Thursday, November 28, 2019

Laraaji - 1980 - Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance)

Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance)

01 .The Dance #1 9:04
02. The Dance #2 9:46
03. The Dance #3 3:18
04. Meditation #1 18:38
05. Meditation #2 7:58

Treated and amplified zither; hammered dulcimer  – Laraaji

Producer – Brian Eno

Serendipity was in full effect the day Brian Eno strolled through New York’s Washington Square Park and came across Laraaji playing his plangently chiming autoharp, and dropped a note in his busker’s hat inviting him to make a record. Born Edward Larry Gordon, the actor-musician Laraaji had already released one album, 1978’s Celestial Vibration, and explored the concept of cosmic music for some years using electrified and adapted versions of the zither and hammered dulcimer. He believed that these and similar metallophonic instruments like gongs induce a trance state that breaks down the self’s boundaries and loosens the bonds of time. 

Not that the first side of Day of Radiance is relaxing, exactly: “The Dance” seems to flood your mind with almost-painful brightness. But the flipside’s two-parter “Meditation” gently unspools folds of glimmering texture in a slow-motion cascade. Although Radiance was a career highpoint and reached his broadest audience, Laraaji would record many more wonderful albums (including Flow Goes the Universe, for Eno’s latterday label All Saints). The fact that Laraaji’s other main occupation is working as a laughter therapist reminds us of the higher purpose—at once practical and mystical—behind Radiance. This is music for healing and making whole. –Simon Reynolds

Edward Larry Gordon was a comedian/musician attempting to work his way through the Greenwich Village clubs in the '70s when one day he impulsively traded in his guitar for a zither, adopted the name Laraaji, and began busking on the sidewalks. Brian Eno, living in New York at the time, heard his music and offered to record him, resulting in this singular, unusual album. Laraaji uses an open-tuned instrument with some degree of electrification (and, presumably, with studio enhancements courtesy of Eno), which creates a brilliant, full sound. The first three pieces, "The Dance, Nos. 1-3," are rhythmically charged and propulsive, with tinges of Irish hammered dulcimer music mixed with a dash of Arabic influence. The layered production gives them a hypnotically captivating quality and an echoing vastness, inducing a dreamlike state in which the listener happily bathes. The two parts of "Meditation" are arrhythmic, ethereal wanderings, still effective if less immediately riveting. Day of Radiance is considered an early new age masterpiece and, while it shares certain aspects with the genre (including a heady mystical aura), it has far more rigor, inventiveness, and sheer joy of playing than the great majority of its supposed descendants. It possesses a sense of timelessness that has enabled it to quite ably hold up over the years.

Edward Larry Gordon - 1978 - Celestial Vibration

Edward Larry Gordon 
Celestial Vibration

01. Bethlehem 24:38
02. All Pervading 24:18

Written-By, Composed By [All Compositions] – Edward Larry Gordon (Laraaji)

For decades, Edward Larry Gordon was negative space. A gap if you will. Whenever one would peruse the Brian Eno section, either in their own collection or at the shop, the epochal, highly-influential Ambient series that Eno released in the late '70s and early '80s would scan as so: Ambient 1: Music for Airports was Eno's gentle-drift follow-up to Discreet Music, Ambient 2 was the collaboration with pianist Harold Budd entitled The Plateaux of Mirror and then Ambient 4 was Eno's On Land. But who, what and where was Ambient 3? Left off Virgin/ Astralwerks's reissues of all of Eno's albums, Ambient 3: Day of Radiance was the work of a mysterious busker found in Washington Square Park by Eno on a trip to New York in the late '70s (separate from Eno's discovery and documentation of the No Wave scene fermenting at the same time). Turns out to have been the Philadelphia-born Edward Larry Gordon, the name "Laraaji" a play on his name and initial.

While a path in New Age music has since followed, Gordon had put out an album previous to Day of Radiance, one produced by a New York lawyer who—after encountering Gordon's mesmeric performance on the zither at a New Age Holistic event—decided he wanted to record him immediately. Privately-pressed in an edition of 500 back in 1978, Universal Sound has rescued it from obscurity, and rightly so: Celestial Vibration is the sort of album that might make heads perceive the cringe-inducing "New Age" genre in a new light.

No doubt, such gentle ambience underpins so much of our highly-acclaimed music at the moment. In a recent chat with Luciano, he talked about focusing his attentions on beatless, beautiful productions that forego the 4/4, though can mix into them, while Villalobos is on the record as being a fan of the hallowed ECM label, which has specialized in releasing such crystalline sounds for decades now, in addition to their jazz catalog. Even Animal Collective sampled a bit of pan-flute master Zamfir on their most-recent EP. Crystal-haters beware, the new age of "New Age" might be upon us.

As for Celestial Vibration, imagine Alice Coltrane's harp runs as captured and effected by Eno's tape loop devices and you're close to the sound of Gordon. Two majestic sprawling sound tapestries comprise the disc, "All Pervading" and "Bethlehem" each nearing the 25-minute mark. Gordon's mastery of the zither (a stringed instrument that can be plucked, strummed or malleted) makes for entrancing listening. Don't think you will just be able to doze off: Gordon moves from blissed-out washes to driving passages to ruminative melodic moments that echo outward and slowly swirl back into cosmic dust clouds, his sound ever-changing. It might not be to every electronic music fan's tastes, but open ears will soon hear that Gordon is not only a master of his instrument, but also of that "otherness" that surrounds all music: space itself.

Originally released in 1978 by an obscure label from Portland, Maine called SWN Records, Celestial Vibration was the debut release by Edward Larry Gordon, at the time a street musician busking around New York City. This album was released before he adopted the moniker Laraaji, and before Brian Eno happened to come across one of his performances in Washington Square Park, dropped him a note, and produced his first widely available album, the classic Ambient 3: Day of Radiance (1980). In retrospect, Celestial Vibration isn't too different from Day of Radiance, at least in terms of instrumentation and general mood, but in no way does it feel like a first draft or a warm-up. Gordon entered the recording studio with his modified electric zither and kalimba, and improvised while deep in a trance. These in-the-moment sessions were later edited into two side-long compositions, "All Pervading" and "Bethlehem." His playing is influenced by spiritual jazz (particularly Albert Ayler and both John and Alice Coltrane) as well as traditional African rhythms, but it sounds like nothing else before it. "All Pervading" (later excerpted on the essential anthology Celestial Music: 1978-2011) is easily the more uptempo and rhythmic piece of the two. Gordon sounds completely at ease yet profoundly focused, hammering away with precision while electronic effects make the tones swirl and shimmer. The whole performance sounds effortless, and astoundingly beautiful. "Bethlehem" is more experimental, alternating between moments of stillness and sharper, nearly thrashing movements. It does get more melodic, but instead of playing the melody upfront, Gordon seems to suspend it and surround it with eerie vibrating effects. It feels very homemade and intimate; the sounds of Gordon knocking on his instruments while playing are clearly audible. It also seems to predict certain types of the free-folk that made underground waves during the 2000s. As fascinating as anything else Laraaji has recorded since, Celestial Vibration is evidence that his unique vision has been incredibly powerful since the very beginning.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Ernest Hood - 1975 - Neighborhoods

Ernest Hood

01. Saturday Morning Doze 7:15
02. At The Store 6:21
03. August Haze 8:00
04. The Secret Place 4:30
05. After School 11:00
06. Gloaming 7:20
07. From The Bluff 6:23
08. Night Games 4:13

Zither [Multiple Zithers], Keyboards, Sounds – Ernest Hood

In 1975, the Portland, Oregon, musician Ernest Hood pressed his lone solo album, Neighborhoods, in an edition of a few hundred. He passed out copies primarily to friends, and the album, a curious blend of found sounds and proto-ambient, disappeared into the Pacific Northwest mist. Newly reissued by Freedom to Spend (in a much improved pressing, spread across two discs), it’s not the first such rarity to be pulled from the ether in the 21st century, as YouTube’s algorithm accumulates millions of plays for once obscure jazz and new-age records. But it might be the most uncanny, an album that kindles a sensation not unlike watching home videos of your own childhood.

If you’ve sat in the yard at dusk right before the mosquitoes come out, ridden a bike through the suburbs in the summertime, or even just driven around your own neighborhood with the windows rolled down, you’ll hear in Neighborhoods an aleatoric sound set in amber. Who was the fellow that plucked out such moments of everyday life, pared them down, and wove it all together?

Born in 1923, Hood grew up in a time when kids ran unsupervised all day long and the most enthralling sound was big-band jazz. Hood picked up the guitar and started playing ballrooms with a jazz band (his brother Bill would go on to have a moderately successful career in the industry), but in the early 1950s, while still in his twenties, he fell victim to a devastating polio outbreak. He spent a year in an iron lung and for the rest of his life used leg braces, crutches, and a wheelchair to get around. He could no longer hold a guitar in his lap, so he took up the zither. At one point in the early 1970s, Hood’s zither could be heard on Flora Purim’s early albums, mixing in alongside fusion stars like George Duke and Stanley Clarke.

His own career in jazz might have ended abruptly, but Hood remained a presence in Portland, where he cofounded the KBOO community radio station. (Before his death in 1995, post-polio syndrome took away even more mobility as well as his ability to speak and he became the public face of the Death With Dignity Act.) And while his guitar playing was halted, he continued to study recording and production. Starting in the mid-’50s, Hood began using a wire recorder to collect the sounds around him, eventually upgrading to a reel-to-reel and microphone, assembling his field recordings into “audio postcards” for his radio show. As the liner notes recount, Hood would surreptitiously park around Portland, “blacking out the windows of his car with a dark cloth to act as a windbreaker,” which attracted a fair bit of notice from concerned neighbors.

It wouldn’t be until 1974 that Hood started assembling all these field recordings and snatches of dialogue into Neighborhoods, weaving in the voices of his own son and family friends. He was in his early fifties at that point and envisioned the album as a nostalgic glance back at his own childhood, a period rapidly fading from memory in the post-war era. There’s talk of a sunken riverboat and steam-powered trains, and the scrape of a game of kick the can, not all that far removed from what Ray Davies would sing on Kinks albums. But you never get the impression that Hood is pining for these lost times so much as documenting the peculiar similarities between his own bygone youth and what he could hear all around him in that moment.

The album opens with birds, barking dogs, a kid tooting on a whistle, a passing car—the kind of stuff that rushes in whenever you pull up your garage door. When Hood’s own zither and synth musings bloom to life, they move with a logic like the wind in the trees, picking up speed and then dying back down, meandering along at their own pace. He gets one of his early synthesizers to chirp along with bird sound in one moment, and then to mimic a tune the kids down the street are yelping the next.

Hood’s musical musings never take over, but rather move in and out of earshot. Sometimes he strums a whimsical air like something lifted from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and at other times he echoes a radio tuned to an old jazz song. The synth melody that gurgles up throughout “Gloaming” brings to mind another album that wove together pioneering synth work and field recordings, Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. Neither moving toward a song nor getting lost in the other sounds, Hood lets it all come to him. While the recordings are documentarian in their way, the music is as vague and open-ended as daily life. There are moments when you might be hard-pressed to notice Hood’s signature at all.

“It hardly matters in which neighborhood you sprouted,” Hood wrote in the original liner notes. “The games we played… and the feelings we experienced… are tantalizingly familiar.” Songs with names like “At the Store” and “After School” could be set just about anywhere. Hood susses out a symphony in the daily noise of American life, like Charles Ives with a portable tape recorder or Norman Rockwell with an early synthesizer prototype. In some passages, Neighborhoods doesn’t feel like a half-century-old curio, but as of-the-moment as a walk to the train. Put it on, hear children shouting out songs, crickets chirping, and the noise diesel engines rumbling past and feel the illusion of time dissolve: You’re in Ernest Hood’s neighborhood.

Jon Hassell - 1986 - Power Spot

Jon Hassell
Power Spot

01. Power Spot 7:04
02. Passage D. E. 5:25
03. Solaire 6:48
04. Miracle Steps 4:18
05. Wing Melodies 7:42
06. The Elephant And The Orchid 11:00
07. Air 5:18

Jon Hassell trumpet
J. A. Deane percussion, alto flute
Jean-Philippe Rykiel keyboards
Michael Brook guitar
Richard Horowitz keyboards
Brian Eno bass
Richard and Paul Armin RAAD electro-acoustic strings
Miguel Frasconi flute

Recorded October 1983 and December 1984, Grant Avenue Studio, Ontario
Assistant  engineering: David Bottrill and Roman Zack
Produced and engineered by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois

American composer and trumpeter Jon Hassell is best known for his music of the Fourth World, which he describes as “coffee-colored classical.” The definition becomes clearer once you immerse yourself in the sounds of Power Spot. Hassell’s career is as varied as his education. A student of both Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pandit Pran Nath, he is known for overlooking idiomatic barriers in favor of something far broader. Nath left an indelible mark in Hassell, who turned to the master’s voice for guidance in his own playing. His unmistakable tones are achieved by singing into the instrument, thereby drawing clusters of sounds from a single exhalation. This recording is significant for a number of reasons, not least for indicating a moment in sonic history in which the electro-acoustic universe was beginning to spin some of its richer, more majestic galaxies. The music on Power Spot radiates like a supernova waiting patiently for the traction of celestial bodies to fan its clouds away, revealing softly spinning globes of breath and vapor. With such evocative titles as “Wing Melodies” and “The Elephant And The Orchid,” one feels almost overwhelmed by the range of possible imagery. And yet, like any question of mode or genre thereof, these words disappear behind the music’s waterfall.

At first listen the album may seem to blend into a broad wash of sound, but lean in closer and you begin to hear the details emerge. The title track is perhaps the most potent, opening this portal to a wellspring of beats and train whistles. Brian Eno’s amphibian bass slithers through a pond of liquid mercury, fading into the gaseous darkness from which it sprang. Otherworldly connotations are bound to reveal themselves, and nowhere more so than in “Passage D.E.,” which sounds like the soundtrack to a documentary of some undiscovered planet. Notable also is “Miracle Steps,” where live percussion provides marked contrast to the synthetic overlay, drawing in the process the album’s most beautiful cartography.

Power Spot is one protracted aerial view, a bubbling primordial soup of circuits and blips, funneled through such progressive sense of direction and atmosphere as only Hassell can activate. Unlike much of the knob-turning to grace the many electronic albums of the 80s, its sound is strikingly effusive and organic. In this ocean, one finds that the light of life shines brightest on the inside. It is a light that no clouds can obscure, a light that no darkness can close its eyes around. It is a journey of transience, of transport, of futurism and antiquity, of none of these things. Influential? More than words can say. Just listen to Paul Schütze’s Stateless, or the works of countless others who’ve clearly drunk from the Hassell font.

A perfect specimen.

Jon Hassell - 1983 - Aka / Darbari / Java

Jon Hassell 
Aka / Darbari / Java

01. Empire I
02. Empire II
03. Empire III
04. Empire IV
05. Empire V
06. Darbari Extension I
07. Darbari Extension II

Producer – Daniel Lanois, Jon Hassell

MAGIC REALISM • Like the video technique of "keying in" where any background may be electronically inserted or deleted independently of foreground, the ability to bring the actual sound of musics of various epochs and geographical origins all together in the same compositional frame marks a unique point in history. • A trumpet, branched into a chorus of trumpets by computer, traces the motifs of the Indian raga DARBARI over Senegalese drumming recorded in Paris and a background mosaic of frozen moments from an exotic Hollywood orchestration of the 1950's [a sonic texture like a "Mona Lisa" which, in close up, reveals itself to be made up of tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal], while the ancient call of an AKA pygmy voice in the Central African Rainforest — transposed to move in sequences of chords unheard of until the 20th century — rises and falls among gamelan-like cascades, multiplications of a single "digital snapshot" of a traditional instrument played on the Indonesian island of JAVA, on the other side of the world. • Music which is to this degree self-referential, in which larger parts are related to and/or generated from smaller parts, shares certain qualities with "white" classical music of the past. AKA/DARBARI/JAVA is a proposal for a "coffee-colored" classical music of the future — both in terms of the adoption of entirely new modes of structural organisation [as might be suggested by the computer ability to re-arrange, dot-by-dot, a sound or video image] and in terms of the expansion of the "allowable" musical vocabulary in which one may speak this structure — leaving behind the ascetic face which Eurocentric tradition has come to associate with serious expression. • JON HASSELL

The beautiful cover painting by Mati Klarwein serves as an appropriate visual analogy for the music contained herein: an abutting of two worlds, an insinuating blend of early-'80s high tech with ancient Southeast Asia. Over varying, non-specific rhythms supplied by Abdou Mboup, Jon Hassell weaves a music both evocative and plaintive, his modified trumpet sighing like an old Javanese horn pulled into the digital age on its way to what he calls a "coffee-colored" future where all ethnic traditions become one. The astonishingly vocal sound he gets from that treated trumpet is certainly one of the signatures of this album and one of the more lovely sounds heard anywhere. His compositions have a bit too much direction and drive to comfortably settle into the term ambient, but they remain as relaxed and gently meandering as a jungle stream. One especially nice feature is the subtle electronic burblings that whisper in the background, creating an enticingly busy sense of space. Aka/Darbari/Java is an early high-water mark at the juncture between world and ambient musics.

Jon Hassell - 1981 - Fourth World Vol 2 Dream Theory In Malaya

Jon Hassell 
Fourth World Vol 2 Dream Theory In Malaya

01. Chor Moiré 2:18
02. Courage 3:28
03. Dream Theory 5:13
04. Datu Bintung At Jelong 7:03
05. Malay 10:10
06. These Times... 2:52
07. Gift Of Fire 5:00

Jon Hassell – trumpet, pottery drums, Prophet 5, bowl gongs, mix (tracks 2 & 7)
Brian Eno – drums, bowl gongs & bells, mix (tracks 1, 3, 5 & 6)
Michael Brook – bass
Miguel Frasconi – bowl gongs
Walter De Maria – distant drum

In the 1930s, the Mormon missionary-turned-novice anthropologist Kilton Stewart happened upon an indigenous tribe in the Central Mountain Range of Southeast Asia’s Malay Peninsula. After his time spent among the Senoi, Stewart was struck by what he deemed the tribe’s close proximity to dream worlds. “The Senoi believes that any human being, with the aid of his fellows, can outface, master, and actually utilize all beings and forces in the dream universe,” Stewart wrote in his 1954 book Pygmies and Dream Giants. The notion of such dream interpretation slowly moved westward; dream discussion groups have proliferated into the present day.

The trumpeter and composer Jon Hassell may have titled his fourth album, Dream Theory in Malaya, after Stewart’s paper. But in the notes that accompany this reissue, he finds himself taken less by Stewart and more by “the cinematic sound of the word ‘Malay’” and “a little romance with an exotically-tuned woman from Kuala Lumpur.” Such transubstantiation lies at the heart of Hassell’s music, wherein jazz fusion and minimalist composition, ambient and exotica, ancient ethnic music and glitchy electronics all jostle for headspace. This 1981 album fully synthesized such a hybrid for Hassell’s decade ahead, when his influence would snake through the work of his closest collaborator Brian Eno as well as the likes of David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel, and Tears for Fears. While Eno coined the concept of Another Green World, it was Hassell who imagined the indigenous sounds of this planet, a notion that came to be known as Fourth World music. Now into the 21st century, new producers are still grappling with its possibilities.

To find Hassell’s trumpet here is to be spun into a hall of mirrors, the timbre of his horn stretched, chopped, twisted, and processed beyond recognition. Take the maddening glitches of “Chor Moiré.” Thanks to an early use of digital delay effects, it reimagines Hassell and the horn as a skipping CD—as malfunctioning birdcall, as fingernail on sandpaper—anticipating the sounds of late 1990s clicks’n’cuts and the Mille Plateux roster in just over two minutes. Thanks to the harmonizer effect deployed by Hassell, the trumpet’s timbre on “Dream Theory” can sound like an amplified sigh, like a divine choir, and then like a telephone wire of cawing crows at sundown.

As readily as Hassell warps his instrument into strange new shapes, he also finds accomplices from all corners. Dream Theory receives input not just from Eno (in hindsight, Hassell admits to “under-crediting” him) but also from famed land artist Walter De Maria. There are contributions from a bog of frogs, some exotic birds, and a few seconds from a field recording of Proto-Malay kids splashing in some water and giggling at the sound it makes. All such elements toggle between melody, texture, and rhythm in Hassell’s matrix, almost any one of them liable to shape-shift over the duration of a piece. So when the thundering drums of “Courage” enter, they suggest a furious propulsive movement. But as Hassell smears his trumpet across their polyrhythms, they instead turn atmospheric, hanging in place. The breathy ambience of “Gift of Fire” soon grows dense and dizzying with its loops and layers.

Dream Theory’s compositions act as aural illusions, seemingly static and inert, though they deposit you on another shore by the time you reach the other side of a longer piece like “Malay.” Hassell anticipates the looped angelic vocals of Juliana Barwick with his horn during its opening section, before it fans out to sound like his own impression of a pygmy tribe’s vocal trills, mingling with those aforementioned kids and their splashed rhythms. That water sample continues to slosh around and widen until it becomes an ocean, with Hassell hovering over its surface like an alien craft. While Dream Theory’s roots touch on minimal composition, jazz, raga, and ambient, Hassell ultimately follows his own dream logic, conjuring not just another world but also its own atmosphere.

Jon Hassell / Brian Eno - 1980 - Fourth World Vol 1 Possible Musics

Jon Hassell / Brian Eno 
Fourth World Vol 1 Possible Musics

01. Chemistry 6:48
02. Delta Rain Dream 3:22
03. Griot (Over "Contagious Magic") 4:00
04. Ba-benzélé 6:03
05. Rising Thermal 14° 16' N; 32° 28' E 3:34
06. Charm (Over "Burundi Cloud") 21:24

Recorded and mixed (except for Griot) at Celestial Sounds, New York
Griot recorded in concert January 25, 1980, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

Jon Hassell – trumpet, Prophet 5 touches on "Delta Rain Dream", "Aluar" loop on "Rising Thermal", ARP loops on "Charm"
Brian Eno – background cloud guitars on "Delta Rain Dream", Prophet 5 "Starlight" background on "Ba-Benzélé", high altitude Prophet on "Rising Thermal", rare MiniMoog & treatments on "Charm"
Percy Jones – bass on "Chemistry"
Naná Vasconcelos – ghatam, congas, loop drum
Aïyb Dieng – ghatam, congas
Michael Brook – bass on "Griot"
Paul Fitzgerald – electronics on "Griot"
Gordon Philips – handclaps on "Griot"
Andrew Timar – handclaps on "Griot"
Tina Pearson – handclaps on "Griot"
Jerome Harris – bass on "Ba-Benzélé"
Night Creatures of Altamira – on "Rising Thermal"

The title Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics has a brainy and academic ring to it, but according to Jon Hassell, the record is at least 50% body music. "The basic metaphor is that of the north and south of a person is a projection of the north and south of the globe," the composer, improviser, and trumpet player, now 77, explained in an interview earlier this year. "A mind formatted by language and located in the head, compared with the area of wildness and sensuality below the waist where dance and music and procreation reigns."

However, the first time through, Possible Musics—which Hassell created in 1980 in collaboration with producer Brian Eno—you might find that "wildness" and "sensuality" are not the first adjectives that come to mind. It is eerie, dreamlike, and otherworldly music.

Throughout the record, Hassell’s trumpet is processed using a harmonizer effect, producing alien tonalities that seem to slide between the notes of a traditional Western scale. Often, his melody lines sound more like a human voice than a brass instrument. The rhythm tracks—made up of hand percussion and electric bass—are highly repetitive, but also wobbly and destabilized. The result is a sound that melds minimalism, jazz, and ambient sounds, but doesn’t fit comfortably into any of those genres.

Though his name is not invoked as frequently as Eno’s, the last few decades have proven Hassell—who was born in Memphis, Tennessee—to be an influential presence in electronic music and modern composition. Active since the mid-'60s, his background is hard to duplicate. He studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen, played on the first recording of Terry Riley’s "In C", and has performed session work for Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel. His solo work has provided the sonic blueprint for a number of contemporary musicians, as well, including Aphex Twin (See Selected Ambient Works Vol. II) and Oneohtrix Point Never (Returnal) to name a few.

Possible Musics was, in a lot of ways, the first full realization of Hassell's Fourth World concept. Many of the sounds—the freaky trumpet tones, the drifting ambient structures—were already in place on his 1977 debut LP, Vernal Equinox, but while that album is as meditative and mesmerizing as anything he has released, it is clearly identifiable as a jazz fusion record.

On Possible Musics, synthesizers and electronic treatments help to nudge things into less recognizable territory. The music is informed by minimalism, but Hassell's take is very different than the works of Philip Glass or Steve Reich that are linked to that style. For those composers, minimalism often involved rigorous structure and clockwork execution, whereas Possible Musics is conceptually dialed in, but loose and improvisational in its execution. Harmonic motion is limited and all attention is centered around the embellishment of a single melodic line. Hassell is playing lead on these songs, but his performances often blur seamlessly into the backing tracks.

Like Eno’s ambient records, Possible Music is all about mood. However, where Music For Airports sought to reflect a highly impersonal environment, Hassell’s work is intentionally exotic. No specific nation or people is being quoted here, though. Hassell's landscape is an invented one—an imagined culture, where high technology and mysticism are blended together. "John’s experiment was to imagine a 'coffee coloured' world," explains Eno in an essay first published in the Guardian and excerpted for the reissue's liner notes. "A globalized world constantly integrating and hybridizing, where differences were celebrated and dignified—and realize it into music."

In this sense, Possible Musics is an exercise in science fiction. Like the William Gibson book Neuromancer, the record offered an imperfect, but prescient glimpse toward the near future.  The subsequent decades have not produced much music like Hassell’s, but the concepts that informed Possible Musics have proven predictive of the way that technology would come to mesh with music-making in other cultures—whether that’s Konono N°1's amplified thumb pianos, Group Doueh’s electric guitars, or any number of global electronic and pop sounds that have been produced using a laptop computer.

And once you acclimate to the weird and warbly tones, there is a certain sensuality to Possible Musics. In Hassell’s desire to crossbreed cultures there’s an implicit act of intercourse going on—a desire for personal renewal and transformation via an "other", be it a nation, culture, or another human being.

Largely thought of merely as a mostly stillborn offshoot of Brian Eno's larger ambient music series, the Fourth World series of albums, in collaboration with trumpeter Jon Hassell, is actually an entirely separate beast. Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics starts off from the same basic idea as Hassell's previous solo albums, like Earthquake Island and Vernal Equinox: a blend of avant-garde composition, jazz soloing, and African and Middle Eastern rhythmic forms. This album adds only Eno's characteristic production touches, like the reversed echo that adds a ghostly, unreal edge to Hassell's trumpet solos on the side-long "Charm (Over Burundi Cloud)." The rest of the album, including the African hand drummers on the hypnotic "Delta Rain Dream" and the swirling, almost speech-like solos of "Griot," is pure Hassell. Although this album was never a chart hit and has become surprisingly underappreciated over the years, its influence on what has since become known as tribal techno is incalculable, as has its influence on those art rockers who have picked up a world music vibe. Peter Gabriel in particular owes a fair chunk of his royalty checks from Security onward to Jon Hassell.

Jon Hassell - 1978 - Earthquake Island

Jon Hassell 
Earthquake Island

01. Voodoo Wind 9:29
02. Cobra Moon 4:49
03. Sundown Dance 4:43
04. Earthquake Island 10:07
05. Tribal Secret 3:44
06. Balia 4:32
07. Adios Saturn 1:52

Bass – Claudio Ferreira (tracks: A1, B4)
Bass – Miroslav Vitous (tracks: A2 to B1, B3)
Congas, Percussion, Voice – Nana Vasconcelos
Guitar – Claudio Ferreira (tracks: A1 to B1, B3, B4)
Guitar – Ricardo Silveira (tracks: A2, A3)
Percussion – Dom Um Romao (tracks: A2 to B1, B3)
Synthesizer, Trumpet – Jon Hassell
Tabla – Badal Roy (tracks: A2 to B3)
Trumpet – Jon Hassell (tracks: A1 to B1, B3, B4)
Vocals – Clarice Taylor (tracks: A1, A3, B4)

Recorded and mixed at Power Station Studios, NYC.

Earthquake Island was Hassell's first project supported by a traditional lineup -- two guitarists, a bassist, and several percussionists. Rhythms from Latin American and the Caribbean appear for the only time (so far) in this world citizen's recordings, and on a couple of tracks there's even a guest vocalist named Clarice Taylor. Earthquake Island is also the artist's least discussed album. Okay, make that undiscussed -- even on websites devoted to Hassell's music, it only gets a sentence or two. In hindsight, this album seemed like a backward step compared to the electronic drones and hand percussion of Vernal Equinox, and was perhaps taken as a thin example of the late-'70s jazz fusion taste for Latin percussion and horn arrangements (cf. Santana; the 1979 debut by Irakere). Certainly the participation of Weather Report vets like bassist Miroslav Vitous and percussionist Dom Um Romão promised a bit of that band's shine with jazz reviewers and fans. This is too bad, because a nice, unusually direct collection of tunes has gone overlooked. Certainly, the Moog and Arp synthesizers date the music. They provide nice harmonic guidelines without getting slippery, but are a little slick; Vitous' bass and the guitars of Claudio Ferreira and Ricardo Silviera don't use electronic effects, so they don't match Hassell's brass textures. But they all, Um Romeo, Nana Vasconcelos, and Pakistan tabla master Badal Roy, create a bottom far earthier than the experimental percussion textures of Dream Theory in Malaysia or the overworked, undermelodic funk rock of City: Works of Fiction, especially the touches of samba. Where Hassell's trumpet effects and stylings tend to swell up and even loom over his keyboards and rhythm sections on his finest albums, this time the melodies keep him playing closer to the treetops.

Jon Hassell - 1977 - Vernal Equinox

Jon Hassell 
Vernal Equinox

01. Toucan Ocean 3:42
02. Viva Shona 7:04
03. Hex 6:20
04. Blues Nile 9:51
05. Vernal Equinox 21:56
06. Caracas Night September 11, 1975 2:10

Jon Hassell – trumpet, electric piano (A1, A3)

Miguel Frasconi – bells and claves (A3)
Andy Jerison – synthesizer (A3)
Nicolas Kilbourn – mbira and talking drum (A3)
David Rosenboom – synthesizer (A1, A3), mbira (A2), rattles (A3), goblet drum (B1), recording
Naná Vasconcelos – congas (A1, B1, B2), shakers (A1, A3), bells (A2), talking drum (A2)
William Winant – kanjira and rattles (A3)

Additional sounds:
Track 1 - Ocean
Track 2 - Tropical birds
Tracks 4, 5 - Drone: Serge synthesizer
Track 5 - Drone: Motorola scalatron (256Hz pitch standard)
Track 6 - Night creatures of Altamira, Distant barking by Perrasita

Recorded at York University Electronic Media Studios (Toronto, Ontario), October/November 1976.
Mixdown and additional recording: Mastertone Recording Studios (New York), September/October 1977.
Released January 1, 1978

" Jon Hassell is more than a superb musician. He is an inventor of new forms of music - of new ideas of what music should be (...). [His] is an optimistic, global vision, which allows us to foresee not only 'possible music' but 'possible futures' ” . Word of Brian Eno , who, after having "stolen" the idea of ​​the "Fourth-World Music" (a theft from which the acclaimed " My Life in the Bush of Ghosts " , created together with David Byrne, but which was originally conceived as a six-handed job) made him all the honors in an interview back in 1986. Those were the years when the great American trumpeter had by now reached an exemplary maturity, in terms not only artistic, but also human and "theoretical", in the wake of superb records, of which "Vernal Equinox" , the debut released by Lovely Music Ltd. in 1977, remains, to this day, the unsurpassed peak." (Pitchfork)

But Hassell had reached that goal, certainly not in a painless way.

It has already been said of the question "theft", an event that deeply engraved on the psyche of Our, so much to induce him to a further meta-musical reflection, from which new fundamental works will come out, including "Fourth World Volume Two: Dream Theory in Malaya " (1981; in which the innovations of the masterpiece undergo a process of" radicalization ") and " Aka / Darbari / Java - Magic Realism " (1983; slightly less inspired, but still fascinating) .

Born in 1937 in Memphis (Tennessee), the young Hassell grew amid a melting pot in miniature, invaghendosi early African-American music. his first love, Stan Kenton and Miles Davis . later, there was the shock - very common in those days - of the comparison with the works of Karlheinz Stockhausen (especially that of the historian " Gesang der Jünglinge "of 1956), whose courses he was able to attend in Cologne in 1965, shoulder to shoulder with Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt , later founding members of the Can . Hassell could have been part of the German band himself, but in accepting Schmidt's invitation he apologized, claiming that rock was not on his strings. He had other things on his mind and it soon became clear that when he returned home, he was able to participate in the recording sessions of " In C " (1967) by Terry Riley (or the "definitive" genesis of minimalism) and in some works by La Monte Young. In this way, he could prove to himself that he was more interested in overcoming (which, incidentally, will never be total) of certain Western-style musical conceptions. That his work should be a synthesis, he guessed after a trip to India, where he came into contact with the world of Indian music and with the indefinable nuances of the "ragas".

Under the guidance of Pandit Pran Nath (great heir to the "Kirana" vocal tradition), in 1972 he began to study Indian chant, which exposed him to a "micro-world of connections". What strikes him is above all the aspect defined as "calligraphy in the air", connected with that almost supernatural ability that the Indians have to construct, with sounds, "forms" in space.

The first five months of lessons were exhausting. Teacher and student continually confronted each other, in a game of references and corrections, through a communication defined as "aural / oral". Pran Nath used to perform grueling vague ragas, exploring the characteristics of each note in such an obsessive way that it gave the listeners a true "trance" state.

Later, the master taught him to transfer that sound into the trumpet instrument. Hassell ended up making a sound very similar to what you get when you blow into a shell. It was something made of desert, of "psychic" resonances, in which the use of ragas (considered as a pre-verbal experience of knowledge) gave the possibility to merge in a new way the "spiritual" dimension and the "physical" dimension "Of Sound, also defining the boundaries of a space in which a state of grace exists. The latter is obtained through the abolition of divergences between North and South; that is: western civilization, full of materialism and rationalism, as well as heir to an incomplete musical tradition, because, unlike the eastern one (the South, in reference to the lower part of the human body,

The approach of the American musician towards the "Fourth World Music", however, also had a more "concrete" input, so to speak. His marriage ended badly, Hassell met a girl, the daughter of African-American and Native American parents; encounter that put him in contact with two distinct yet converging realities in a single body. The next step was the juxtaposition to the experiments of Miles Davis , whose " On the Corner "(1972) is considered by Our - rightly or wrongly - an album in which some characteristic elements of that synthesis that he was trying to implement are already contained in nuce. The reflection then shifted to the dichotomy between the "abstract" world of classical minimalism and that of shadows, of the elusive sensuality that lies behind the appearance of things. A first experiment in this direction was represented by the composition "Solid State"(1969), used as a "sound sculpture" in museums or art galleries. It is a "sound block" that is progressively eroded from the inside through the use of successive "distillations". In short: on the one hand a "structure" and on the other the "incessant movement". There are already some characteristic elements of ragas, such as, for example, the use of drones, or sound drones with hypnotic character. But to be honest, what was now pushing in the direction of "Vernal Equinox"were some fundamental precautions. First of all, drones become electronic, while percussions are clearly of Afro-Brazilian ancestry (and this is because Hassell was looking for something more "indefinable", compared to the more obvious use of an Indian "drumming"). The so-called "solo line" is missing, which, of course, was assigned to the trumpet and its electronic chiaroscuro (since its timbre was usually digitally altered). The "Fourth World Music" was so founded.

All this, however, would not have been possible without the help of another fundamental lesson. We refer to the "universalism" of Don Cherry, which is undoubtedly one of the cardinal moments in the journey towards a type of musical system built on the accumulation of increasingly dense and deeply "mystical" musical materials (see exemplary records such as "Mu" , " Relativity Suite " and the more electric " Brown Rice " ).

That said, it seems natural to see "Vernal Equinox"as a "monumental" work, precisely because of its ability to reflect, and, at the same time, incorporate different sources and experiences without distorting them. His greatness lies precisely in the fact of representing a "sound revelation", whose expressive and imaginative power perhaps not even the author himself managed to capture in the immediate of its realization and publication.

For the universal fresco of his absolute masterpiece, Hassell called the Brazilian Naná Vasconcelos to percussion , the creator of an extremely ritualistic and evocative sound. Other types of percussion (acoustic and otherwise) were entrusted to David Rosenboom , Miguel Frasconi , Nicolas Kilbourn and William Winant. "Special guest" - so to speak ... - the "Night Creatures of Altamira", which with their distant and almost indistinct barks give the sound textures a deviant sense of "altered" mysticism. In addition to the "snake trumpet" (somehow indebted to Don Cherry's "expanded" style ), Hassell also deals with the "scenographic" aspect, so to speak, cared for through the discreet but perfectly suggestive use of a Fender Rhodes , whose sound is often transcended by the ecstatic trails of the Serge Synthesizer.

The very first seconds of "Toucan Ocean" (3'56 ") already highlight the prodigious measure of things. A rhythmic wander of congas that slides into the breaking of the ocean on the shore. The choice is not random. As argued by Hassell, in fact, his music can be seen as a continuous swaying between opposite poles, a continuous entering and exiting an imaginary framework, in which - we add - the colors are the sounds and the lines the spiritual dimensions of the mind . The sinuous modulations of the trumpet evoke inner phantoms, in an empathetic soliloquy with that sick, turbid, humid timbre, which in turn brings together a meta-discourse on the immutability of music, rummaging through the folds of a concept very dear to La Monte Young, but that here becomes something else ... perhaps an image, most likely an ocean of sensations amid the wonders of a spring equinox.

In "Viva Shona" (7'08 "), instead, the trumpet coughs almost in fear, insecure. His dilated hisses space inside a mutant arabesque, built on the intertwining and dispersing of bells, mbira and tropical birds. Faithful to his musical vision, Hassell sees in these rituals of the spirit a no man's land in which the best "human" characteristics of different worlds meet in a "Possible World", generator of "Possible Music". But in this work of subtle purification, he also ends up chiselling a virgin space, in which the wild jungle meets the metaphorical one of the industrialized cities. Cities that, in their enormous growth, ended up completely submerging the sense of "origins". However, the latter ends, in one way or another, to return,The Residents , Pere Ubu , The Pop Group ) leaves deep traces even in the musical representations of a world on the verge of collapse. This is a perfect cultural equivalent of what is being done in "Vernal Equinox" .

The music of Hassell, in fact, gives a little the feeling of a city that suddenly turns out to be naked, "primitive" beyond its technological shell, as eroded by a millennial wind, which comes from the most hidden parts of the Earth. They are the "unknowable aspects of the city" (to resume the title and "artistic intentions" of a historical piece by Joseph Jarman , on " Song For "), which suddenly come to the surface, mingling with the monstrous sonic babel of traffic, the chilling indifference of passers-by or the neon lights running down the glittering asphalt from the recently fallen rain. This conflict is sharpened in "Hex" (6'29 "), in the impossible embrace between Kilbourn's" talking drum ", the rattles of Vasconcelos and Rosenboom, on one side, and Hassell's sly and" shamanic "trumpet , on the other. It is incredible to see how the examples of techno / tribal impressionism that we will find in " Remain in Light " (think, for example, of "Seen And Not Seen") of the Talking Heads (with Eno in formation) are already widely defined and "accomplished."

However, that of the Memphis trumpeter is not a particular version of "world-music". Rather, his music is defined within the limits of a daring experimentalism in which the goal is the identification of a Universal Sound, capable of communicating emotions and visions that belong to the "sacred" roots (as rationally "unreachable") of the Land. But in the choice of technology as a coagulant factor, he states that in the refractions of those roots one also perceives "futurist" fluorescences, in a collision between past and future that manifests, in the state of grace reached, the unavoidable presence of existential distress, through the electronic coding of horror vacui (see, in this regard,

This is what appears even more evident in the next two pieces.

In "Blues Nile" (10'01 "), the distant torment of the trumpet, abandoned in the void, extends distances like rivers drained by the wind, while the sound erupts in a space / time diagram. The center of gravity of the piece - the static resonance of the Serge Synthesizer - twirls in an astral desert, made of dry anguish and atavistic silences. The feeling is that of a more "psychological" than musical stratification. In fact, in abandoning oneself to the uninterrupted flow of music, one ends up seeing particularly “sinister” echoes in the vibrating tremor of the synth, which digs around its borders, penetrating towards the center of its unraveling. The multifonia of the "snake trumpet" also reveals how the slipping inside of the notes takes place in an almost "impalpable" way, a bit like in the ragas, in which, with a careful listening, one can perceive an infinite change that contrasts with the apparent static nature of the musical surface. Thus we see an almost metaphysical connection between the real, pseudo-static, and the invisible forces that change it incessantly (it is no coincidence that Hassell maintained that "what is invisible is what surrounds us").

Behind the placid embrace between percussion and the trumpet of the title track(22'07 "), there is still an unlimited space, in which electronics take on more" cosmic "connotations, while the curves of the trumpet mimic the sinuous body of a dancer buried by the sunset symphonic flood. In the unsolved confrontation between sensuality and structure, between ancient and modern, the enchanted ecstasy of a "pure" sound is generated, without geography and without masters. It is music made of infinitesimal accents, probably still largely incomprehensible, being dictated by a need too far in time: that of "music" the Soul (of the world and of man), but in such a way that the spaces between sound and silence be filled with a prodigious twilight whirring with hisses. In these 22 minutes of transcendental descriptivism, in which the trumpet touches heights and timbres of frightening lyricism, Hassell probably gives the maximum exposure of his great musical achievement. And it really seems, to paraphrase some of his statements, to be in the presence of perfect beauty in a perfect place. If there is, in short, a sound equivalent of the "Open" ofRilke , here you will find one of the most magical and "absolute" versions.

In "Caracas Night September 11, 1975" (2'12 ") we finally hear a hail of rattles and an insistent buzz of crickets, which slip to the edge of the night, while the trumpet declines to the September moon a poem made by now only of inscrutable evanescences.

Recorded in 1976 at the York University Electronic Media Studios in Toronto, Ontario, Vernal Equinox is Jon Hassell's first recording as a solo artist and sets the stage for his then-emerging career as a trumpeter, composer and musical visionary. "Toucan Ocean" opens the album with two gently swaying chords and delicate layers of percussion that provide a cushion upon which Hassell unfurls long, winding melodic shapes. His trumpet is sent through echo and an envelope filter, producing a stereo auto-wah-wah effect. "Viva Shona" features accompaniment by mbira, subtle polyrhythmic layers of percussion, and the distant calling of birds. Again filtered through echo, Hassell's gliding trumpet lines sound remarkably vocal. "Hex" features a bubbling, filtered electric bass part with a denser web of percussion. From his horn, Hassell elicits moans and sighs that are at first unaffected and later filtered. "Blues Nile" is a long, blue moan. Hassell's breathy, multi-tracked trumpet lines call and respond to one another, weaving a web of deep calm over an ever-present drone. This track clearly points the way to his later work with Brian Eno, in particular, their "Charm Over Burundi Sky." On the title track, Hassell's "kirana" trumpet style is in full bloom as he dialogs with the percussion. Hassell's most elegant melodicism blossoms forth here, and his unaffected horn often sounds disarmingly flute-like. The influences of his study of raga with Pandit Pran Nath are clearly discernible in the curvaceous melodic lines and overall sense of meditative calm within harmonic stasis. Throughout the album, percussionists Naná Vasconcelos and David Rosenboom add subtle, supple grooves and colors. "Caracas Night September 11, 1975" is a beautiful field recording featuring Hassell's plaintive trumpet commentary, subtle percussion interjections, and the sound of caracas humming and buzzing in the background. The first several tracks of Vernal Equinox bear the imprint of '70s-period Miles Davis, in particular the quiet ambience of "He Loved Him Madly" and parallel passages from Agharta. The envelope filter on Hassell's horn similarly draws a reference to Davis' use of the wah-wah pedal from that time. Nonetheless, in 1976, Vernal Equinox was remarkably unique and ahead of its time, and sowed the seeds of Hassell's influential Fourth World aesthetic, which he would continue to develop and refine. Decades after its release, Vernal Equinox still provides an enchanting and entirely contemporary listening experience.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Lester Bowie - 1978 - The 5th Power

Lester Bowie
The 5th Power

01. Sardegna Amore (New Is Full Of Lonely People) 6:20
02. 3 In 1 (Three In One) 9:32
03. BBB (Duet) 5:52
04. God Has Smiled On Me (Traditional Gospel) 18:02
05. The 5th Power (Finale) 4:58

Alto Saxophone – Arthur Blythe
Bass – Malachi Favors
Drums – Phillip Wilson
Piano, Vocals – Amina Myers
Trumpet – Lester Bowie

Recorded April 1978 at GRS Studios, Milano, Italy.

This quintet is loaded with expressive talent. Blythe and Myers are the outsiders here, yet their different kinds of playing--Blyth is swaggeringly verbose, Myers a gospelish spirit--add new flavours to Bowie's sardonic music.

First of, Sardegna Amore is a classic! He also did this as "New York Is Full Of Lonely People" on the Urban Bushman album. This album has more the free and loose spirit of jazz in the late 70s/ early 80s than what he did in the last decade of his life with the pop tunes and rap. It definitely is a different facet of his trumpet playing, and it all Great Fun, as music was for Mr. Bowie.

The 5th Power is a live album by Lester Bowie recorded for the Italian Black Saint label and released in 1978. It was recorded during a concert tour of Europe by Bowie's group "From the Roots to the Source" and features performances by Bowie, Arthur Blythe, Amina Claudine Myers, Malachi Favors and Pillip Wilson. Creative jazz and a progressive gospel segment. Bowie at his eclectic best. Essential.

Lester Bowie - 1982 - All The Magic!

Lester Bowie
All The Magic! 

All The Magic!
101. For Louie 12:14
102. Spacehead 6:47
103. Ghosts 3:09
Trans Traditional Suite (15:51)
104. 1. All The Magic
104. 2. Everything Must Change
104. 3. T. Jam Blues
105. Let The Good Times Roll 6:47

The One And Only
201. Organic Echo 3:17
202. Dunce Dance 2:05
203. Charlie M. (Part II) 2:49
204. Thirsty? 3:34
205. Almost Christmas 3:52
206. Down Home 2:40
207. Okra Influence 4:38
208. Miles Davis Meets Donald Duck 1:39
209. Deb Deb's Face 2:03
210. Monkey Waltz 1:47
211. Fradulent Fanfare 1:01
212. Organic Echo (Part II) 5:27

Lester Bowie trumpet
Ari Brown tenor and soprano saxophones
Art Matthews piano
Fred Williams bass
Phillip Wilson drums
Fontella Bass vocals
David Peaston vocals

Recorded June 1982, Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“This is for you, Louie.”

For his second ECM album as leader, the late trumpeter and all-around wise guy Lester Bowie presented us with this intriguing twofer. The A session is dominated by two longer cuts. The first, “For Louie,” is an ode to Satchmo to end all odes. Clear and present trumpeting wails and jackknifes against the fluttering keys of Art Matthews (who also enlivens the runaround of Bowie’s “Spacehead”) as soul man Ari Brown finger-paints with his charcoal tenor. As if that weren’t enough to whet your appetite, vocalists Fontella Bass, Bowie’s wife and co-writer of the hit “Rescue Me,” and her younger brother David Peaston lay on the gospel. Incidentally, the b-side to “Rescue Me” was a song called “Soul of the Man,” and this is exactly what we hear. The school band feel of Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts” then haunts us only briefly before plunging us into the album’s second major opus. The “Trans Traditional Suite” is a sultry nod to transience in a rolling tide of brushed drums and cascading piano. This opens halfway through into a free-for-all of convoluted joy, as if to flesh out these songs’ essential message to embody in sound what it claims through word. Brown’s tenor solo speaks loudest here. The band caps things off with a legato version of “Let The Good Times Roll.” Bowie spits fire, fluttering and soaring by turns alongside that same heady tenor. Bass and Peaston reappear, matching Bowie’s penchant for humor tit for tat.

The B session, though bound by the same spirit, couldn’t be more different in execution from its counterpart. Here we find Bowie in a 35-minute solo excursion that reveals his artistry in the flesh. From the flying harmonies of the two Organic Echoes (for which he plays into an open piano) and the tongue-in-cheek ceremony of “Dunce Dance,” and on to the experimental whimsy of “Thirsty?” (in which he blows as if through a drinking straw) and “Miles Davis Meets Donald Duck” (exactly what it sounds like), Bowie abides by a richness of color that is uniquely his own. Other highlights include the church bell sweep of “Almost Christmas” and the affectionate “Deb Deb’s Face.”

This album is so rich that you may not feel a need to listen to it often, but when there’s room for it, it’s sure to hit the spot and then some.

Lester Bowie - 1981 - The Great Pretender

Lester Bowie
The Great Pretender

01. The Great Pretender 16:22
02. Howdy Doody Time 2:08
03. When The Doom (Moon) Comes Over The Mountain 3:39
04. Rios Negroes 7:17
05. Rose Drop 7:28
06. Oh, How The Ghost Sings 5:50

Lester Bowie trumpet
Hamiet Bluiett baritone saxophone
Donald Smith piano, organ
Fred Williams basses
Phillip Wilson drums
Fontella Bass vocal
David Peaston vocal

Recorded June 1981 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

A contradiction amongst trumpet players, Lester Bowie was the most successful trumpeter of the avant-garde and at the same time the contemporary player who was most happy when digging about in the roots of jazz from the earlier parts of the century.

Because he used mutes in the "wah-wah" style that was a Duke Ellington speciality of the Twenties and Thirties, Bowie was sometimes known as "the new Cootie Williams" after one of Ellington's more spectacular trumpeters. Bowie was happy to lift the growls and half-valved sounds of the earlier players and drag them into his experimental playing. Gospel music also figured in his plans and there was a vocal quality to his trumpet that was unfashionable but very effective. When he played, he swept from slashing, violent improvisations to themes of haunting beauty, often stepping off in between to incorporate banal quotes from pop songs.

He also delved sideways into contemporary black pop music, and one of his most famous recordings was a vivid 16-minute version of the Platters' hit "The Great Pretender", recorded with his first wife, the singer Fontella Bass, in 1981. Was it sly humour or the wish to provide an easy access to his music that led him to follow up with long reworkings of "I Only Have Eyes For You" (1985) and Louis Armstrong's "Blueberry Hill" (1986) and "Hello, Dolly" (1987)?

His music covered the widest and most unpredictable spectrum, so that one had to absorb, next to "Blueberry Hill" on the ascetic and dignified ECM label, his composition "No Shit" - words and arrangement by Lester Bowie. The lyrics consisted of two words repeated. Bowie's music was unfailingly exuberant and everybody went along with his wry humour and volcanic trumpet playing. Except, that is, for some of the eminent younger musicians who followed and, as is the habit of the young, regarded him as either a traitor or a musical irrelevance.

Neither was the case, for Bowie was one of a group of intelligent and committed musicians who combined their music with their fight for racial freedom. Considering the emerging trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis, Bowie said, "With his chops and my brains I could have been one of the greatest." Bowie was by no means in the Marsalis league as a technician. He and his fellows in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), and the subsequent Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC), a band that they formed in 1968, brought pantomime to jazz, using face make-up and creating a travelling theatre from their bands. The only programme for their concerts was that there wasn't one and they happily mixed theatrical jokes with serious creative avant-garde music.

Born in Maryland in 1941, Bowie grew up in St Louis at a time when musicians were still coming up from New Orleans. He played first in local rhythm- and-blues bands led by Little Milton and Albert King, both soon to become famous. He also worked with some of the young musicians in the city who, like him, were destined for fame. They included the saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman and the drummer Jack DeJohnette. Bowie moved to Chicago in 1965, where he met Fontella Bass and became her musical director.

The same year, the pianist Muhal Richard Abrams formed the AACM as a jazz workshop and Bowie joined him. Their first recordings in 1967 show a group of unknown but very advanced musicians in completely spontaneous but expert and intoxicating improvisations. From this point on Bowie and his friends were no strangers to odd instrumentation. He played trumpet and flugelhorn but also anything exotic that seized his fancy, like bass drum or the mysterious cowhorn. Logs, bells, sirens, gongs, whistles and a zither also found their way into the armoury.

The band, finding no outlet at home, moved to France in 1968 and the following year recorded the LP A Jackson in Your House. Typically, the piece begins with a dignified and pompous overture which is punctured by the laughter of the band before it rocks into a Dixieland ensemble complete with clarinet and then into an approximation of the swing style. Although the music is unusually and intentionally funny, the direct social criticism of A Message to Our Folks done a couple of months later is much more serious. The two albums perhaps typified Bowie's weakness for slapstick and the way it occasionally diluted his more serious messages.

In 1969 ACM was founded with a completely new vision of jazz. On stage, the band imitated the street bands of South America, recited poetry and used a variety of unlikely sound effects as they played both avant-garde and more conventional jazz.

Bowie moved all over Europe and recorded in 1969 as soloist and composer of the suite Gettin' to Know Y'All with the Baden-Baden Free Jazz Orchestra, a 50-piece group that included some of the top stars of European jazz. More recently, in 1994, he recorded with the Polish avant-garde band Milosc, and had been in London this autumn with his group Brass Fantasy.

He didn't confine himself to Europe and performed with local drummers in Senegal during an African visit in 1974. In 1983 he was a member of the New York Hot Trumpet Repertory with Wynton Marsalis and played with the all-star avant-garde group the Leaders in the middle Eighties.

In 1990 he recorded the theme music for the television series The Bill Cosby Show and worked on film soundtracks with the composer Philippe Sard in the early Nineties. He taught at many trumpet clinics and was at one time artist in residence in colleges at Yale, Dartmouth and Harvard.

He has left a multitude of recordings, one of the most fascinating a double LP from 1982 called All the Magic. It features on the first LP his group with Fontella Bass and David Peaston in gospel-inspired vocals and includes his suite For Louie. The second has Bowie in a series of often hilarious trumpet solos, including amongst them "Miles Davis Meets Donald Duck".

In 1985 he first formed Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, the group that he recently brought to Britain. It consisted of four trumpets, two trombones, French horn, tuba and drums. Later the line-up rose to 10 pieces. The band was quite dazzling, using imaginative tone colours and subtle scoring that was perhaps obscured by the reinterpretation of pop songs that his audiences had come to love and expect. His programmes for Brass Fantasy included Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love For You" and Patsy Cline's "Crazy". The 1990 album by the band, My Way, included the Sinatra hit along with "Honky Tonk" and James Brown's "I Got You".

He remained a sight to make the eyes sore and in later years added sequins to his trademark white medical coat.

William Lester Bowie, trumpet and flugelhorn player, composer and bandleader: born Frederick, Maryland 11 October 1941; twice married (six children); died New York 8 November 1999.

The title cut on Lester Bowie’s The Great Pretender comes of course from The Platters, the influential vocal group whose other hits, “Only You” and “The Magic Touch,” catapulted the group’s success through the rock n’ roll charts of the 1950s. Bowie’s investment in popular music’s connections to jazz set him a world apart. Second perhaps only to 1978’s The 5th Power, his debut for ECM as leader works wonders with its namesake. Where the original opens with quiet fortitude, this massive 17-minute rendition does so even more, the pianism of Donald Smith breathing a soulful mist upon a landscape that sometimes swirls with unanticipated gales. Fontella Bass and David Peaston are our doo-wop backups, their presence making the music that much more phenomenal. From Hamiet Bluiette’s heady baritone solo to the swampy rhythm section, Bowie has plenty of gum to chew in his horn.

No Bowie experience is complete without an inoculation of whimsy, and this we get in his rendition of “It’s Howdy Doody Time.” Phillip Wilson’s bright snare and Bowie’s fluttering elaborations share the air with Smith’s long slides. These morph into an evocative Fender Rhodes in “When The Doom (Moon) Comes Over The Mountain,” a wild chase backed by Fred Williams’s popping electric bass and the late-night sprawl of Bowie’s blatting. What begins as an overused Latin riff in “Rio Negroes” quickly transforms into a foray of architectural proportions secured by solid improvisational beams. Rich bass lines and rim-work carry us out in style. “Rose Drop” again looks through a glass playfully, only this time with a deeper drop. The tinkling of toy piano sparkles in Bowie’s waning sunlight, overflowing with half-remembered sentiments, each a photograph pasted in a scrapbook like no other.

Lester Bowie is like the moon. His is a field that waxes and wanes, haunting us with intimations of a distinct face, even as it harbors a dark side that we never get to see, except through the grace of studio technology, which allows us a glimpse the deeper intimations of his craft. We get this most readily in “Oh, How The Ghost Sings,” which from the evocative title to its flawless execution rings with the after-effects of a temple bell, the actual striking of which we never hear, and ends on a protracted, distant wail.

Julian Priester & Marine Intrusion - 1977 - Polarization

Julian Priester & Marine Intrusion 

01. Polarization / Rhythm Magnet / Wind Dolphin 22:10
02. Coincidence 3:33
03. Scorpio Blue 8:25
04. Anatomy Of Longing 9:32

Julian Priester trombone, string ensemble
Ron Stallings tenor and soprano saxophones
Ray Obiedo electric and acoustic guitars
Curtis Clark piano
Heshima Mark Williams electric bass
Augusta Lee Collins drums

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

The trombone is the viola of the brass world. It is arid, languid, and also incredibly beautiful in its range and melodic honesty. And on Polarization, Julian Priester’s ECM follow-up to his 1973 Love, Love session, we get more of that gorgeous depth than we could ever ask for.

The first three tracks form a unified whole. “Polarization” (Priester) begins with two overdubbed trombones improvising in a lofty space. We get some wonderful staccato technique in the left channel, and a wealth of implied energy all around. As the right-hand trombone fades, we hear the slightest indication of drums at the cut’s tail end, of which “Rhythm Magnet” (Priester) fleshes out every audible detail. Synthesized strings lend expanse while bassist Heshima Mark Williams lays down a gorgeous, almost Bill Laswell-like mysticism, albeit with an added twang and sharper features. Ray Obiedo weaves a slack guitar into the mix, and as the horns settle in to their respective stations, the piano lets out a final exaltation. “Wind Dolphin” (Bruce Horiuchi) begins with a cluster of drums. From this, we get a flowing run from brass and flanged guitar. The band breaks into a powerful free-for-all, marked by a “laughing” trombone and piano. “Coincidence” (Obiedo) is a piece for trombone, acoustic guitar, and piano, as beautiful as it is short. “Scorpio Blue” (Curtis Clark) arises from a solo trombone as drums lift the piano skyward into rolling flights of fantasy. The final track, “Anatomy Of Longing” (Curtis Clark), aside from having one of the best titles I’ve encountered in a long time, brings on the funk with electric guitar ornamenting the already fine calligraphy of the brass. And just when you think the music is over, it drips into a simmering sax solo over a pellucid piano and cymbals before the bass line returns with its undeniable insistence. The sax reels while the electric guitar squeals in joy over the thematic reinstatement before hurtling itself forward into an enthralling solo of its own. A smooth nightcap to a phenomenal outing.

While not as consistent in texture as Priester’s earlier effort, Polarization delivers in its many moods and emotional travels. The musicians don’t so much feed off as feed into one another, nourishing a delicate conversation in which agreement is the norm. Their harmonies are tender, the synergy relaxed and intuitive, acute yet soft around the edges. The recording is superb, the resonance at once immediate and expansive.

Julian Priester - Pepo Mtoto - 1974 - Love, Love

Julian Priester / Pepo Mtoto
Love, Love

01. Prologue
02. Love, Love
03. Images
04. Eternal Worlds
05. Epilogue

Julian Priester trombones, horns, whistle flute, percussion, synthesizers
Pat Gleeson synthesizers
Hadley Caliman flute, saxophones, clarinet
Bayete Umbra Zindiko pianos, clavinet
Nyimbo Henry Franklin basses
Ndugu Leon Chancler drums
Mguanda David Johnson flute, saxophone
Kamau Eric Gravatt drums, congas
Ron McClure bass
Bill Connors electric guitar

Recorded June 28 & September 12, 1973 at Different Fur Music, San Francisco
Engineers: John Viera and Dane Butcher
Produced by Julian Priester and Pat Gleeson

Julian Priester was a versatile and highly advanced trombonist capable of playing hard bop, post-bop, R&B, fusion, or full-on avant-garde jazz; however, he remains under-appreciated due to the paucity of sessions he recorded under his own name. Priester was born in Chicago on June 29, 1935, and started out on the city’s thriving blues and R&B scene, playing with artists like Muddy Waters, Dinah Washington, and Bo Diddley; he also worked with Sun Ra’s early progressive big band outfits during the mid-’50s. In 1958, Priester moved to New York and joined Max Roach’s band, appearing on classics like Freedom Now Suite. In 1960, Priester also recorded two hard bop sessions as a leader, Keep Swingin’ and Spiritsville. After leaving Roach in 1961, Priester appeared often as a sideman on Blue Note dates, recording with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Blue Mitchell, Art Blakey, Joe Henderson, and McCoy Tyner; on a more adventurous note, he also worked with Sam Rivers and played in John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass ensemble. Priester worked with Duke Ellington for six months during 1969-70, and shortly thereafter accepted his highest-profile gig with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters-era fusion band. Upon his departure in 1973, Priester moved to San Francisco and recorded two dates for ECM, 1974’s Love, Love and 1977’s Polarization. In the ’80s, Priester joined both Dave Holland’s group and the faculty of Cornish College in Seattle, and later returned to Sun Ra’s big band. During the ’90s, Priester continued to work with Holland, and toured with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. In 1997, he finally led another session of his own for Postcards, titled Hints on Light and Shadow, which featured Sam Rivers. In 2000, Priester received a liver transplant, but was back in action the following year at a benefit concert in his honor.

With a title like Love, Love, Julian Priester’s ECM debut could be nothing but a warm embrace, an abstract melodrama lifted from the pages of an epic story. Hot on the heels of Bennie Maupin’s The Jewel in the Lotus, this album gives us more than we might expect and electrifies like a Mwandishi joint sans Herbie Hancock. Between the groovy “Prologue” and brass-laden “Epilogue” lie three interconnected pieces in two 20-minute suites, each a head-nodding peregrination couched in the vibrant expanse that only an ensemble of this size can maintain. Congregations of horns abound in a funky milieu of drums and bass. The spell is immediate and unrelenting, heightened by an elegant application of synths. The late Hadley Caliman captivates with binding contributions to Priester’s own arsenal of raw materials. Guitarist Bill Connors, who would soon explore his acoustic leanings, shines on the electric, at times grazing the upper atmosphere with almost Steve Mackey-like ebullience. The first set ends as it began, fading into an originary space, leaving wisps of energy in the darkening skies. The second set arises from a tangle of sine waves. Drums stand tall like a stone circle, circumscribing the ritual within with rapt skyward attention. An electric piano courses through every gesture of this activity, petering out into a light flute-driven melody that rests confidently at the lower lip of dissonance. A fiery trombone solo from Priester forges an ecstatic peace. Bayete Umbra Zindiko works wonders at the keys, drawing lines from music to listener with every note struck, even as Connors lays a grungy scream of white noise in the face of possible self-destruction. The kinesis builds like a train until each instrument falls to the wayside, if not crushed under wheel by its passage. From this is pulled a thin urban stream of staccato harmonies that derail into a heap of conclusive breaths.