady *
Day Tripper *
How Long *
Tic Tac Toe *
Song Of The Journeyman *
Black Mountain *
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction *

* = previously unissued

Back in the mid-Sixties, The Artwoods were one of the most vital, impressive R&B bands on the circuit, fronted by Art Wood (elder brother of future Faces/Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie) and also boasting future Deep Purple organist Jon Lord, renowned drummer Keef Hartley, guitarist Derek Griffiths and bassist Malcolm Pool.

Between 1964 and 1967, the band recorded seven singles, the ultra-rare EP Jazz In Jeans and a nearly as scarce LP, Art Gallery, mostly for Decca but also for Parlophone and Fontana (the last under the pseudonym St. Valentines Day Massacre).

Their records have long been coveted by fans of 60s beat, R&B and Mod music.

Keep Lookin' is the most comprehensive anthology of The Artwoods recordings to date.

Alongside all of the bands As and Bs, this 3CD boasts four previously unissued early acetate recordings by the Art Wood Combo, several BBC radio sessions with unique tracks and a long-lost live recording in Denmark from that tail-end of their career.

The compilation benefits from the involvement of the bands guitarist Derek Griffiths and basisst Malcolm Pool, plus legendary blues producer Mike Vernon.

 The Artwoods were a band who inexplicably never quite ‘made it’ despite a lengthy career and several singles. Their biggest problem was the lack of original material, and they relied mostly on good and astute covers of American tracks for most of their material while contemporaries were experimenting with their own songs. Of course the main interest for many here is the fact that this was Jon Lord’s first professional full time group. He’s been with a combo in 1963, and when they teamed up with singer Art Wood, they changed their name to The Art Wood Combo, and eventually The Artwoods. They turned pro in 1964. Jon’s contributions are at the forefront of the band’s sound, which was rooted firmly in the British r’n’b and blues boom of the early sixties (with some later cross over into the Mod scene).

The Artwoods with Jon Lord Decca single

Although various labels have had a good go at the band’s catalogue (notably Repertoire), all are deleted and nobody has ever produced a set which rounded up all their surviving recordings until now.

The Artwoods with Jon Lord Jazz in Jeans EP

So we get the band’s seven singles, the first released in October 1964, including their only minor hit, the excellent I Take What I Want, which made the Melody Maker chart. Most of these were on Decca but the last couple were on Parlophone (In The Deep End is actually not that far removed from Mk 1 Deep Purple in direction and sound) and Fontana (where they went under a pseudonym St. Valentines Day Massacre, cashing in on the Bonnie and Clyde craze).  There is also the four track EP Jazz In Jeans, a real rarity (the original fetches hundreds).  Unusually for a band who never had a hit, the band also cut an impossibly rare album Art Gallery in 1966, which is included in full.

The Artwoods with Jon Lord Art Gallery LP

The label has also rounded up some unissued rarities, 15 in total. These include one of the band’s radio sessions (most are sadly lost), an early pre-contract acetate from 1963, and some tracks from a show recorded in 1967 in Denmark. These have circulated amongst collectors to some degree (and on bootleg, called Live at Funny Park) but I’m told that they have had access to better sources for these rarities.  It was this Danish tour which gave Jon the contacts he used when Deep Purple ventured across early in their career.

Happy belated birthday big guy!

Just Music - 1969 - Just Music

Just Music 
Just Music

01. Stock - Vol - Hard
02. Just A Moment

Peter Stock bass
Franz Volhard cello
Thomas Stöwsand cello, flute
Johannes Krämer guitar
Thomas Cremer percussion, clarinet
Alfred Harth tenor saxophone, clarinet, trumpet
Dieter Herrmann trombone

Recorded on December 13, 1969 at the Nettekoven Studios, Frankfurt am Main
Produced by Just Music and Manfred Eicher
300 copies with hand drawn cover art!

Just Music was the moniker for a rotating West German collective whose avant-garde musical “happenings” were deeply rooted in an emergent challenge to mainstream politics and social strictures. Although the classical training of these musicians is readily apparent from their outstanding technical prowess, the opening outburst tells us we’re in for a wild ride. What starts as a scattered improvisation builds into a dense cacophony. Alfred Harth tears the ether with his sax amid wordless chanting as a cornucopia of colors and musical ideas is thrown into our ears. In spite of the above summation, these two 20-minute improvisations are, for the most part, fairly quiet and fraught with only occasional peaks of volume and intensity.

This self-titled album, released in 1969, was only the second for ECM Records and is still out of print. It remains a veritable zoo of musical languages in which each dialect is its own animal, caricature of an impossible ideal. Sax and trombone roar like elephants; the flute is a bird that would just as soon go into feathery convulsions than fly; cellos creep like reptiles; the bass lumbers like a lion from its den; drums trip over themselves like a drunken bear; and a guitar chatters with the insistence of an agitated monkey. This leaves only the human voices, a mockery in and of themselves. Just Music pulls out every stop in the book, as if flipping through a mental file of everything learned at the academy, along with dashes of extended techniques for good measure. The results rattle like a house caught in an impending battlefield. A multitude raises dust upon the horizon, bringing with it promise of annihilation. Where at one moment we are in our comfort zones, suddenly our power of direction is proven to be nothing more than a dream, forcing us to wander familiar streets as if for the first time.

I hesitate to call this controlled chaos, for it is no less illustrative of the chaos of control. When the music ends, it feels as if an old bulky machine has finally breathed its last. We may not understand what we have just witnessed, but we cannot help but want to sift through the wreckage and put it back together again. You should know by now whether or not this is for you.

Mal Waldron Trio - 1969 - Free at Last

Mal Waldron Trio 
Free at Last 

01. Rat Now 10:15
02. Balladina 5:01
03. 1-3-234 4:01
04. Rock My Soul 11:23
05. Willow Weep For Me 7:31
06. Boo 3:25

Mal Waldron piano
Isla Eckinger bass
Clarence Becton drums

Recorded November 24, 1969 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Kurt Rapp
Produced by Manfred Scheffner [sic] + Jazz by Post

The quintessential cymbal riff of “Rat Now” introduces this respectable outing from Mal Waldron and company. Bass and piano immediately join in the fray in an enjoyable interplay. This is music that looks back to its roots and pulls at them selectively. And yet what begins as an energetic ride soon turns somber as Eckinger takes over with a meandering rumination on bass. Such solos give us deeper insight into the goings on, fully underscored by Waldron’s staccato ivory mastication. Ballads are the album’s ventricles. A sweltering slog through love and darkened streets, “Balladina” shines with a hardened beauty all its own, while “Willow Weep for Me” is therapeutic like a good long cry. Both tracks have been strategically placed as penultimate bookends and serve as two-way doors into the struggles on either side. Others, like “1-3-234,” center the listener with much needed uplift from these brooding asides, culminating in the concise and playful “Boo.”

This recording, ECM’s first, represents what was to become the label’s defining edge: namely, the allowance for (and foregrounding of) space in the recording of jazz. Seeing as this was already part of Waldron’s base approach, this disc was an ideal venue for his raw aesthetic. These are not melodies that will necessarily stick in your head, but they are invaluable stepping-stones toward a carefully constructed melancholy. And while ECM would vastly improve and enlarge its recording repertoire in the decades to come, there remains something comfortingly naïve about this album. And even if the energy isn’t always consistent, those moments of unity that do dominate spark flares in an otherwise dark canvas. If anything, this is a jazz of introversion, an intimate and myopic exposition of fleeting interactions that neither invites us nor pushes us away.

As Peter Rüedi has it, “free” meant something quite different to Waldron than it did to the more overtly anarchic figureheads of the waning sixties. It was, rather, “a quality that starts with structure and comes back to structure.” In light of this, one might say that Free at Last is the point of departure for a label that has since never looked back, even as it carries these sounds ever in its heart.

Stephan Micus - 1985 - East of the Night

Stephan Micus
East of the Night

01. East Of The Night 25:25
02. For Nobuko 22:10

Stephan Micus 10- and 14-string guitars, shakuhachi

Digital recording, January 1985 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland

East Of The Night, released in 1985, is one of Micus’s most melodic albums. Its two long tracks epitomize, ever so humbly, the dictum of less is more. The title piece, a conversation for 10-string guitar (an instrument of his own design) and shakuhachi, feels like a dialogue between master and disciple. Micus’s guitar combines the reediness of a lute with the subtle ferocity of a koto, making it a natural partner to the shakuhachi’s dawning breath. Each pluck of a string works the upholstery of the sky until a surface of untreated wood is revealed behind it. Details of handiwork once obscured by finery and ornament now become naked art. With the softness of a windblown curtain, the plectrum moves from foreground to background before the shakuhachi takes on a Milky Way texture in a suite of thrumming stardust. The flute fragments, multiplies, and ends the set’s first half on a congregational sigh.

“For Nobuko” is dedicated to Micus’s wife, recipient of this powerfully intimate solo for another custom instrument: the 14-string guitar. Its flowerbed extends far beyond the window box and trails vines from one domicile to another, stretching across vast plains of tundra toward immaculate love. It encompasses the dedication of one human being, whose balance is achievable only by offering himself up to another’s fundament, into which the listener’s own messages might also be divined.

Like two vapor trails, Listen to the Rain and East Of The Night mark their respective paths of motion by holding relatively still against the blue. One is the parallel of the other, never intersecting except by the illusion of perspective. Together, they are further significant for easing the JAPO sub-label’s 14-year flight in for a landing, thus ending one fantastic voyage by barely beginning another.

Tyran Grillo

Stephan Micus - 1983 - Listen to the Rain

Stephan Micus 
Listen to the Rain

01. Dancing With The Morning 7:27
02. Listen To The Rain 6:59
03. White Paint On Silver Wood 8:51
04. For Abai And Togshan 20:03

The music of Stephan Micus is a soundtrack to life. It holds the sky in its crown, the earth in its belly, a molecule of ocean on its tongue. And while each of his albums may be the first step of a longer journey, the two early releases reviewed here just might be the best places to start for those who have never encountered him in their travels.

Stephan Micus dilrubas, Spanish guitar, steel string guitar, suling, shaskuhachi, tamboura
“For Abai and Togshan” recorded July 1983 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
“Dancing with the Morning,” “Listen to the Rain,” “White Paint on Silver Wood” recorded June 1980 at Sound Studio N. Kiln
Engineer: Günther Kasper

If Micus’s saga were an ongoing raga, then 1983’s Listen to the Rain would be one of its most inward-looking prayers. All four meditations that make up the album, while externally distinct, are internally connected through Micus’s use of guitar. The Spanish variety plays a particularly active role throughout, with the sole exception of “Dancing with the Morning,” for which he pairs the ubiquitous steel-stringed with the suling, a bamboo flute often heard in gamelan ensembles of southeast Asia. Knowledgeable listeners will recognize both the rarity of the backpacker’s trusty companion in the Micus canon and its elemental necessity in this setting. The ascetic sheen of its metal strings paints a world of shine to which a human presence adds less manufactured colors. The suling’s unclipped wings, by extension, are exhaled into the sky above, circling and darting through the surrounding melodies until they take shape under cover of their own imagination.

The title track is a duet for Spanish guitar and tamboura. True to his extensively creative spirit, Micus plays the latter like a zither, over which the former’s gut strings produce an ascendant pathway into “White Paint on Silver Wood,” which trades the tamboura for shakuhachi. The Japanese bamboo flute begins with a solo that teeters on the edge of breathlessness and follows through on its wandering spirit. Flamenco-esque touches evoke movement not only of dancer’s feet but also of artist’s brush.

Yet it is “For Abai and Togshan,” which takes up Side A of the original vinyl, in which the farthest reach of this interior song takes physical form. Three dilrubas (bowed lap instruments from northern India) open in drone, wavering like bodies once lost in time but only now finding each other, piece by sunlit piece. Three soon give way to five, joined by four Spanish guitars, whose harmonic infusions fade in rose tones of complexion. The atmosphere is as much introspective as it is joyous, and finds in the solitary center a peace immune to corruption of shadow. The dilruba’s sympathetic overtones begin as if leaving, dropping cartographic messages as breadcrumbs into sundown.

Tyran Grillo

Stephan Micus - 1982 - Wings over Water

Stephan Micus 
Wings over Water 

01. Part 1 7:28
02. Part 2 6:11
03. Part 3 12:56
04. Part 4 1:52
05. Part 5 10:44
06. Part 6 14:11

Stephan Micus acoustic guitar, nay, sarangi, voice, flowerpots, spanish guitar, Bavarian zither, suling

Recorded January 1981 at Ibiza Sound Studio and October 1981 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineers: Manfred Ballheimer and Martin Wieland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tyran Grillo

Es Herrscht Uhu Im Land - 1981 - Es Herrscht Uhu Im Land

Es Herrscht Uhu Im Land 
Es Herrscht Uhu Im Land

01. Burroughs' Haiku  2:17                
02. Wertkauf  2:18
03. Ländliches  2:05
04. Autobahn  0:36
05. El Salvador  3:03
06. Echter Lachs  1:11
07. Ich Nicht Mich Dich  1:00
08. Mahlzeit  2:20
09. Meinen Eltern  2:00
10. Schottendicht  1:32
11. Welt Voll Irrsinn  0:54
12. Uhu  1:53
13. Geigensäge  1:08
14. Riesel Riesel  1:14
15. Säge  0:32
16. Superbirdsong  0:29
17. Ehorn-Uhu  0:26
18. Durch Den Wald  2:46
19. Der Main  7:54
20. Knecht U.  1:34
21. Tilt!  2:12

Recorded December 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

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.

Tyran Grillo

Contact Trio - 1981 - Musik

Contact Trio

01. Air Lines 8:18
02. String Games 8:39
03. Daddy Longleg 3:39
04. Simple Symphony 9:04
05. Silence 7:25
06. Elbow Dance 6:07

Evert Brettschneider - Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar
Aloys Kott - Bass
Peter Eisold - Drums, Percussion

Recorded October 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A gem in ECM’s apocryphal bin.

Tyran Grillo

Tom Van Der Geld - 1980 - Out Patients

Tom Van Der Geld
Out Patients

01 Things Have Changed 6:13
02 How Gently Sails The Moon Twixt The Arbour And The Bough (And The World Is Waiting For The Sun) 12:23
03 Dreamer 4:41
04 Ballade Matteotti 11:02
05 I Hope It's You 12:42

Tom van der Geld - Vibraphone
Roger Jannotta - Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Oboe, Flute, Whistle
Wayne Darling - Bass
Bill Elgart - Drums, Percussion

Recorded July 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake and the band

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

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

–Tom van der Geld

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

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

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

Although Children At Play disbanded in 1981, its spirit lives on in these highly collectible recordings, as also through its leader’s commitment to jazz education.

Tyran Grillo

Elton Dean Quintet - 1980 - Boundaries

Elton Dean Quintet 

01. Boundaries 8:13
02. Oasis 12:51
03. Basho 7:22
04. Out Of Bounds 11:49
05. Fast News 4:44

Elton Dean - Saxophone, Written-By
Mark Charig - Cornet
Keith Tippett - Piano
Marcio Mattos - Bass
Louis Moholo - Drums

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.
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.

Tyran Grillo

Peter Warren - 1982 - Solidarity

Peter Warren 

01. Riff-Raff 9:43
02. Solidarity 9:31
03. Mlle. Jolie 6:11
04. Lisa's Tilt 5:42
05. I Remember Stu 1:35

John Purcell - Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone
Ray Anderson - Trombone
John Scofield - Guitar
Peter Warren - Bass
Jack DeJohnette - Drums

Recorded May 1981 at Grog Kill Studio, New York
Engineer: Tom Mark
Produced by Jack DeJohnette

Bassist Peter Warren quite simply put out one of the finest albums in the JAPO catalogue: the long out-of-print Solidarity. Warren is one of a cadre of American jazz musicians who made a career for themselves in Europe, where his idiosyncratic approach was enriched and encouraged by the likes of Edward Vesala, Rolf Kühn, and Albert Mangelsdorff. In 1974, he returned to New York City, where he joined forces with Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition, appearing on the classic ECM sessions Special Edition and Tin Can Alley. It was in that context where he also met reedman John Purcell, who along with the drummer was carried over into this phenomenal one-off band, rounded out by guitarist John Scofield and, for the set’s first half, trombonist Ray Anderson.

Anderson dominates the starter, “Riff-Raff,” which emphasizes his fiery tone against a groovy backdrop. His energy proves infectious, taking root in Warren and DeJohnette’s spirited contributions to the playing field. Scofield responds with a well-constructed solo of his own, minimal by comparison but no less robust for its underbite, while Purcell’s alto croons and cries. The overall effect here, as in the title track that follows, is one of meticulous abandon, whereby the latter tune’s circular bass intro betrays nothing of the tension about to unfurl.

The album’s remainder subtracts the trombone, shifting register into a darker quartet. Purcell’s soprano fogs the window of “Mlle. Jolie,” making for an attractive ballad further deepened by DeJohnette’s rarely-heard-but-always-artful pianism. Warren focuses on the infrared portion of his emotional spectrum, while Scofield dances on air. “Lisa’s Tilt” finds Purcell darker still on alto in a track that swings more than any other on the album. DeJohnette is noticeably foregrounded, holding every seam together, even as the band finishes in a swanky free for all. As a postscript, Warren offers “I Remember Stu,” on which he plays bass and cello in a piece written in memory of Stu Martin, whom he thanks in his acknowledgments “for his love and musical inspiration.”

Solidarity is characterized, among other aspects, by its ebb and flow, which at one moment may cast a spell and the next push through it like water through a broken dam. And with DeJohnette producing, the listener is left with an elusive but unquestionable winner.

Tyran Grillo

Om - 1980 - Cerberus


01. Dreaming For The People 9:17
02. Cerberus Dance 5:50
03. Asumusa 4:51
04. At My Ease 9:24
05. Earworms 5:11
06. Eigentlich Wollte Johann Auf Dem Mond Den Andern Jazz Kennenlernen 11:32

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

Accordion – Erdman Birke

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.

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.

Tyran Grillo

AMM III - 1980 - It Had Been An Ordinary Enough Day In Pueblo, Colorado

It Had Been An Ordinary Enough Day In Pueblo, Colorado

01. Radio Activity 18:22
02. Convergence 5:19
03. Kline 8:30
04. Spittlefields' Slide 6:53
05. For A 8:27

Keith Rowe - Guitar, Guitar [Prepared Guitar], Electronics [Transistor Radio]
Eddie Prévost - Drums

Recorded December 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake and AM III

By the time this obscure JAPO album was released in 1980, AMM was 15 years old. The British free improvisation outfit, credited here as “AMM III,” was already an underground legend, and thankfully has stayed that way, even now preserving its integrity as an exploratory unit. For this brief incarnation, founding members Keith Rowe and Eddie Prévost set out as a duo, respectively combining guitar and percussion in a real-time evolution that fans of Evan Parker are sure to appreciate. Like Parker, Rowe and Prévost spend as much of their time listening as playing, soaking in the feeling of the surrounding soil before enriching it with just the right minerals.

“Radio Activity” is both mantra and anti-mantra. Rowe’s use of a transistor radio underscores the title as a method of operation, leaving behind its descriptive properties to shrivel in the sun of another day. The metallic details put forth by the two musicians, at once percussive and speech-oriented, seem to fold themselves like sheets of self-aware origami paper. The sounds of broadcasts moving through a flanged portal are complemented by an amorphous electric guitar, its ochre pigment drawing a halo without an angel. In this amphibious dronescape, valleys eventually turn into peaks as Rowe and Prévost lock into powerful, staccato interplay before compressing into a jam between molecules.

After the massive parentage of this first track, the ones that follow feel like its offspring. “Convergence” is the youngest sibling, a frail yet expertly tuned entity whose potential for strength is unlimited. The elasticity of “Kline” pegs it as the eldest child. Its swansong is written on parchment, a brittle medical document that is beyond the need for prescription. Frenzy ensues, throughout which Rowe treats the air like a pin cushion while Prévost shines a light through every eye like a star.

The two middle children are intersectional beings. “Spittlefields’ Slide” is exactly what one might expect it to be: a stuttering and warped chain of expectorations. It’s also a fine exercise in restraint that grows even as it flounders into dust. “For A” sounds as if the musicians dismantled a pay phone and made music with all the loose change gutted from within, faithfully documenting every snap of communication in a game of resuscitated conversations.

Your guess is as good as mine as to what any of the above to do with the album’s title, but I like to think that somewhere in Pueblo, Colorado there exists an echo of these soundings, ghostly yet content in its geographical prison.

Tyran Grillo

Manfred Schoof - 1980 - Horizons

Manfred Schoof 

01. Horizons 9:43
02. The Abstract Face Of Beauty 6:12
03. Hope 8:54
04. Sunrise 7:34
05. Old Ballad 8:52
06. Sunset 3:29

Manfred Schoof - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Michel Pilz - Bass Clarinet
Rainer Brüninghaus - Piano, Electric Piano, Organ
Günter Lenz - Bass
Ralf Hübner - Drums

Brüninghaus steps from the Jan Garbarek/Eberhard Weber mold and into open Horizons, where he adds lilting undercurrents and cascading solos throughout. Pilz’s fierce, uncompromising blues is downright brilliant amid the pianist’s sparkle in the waterlogged title track, in which Schoof emerges like a butterfly from its chrysalis, fluttering to and fro with the determination of a man on fire in search of water. In “Hope,” he sweeps a guiding hand through waves of thematic life, Pilz ever the underwater acrobat. The band rounds up a school of fish hungry for soul in “Old Ballad,” with Brüninghaus and Lenz hauling a fair catch each, while the final “Sunset” fronts the trilogy’s brightest stars, Schoof and Pilz, against a gradual rhythm section, carrying us out toward a forever receding waterline.

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.

Tyran Grillo

TOK - 1979 - Paradox


01. Paradox 8:15
02. Night Music 6:22
03. Dodéc 5:33
04. A Lua De Portugal 5:20
05. Sekitel 7:07
06. Wobbly Walk Parade 3:53

Takashi Kako - Piano
Kent Carter - Bass
Oliver Johnson - Drums

Recorded June 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake

That Japanese pianist Takashi Kako has spent much of his career as an accomplished classical pianist should come as no surprise to anyone who listens to this album, which documents a time in his life when he was heavily involved in the French free jazz movement at its zenith. It was during this period that, in 1979, he formed TOK, an acronym of its members, of whom drummer Oliver Johnson and bassist Kent Carter completed the trio. Paradox was the band’s only record (although in 2004, the Japanese label PJL did release an archival disc comprised of studio and live masters recorded in Japan in 1978 and 1979, respectively). All of its pieces are by Kako, save for the last, the fantastic “Wobbly Walk Parade,” by Carter. This carnival dream expands the trio’s standard palette, adding cello to its composer’s toolkit; celesta to Kako’s; toy piano, tambourine, and vocals to Johnson’s; and featuring an unexpected appearance by producer Steve Lake on harpsichord (!). Leading up to this whimsical flourish is a program of striking originality, which is all the more intensified by Kako’s undeniable acuity at the keyboard. Certainly his time in Paris has worn off here, as riffs resembling those of the great 20th-century French composers—including his teacher, Olivier Messiaen—are recognizable throughout.

The OK to Kako’s T are finely supportive, responding to every dip and spiral of the pianist’s flights over delectable comping. Each listens to the other before deciding on a single note. Whether riding the groove of “Dodéc” or painting with shadow in “A Lua De Portugal,” the trio shares equal duties in the evocation department. Between Carter’s elasticity, Johnson’s adaptive timekeeping, and and Kako’s denser ligaments, the resulting music hides in a crawl space somewhere between classical and jazz.

But Paradox throws its brightest spotlight on Kako, whose piano piece “Night Music” shows the beginnings of what has since grown into a lauded career as solo performer. Another return to roots is “Sekitei” (the title means “rock garden” in Japanese), which is the album’s masterwork. This painterly piece takes chamber jazz to a high level of abstraction that is almost linguistic, diagnostic. Every new element in its unfolding becomes integral to the whole and, although in seeming contrast to the title, rather accurately captures the blossoming order of chaos in this often-misunderstood art form.

Easily among the finest JAPO releases.

Tyran Grillo

Burry Guy - 1979 - Endgame

Burry Guy 

01. The Y? 7:28
02. Remember To Remember 7:56
03. Du Doo 7:30
04. Maze 12:51
05. "In Relationship To Circumstance..." 10:03

Trevor Watts - Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Composed By
Howard Riley - Piano, Composed By
Barry Guy - Double Bass, Composed By
John Stevens - Drums, Cornet

Recorded April 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Steve Lake and Manfred Eicher

Bassist Barry Guy has always lurked in some of ECM’s most unexpected corners, and on this JAPO release from 1979 he joins pianist Howard Riley, drummer John Stevens, and saxophonist Trevor Watts for five freely improvised tracks of understated pandemonium. The titles of said tracks confuse more than they clarify, because the music speaks so well for itself. “The Y?” is a bubbling broth that gradually thickens into stew. Each musician seems to play in his own space, feeling out the dynamics of the scene before populating it with movements. Watts’s altoism is the boldest color of this spectrum, diving through his bandmates’ hoops with the ease of a dolphin. This leaves Guy to navigate Riley’s punctuations with strange tenderness, and Stevens to fill the void with his brilliant sputtering.

The sub-terrain to the former’s mountains, “Remember To Remember” opens low and dark in Guy’s strings. Watts carves a stark alphabet into Riley’s chaotic palimpsest, leaving Stevens to flounder on shore. There is a dynamic of searching here that, if not apparent already, should by now hit the listener like a eureka moment, as the group’s modus operandi becomes clear as day: this is not free improvisation but improvised freedom. With this realization as our compass, we leap over every pin and needle into “Du Doo.” Guy again provides the anchor, which is meant to maintain as much as obliterate stasis. His heart is in the details. Stevens brushes the frame until it turns to dust, while Watts wanders joyfully in these ashen ruins as if they were newly built. The detailed finish shows just how sensitive this quartet can be.

“Maze,” in spite of its title, is the most linear track on the album. Its surface-level overlap only thinly veils a continuity that sustains a full 13 minutes’ worth of depth-soundings. At the core of it all is the relationship between Guy and Watts, who, like photographers taking pictures of the same scene but from different angles, share complementary foci. On the other side of the coin is the final track, “In Relationship To The Circumstance…” Its gestural fabric is rendered opaque by the illusion of space between instruments. The sparseness is dark matter made audible. Watts plays the roll of bait and the others fish hooked to its line, flailing for one last song.

Like Barre Phillips, Guy is a bassist who avoids pigeonholes like the plague, but with an art that is ultimately healing. This is one of his many effective prescriptions.

Tyran Grillo

Stephan Micus - 1978 - Till the End of Time

Stephan Micus 
Till the End of Time 

01. Till The End Of Time 17:46
02. For Wis And Ramin 18:06

Stephan Micus table harp, kortholt, zither, guitar, vocal
Recorded June 1978 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Before migrating across the ECM continent, Stephan Micus outfitted some of his most formative expeditions in the territories of the JAPO sub-label. On these albums one hears Micus at his most elemental, turning every gesture into inter-spatial awareness. The album’s duration of 36 minutes only serves to deepen its intimacy as a space in which the listener might catch a cushion of meditation in a world of splinters.

Micus’s practice has always been to render the stem before the flower, and in the album’s title track a table harp provides that very illustrative function. Its dulcimer-like heart beats a rhythm at once ancient and fresh, curling as the scriptural page, its edges darkened from constant contact with the hands. Those same hands cradle a method of speech so musical that its melody is discernible only in the freedom of solitude. This is perhaps why Micus tends to work alone: so that he might open every angle honestly and uniquely, until the geometry of his life grows big enough to Venn-diagram into the listener’s own. Bowed zither expands the roots and gives way to a kortholt, a crumhorn-like reed from the Renaissance that pulls hidden colors from the sunlight. A classical guitar, which all but disappears from Micus’s later work, defines ethereal flesh through a worldly skeleton. Like the music itself, it is gut and wood and movement, drawing a string through immediate intellect to that of another time.

“For Wis And Ramin” is even more direct in its expressiveness, triangulating guitar and zither with Micus’s imagined singing. Imagined, because no words would do justice to the palette from which he draws, one that harbors not the barest pigment of politics. After the opening classical guitar solo connects its geometric touch-points, only a throated language can bring to the light that which is born in the dark. Micus is thus a troubadour who seeks love not only on earth but also from heaven, so that when the zither walks in the voice’s path, we must also feel the soles of our feet pressing their outlines into planes of stardust, refuges of forgotten pollen.

Tyran Grillo

George Gruntz - 1978 - Percussion Profiles

George Gruntz 
Percussion Profiles

01. Movement 1 7:48
02. Movement 2 6:20
03. Movement 3 4:48
04. Movement 4 5:47
05. Movement 5 18:48
06. Movement 6 2:27

George Gruntz - Composed By, Directed By,Gong, Keyboards, Synthesizer, Crotales
Fredy Studer, Jack DeJohnette, Pierre Favre - Drums, Cymbal, Gongs
David Friedman - Gong, Vibraphone, Marimba, Crotales
Dom Um Romao - Percussion, Gongs

Recorded September 20, 1977 at Wally Heider Studios, Los Angeles
Engineer: Biff Dawes
Mixing: Georg Scheuermann and Manfred Eicher
Producer: Robert Paiste

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

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

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

Tyran Grillo

Contact Trio - 1978 - New Marks

Contact Trio 
New Marks

01. Happy 7:32
02. Circle 12:55
03. The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog 3:53
04. Stoned Tunes 3:59
05. New Marks 10:14

Evert Brettschneider - Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar
Aloys Kott - Bass
Michael Jüllich - Percussion, Marimba, Vibraphone

Recorded January 1978 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Along with Musik, the Contact Trio’s New Marks is another standout for ECM’s sister label, JAPO. Sharing with that later release frontmen Evert Brettschneider (acoustic and electric guitars) and Aloys Kott (fretless bass) but differing in the presence of Michael Jüllich (percussion, marimba, and vibes), this incarnation of the band charts vaster, even more palpable territory with a crystalline signature sound, for which we may also thank the late, great producer Thomas Stöwsand.

Brettschneider and Kott share composer credit. The former’s pen yields the album’s opener, “Happy,” which welcomes the listener appropriately with a smile. At first, Kott takes a page from the Eberhard Weber playbook—and, later, evokes the more experimental Bill Laswell—before ironing out his own distinct fabric. Jüllich, for his part, starches the outer layer with glowing cymbals. Guitarist and bassist trade harmonic arpeggios, foresting a temperate climate around Jüllich’s detail-oriented drumming. Kott’s “Circle” unfurls a likeminded mesh of marimba and vibes in support of Kott’s melodic overlay. This watery backdrop adds an ambient touch to the piece’s growth from conversation to prayer. Brettschneider’s electric shares starry crosstalk with Kott, then fades like a comet’s tail into a flanged midsection. This atmospheric shift wanders into what jazz might sound like if Steve Reich were to play it, mallet percussion and bass opening a window into the electric guitar’s virtuosic crunch.

“The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog” begins the album’s second half of three tunes, each co-written by Brettschneider and Kott. It’s a frantic jazz crawl that reveals Jüllich at his finest, painting the night with a deluge of stars in his solo. “Stoned Tunes,” an album highlight, is a wintry duet of 12-string acoustic and bass, which segues into the title track’s freer language, a primer of both the band’s process and its imagistic leanings.

New Marks is worth tracking down in any form.

Tyran Grillo

Lennard Aberg - 1978 - Partial Solar Eclipse

Lennard Aberg 
Partial Solar Eclipse

01. Partial Solar Eclipse I 8:09
02. Partial Solar Eclipse II 6:04
03. Partial Solar Eclipse III 6:42
04. Partial Solar Eclipse IV 9:36
05. Partial Solar Eclipse V 4:27
06. Partial Solar Eclipse VI 6:50

Bertil Lövgren trumpet, fluegelhorn
Ulf Adåker trumpet, fluegelhorn
Jan Kohlin trumpet, fluegelhorn
Håken Nyquist french horn, trombone, fluegelhorn
Stephen Franckevich trumpet (VI)
Lars Olofsson trombone
Sven Larsson bass trombone, tuba
Jörgen Johansson trombone (VI)
Lennart Åberg soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone
Ulf Andersson alto saxophone, piccolo, flute
Tommy Koverhult soprano flute, tenor flute
Erik Nilsson baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, flute
Bobo Stenson piano, electric piano
Harald Svensson synthesizer (I, IV)
Jan Tolf electric guitar (I, II, III, VI)
Palle Danielsson bass (I-V)
Stefan Brolund Fender bass (I, II, VI)
Jon Christensen drums
Leroy Lowe drums
Okay Temiz percussion (I, II, III)

Recorded September 5-9, 1977 at Metronome Studios, Stockholm
Engineer: Rune Persson, Metronome
Produced by Håken Elmquist

Swedish saxophonist Lennart Åberg assembles a force to be reckoned with for this out-of-print JAPO release. Fronting a 20-piece ensemble that includes early appearances by pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen, Partial Solar Eclipse plays out in a six-part suite of epic proportions. The trumpet-led swell of Part I gives way to a groovy bass line amid big band brilliance infused with Brazilian percussion (courtesy of Okay Temiz). A soaring solo from Åberg flirts with the clouds even as it transcends them in fiery sunset. The twinned bass action from Stefan Brolund and Danielsson impels the spirit toward Stenson’s winding finish. Out of these dense beginnings comes a mosaic of hues and textures. From the flanged ground line and backing horns of Part II, which sound for all like a warped version of “Baby, You’re a Rich Man,” to the oozing finality of Part VI, the album as a whole bursts with a jazz that squeals, “I made it!” Jan Tolf’s guitar work is the conclusive highlight, along with the florid and soulful tenor work of Åberg himself. Between the two we find the Motown edge of Part III, with its radiant flute and oceanic pianism, and the killer baritone work in Part IV of Erik Nilsson, who also unleashes a fabulous bass clarinet solo over the chalky backdrop of Part V.

This is an album that foregrounds itself by foiling the otherworldliness of all that came before. In so doing, it offers the glare of its namesake without the need for glasses. It’s an intense thrill ride, to be sure, but one that offers choice rewards even (if not especially) for those not tall enough to enter.