Monday, August 27, 2007

A journey of heaven and earth...

I guess it had to be a long story from the first time I heard Paul on a Bill Evans record and was blown away I have dreamt of playing with him. Years later I met Ed who had been in many of Paul's bands and we started playing together. It was around that time when I met Perry, too, and one day it all became clear: I had to make a record with Paul, and I couldn't think of two better partners than Ed and Perry. I decided to throw the ball and ask him if he would do it. The request was odd, though not unheard of in the jazz world. At thet point, Paul has never heard me or my music before, while I felt that through his music, he has been one of my strongest mentors for years.

Long story... his answer was yes. I was in heaven. Now it was just question of bringing it down to earth. It took a couple of years to pull it all together. Some of the music I brought to the session was older, some of it more recent, some I wrote two days before. Paul agreed to two days of recording, no rehearsing, so I rehearsed with Ed and Perry and met Paul in the studio in March 2004, just a few days before his 73rd birthday. When I put my headphone on and started playing I opened eyes for moment and realized what was happening... I was staring into Paul Motian's face!! The drummer whose music has shaped an enormous part of who I am as a musician was now playing MY music with ME. The realization almost paralyzed me, and I decided not to open my eyes again until the end of the session. Luckily, it worked. (...)

...Sitting in my Brooklyn apartment today, almost three years after the music was actually made... thinking of it all coming together the way it did. I believe the music tells it, too: what I wrote and what we played, the order in which it was set and every minute that HAD to pass in the process is one unit: an alignment of time, space, and connection. This record to me is a journey of heaven and earth coming together with joy.
It is told through and through in one long story.

                                                                           Anat Fort
                                                                          (excerpts from liner notes to 'A Long Story')

Anat Fort - A Long Story (2007) [EAC-APE]

1. Just Now, Var. I
2. Morning: Good
3. Lullaby
4. Chapter
5. Just Now, Var. II
6. Not A Dream?
7. Rehaired
8. As Two/Something 'Bout Camels
9. Not The Perfect Storm
10. Chapter One
11. Just Now, Var. III

Anat Fort - piano
Perry Robinson - clarinet,  ocarina
Ed Schuller - double-bass
Paul Motian – drums

Recorded March 2004
ECM 1994

My first exposure to the ECM milieu—the singular look, the sharp sound, the hypnotic music—was with Keith Jarrett’s 1975 opus The Köln Concert. After longtime immersion in my parents’ West Coast-intensive record collection, this amazing work of crystalline beauty hit me like French New Wave hits an American movie buff. Some guy named Manfred Eicher was telling me, in effect, “We don’t have to do this music the same old way! Free your ears and your mind will follow!”
I bring this up because pianist Anat Fort’s ECM debut, A Long Story, brought me right back to the freshman dorm, to the moment when I heard that simple, five-note opening to the first movement of Köln. For me, the beauty, the simplicity, and the originality of the Israeli pianist’s compositions and improvisations are a direct link to a time thirty years gone, and it’s great to have that back.
Fort’s early studies of classical music merge with her tutelage in improv theory by Paul Bley, particularly on the meditative “Just Now.” Fort uses it as a starting point, a mid-disc reset, and the disc’s denouement, presenting the piece differently with each variation—with the base trio, as a solo piece, and with reedman Perry Robinson joining the rest of the players on the finale. The music is the same, but the emotional place keeps changing; on “Just Now, Var. III,” Robinson’s clarinet adds a gypsy undertone, injecting a hint of wildness into an otherwise pensive piece.
I love Fort’s titles. Take the sprightly, hopeful “Morning: Good”—not “Good Morning,” but “Morning: Good,” i.e. morning and light good, night and darkness bad. “Not A Dream?” comes with the question mark; the unreality of the exploratory, asymmetrical piece evokes those nightmares that seem so real, you forget you can wake up. “Chapter-Two” is just that: Two people writing a chapter of their lives together, with Robinson slurring and sliding on clarinet over Fort’s dancing, cantering riff. Fort returns to the piece later, but as a solo, so the title changes to “Chapter-One.”
For a date that embodies the old school ECM sound, Fort couldn’t have a better percussionist than Paul Motian. A contemporary of Jarrett and Bley, Motian doesn’t play the beat as much as he embosses it on the music, though there are a few moments where he actually gets out front and swings. Robinson’s contributions are superb, especially his Asian-influenced ocarina on “As Two/Something ‘bout Camels.” Ed Schuller has played with both Motian and Robinson, so the disc’s underlying chemistry is that of a long-term partnership based on total trust.
This date was recorded in 2004, so it’s been in the cellar for a while. Then again, it takes time to make vintage wine. A Long Story has the crisp, scintillating flavor of the past, but it also gives us a taste of the future, in the form of a gifted young pianist who straddles two musical worlds with ease and flair. (

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Recording in the Woods and the Sky

It’s dangerous to ascribe new musical paradigms to one artist or group. There’s no denying, however, that Oregon was one of the first groups to explore the nexus of jazz, classical and folk musics with ideas endemic to the music of India, Brazil and other cultures abroad. Although Oregon’s entire discography has been available on CD at different times, a number of titles are currently out of print. Out of the Woods / Roots in the Sky is a welcome remastered reissue of the group’s first two discs for Elektra, originally released in 1978 and 1979.

Signing with Elektra after an eight-year run with Vanguard gave Oregon a real budget and access to quality studios for the first time, and it shows. Both albums were cleaner, richer and more sonically expansive than previous releases, and these remasters are an improvement over the briefly available 1992 Discovery CD issues. Along with its final Elektra release, 1980’s In Performance, these releases form a trilogy representing the end of the all-acoustic Oregon; Towner began to incorporate synthesizers on the group's self-titled 1983 ECM debut.

Oregon was always a democratic group. Guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner had already emerged as its most prolific writer, the late percussionist/sitarist Collin Walcott a close second. That balance remains here, but woodwind multi-instrumentalist Paul McCandless contributes two of his best tunes—the pastoral “Hungry Heart” (Roots) and the more harmonically elaborate but equally accessible “Cane Fields” (Woods). (

David Greene – Recording Engineer: We decided to go to a facility called Longview Farms in Massachusetts. They had a studio set up in the farmhouse and you could have a fire in the fireplace if you wanted it. You looked out the back window in the control room and you could see horses out in the field. You'd go to the fridge and skim the cream off the top of the milk in the bucket 'cause it came out of the cow that morning.
We spent about two-and-a-half days setting up. It was my job to put the guys in a mood so they'd just feel like playing music. And thats' what happened. After dinner on the second or third night, it all clicked. About 60% of Roots in the Sky came out in the next four hours. It was the most amazing feeling.

Ralph Towner: These albums were a real high point. By the time we got to (these) we really knew what we were doing. Out of the Woods is still our best-selling record. Roots in the Sky wasn't quite as famous, but we felt we played even better on that one. It's got some real challenging pieces on it. We felt that was the strongest the band had played – ever. It marked a real landmark in our playing.

Paul McCandless: These records are really terrific. They represent a peak for the band in its acoustic phase. With these records we achieved a lot more artistic power than we did with our early phases.

Glen Moore: It was a very alive, a very in-the-moment time, and the music reflects it in the depth of it and the sound of it. The originality in the music is astonishing, and these albums really capture that.

David Greene: I'm deeply honored to have been there. They're geniuses. There's nobody like them.
(excerpts from liner notes to Out of the Woods/Roots in the Sky remastered reissue)

Oregon - Roots in the Sky (1978) [EAC-APE]

1. June Bug (Towner) - 3:56
2. Vessel (Towner) - 7:43
3. Sierra Leone (Walcott) - 4:01
4. Ogden Road (Towner) - 6:26
5. House Of Wax (Walcott) - 4:31
6. Hungry Heart (McCandless) - 5:28
7. Orrington's Escape (Towner) - :49
8. Roots In The Sky (Moore) - 4:20
9. Longing, So Long (Walcott) - 6:53

Ralph Towner - classical guitar, twelve-string guitar, piano, flugelhorn, percussion
Paul McCandless - oboe, English Horn, bass clarinet
Glen Moore - bass
Collin Walcott - percussion, sitar, tabla, guitar

Roots is a more difficult and, at times, darker album than Woods. Walcott’s “House of Wax,” featuring his innovative sitar work, is a relatively simple concept, yet the piece remains a greater challenge. Towner’s brief and idiosyncratic “Orrington’s Escape” segues into Moore’s title track, another piece that builds from a simple but angular idea, finding Oregon at its most dynamic.

Still, Towner's energetic “June Bug” and broodingly open, clay pot-driven “Vessel” are as accessible as anything on Woods. Oregon would continue on after Walcott’s tragic death in 1984, but these two releases would raise the bar for everything that followed. (

This album is the 1979 companion album to the earlier Elektra release, Out Of The Woods, and has a similarly outstanding high-fidelity sound. All four musicians are in top form. Glen Moore gives perhaps his best recorded performance on bass on songs such as the self-penned "Roots In The Sky". Highlights are:
"June Bug" (fast-paced classical guitar line with bouncy oboe),
"Vessel" (starts out with a low-pitched drum that sounds like lava bubbling to the surface, then adds a laidback, slow-paced samba-style piano motif, then a jazzy bass clarinet midsection),
"Sierre Leone" (energetic acoustic percussion preluded by an atmospheric flute and flugelhorn passage),
"Ogden Road" (a very 'wavy' tune with several crescendos, has a descending 4/4 line with a latin piano/tabla mix, it first works towards a climax at the 2 minute mark, then after 3 minutes into the song changes to a flugelhorn interlude, then crescendos until the 5 minute mark, and after one last flurry, ends with the piano softly reprising the melody),
"House Of Wax" (bass and sitar interaction, also with some spiraling woodwind),
"Orrington's Escape" (short 49-second piece with an angular rhythm),
"Roots In The Sky" ( my favorite, has excellent bass and flugelhorn lines),
"Longing, So Long" (tabla/percussion fest with bass and 12-string guitar interspersed). (


Oregon - Out of the Woods (1978) [EAC-APE]

1. Yellow Bell (Towner) - 7:02
2. Fall (Moore) - 4:26
3. Reprise (Towner) - 1:02
4. Cane Fields (McCandless) - 4:35
5. Dance to the Morning Star (Walcott) - 5:36
6. Vision of a Dancer (Towner) - 4:03
7. Story Telling (Walcott) - 1:03
8. Waterwheel (Towner) - 6:26
9. Witchi-Tai-To (Pepper) - 8:24

Ralph Towner - classical guitar, twelve-string guitar, piano, flugelhorn, percussion
Paul McCandless - oboe, English Horn, bass clarinet
Glen Moore - bass
Collin Walcott - percussion, sitar, tabla, guitar

Woods was, in fact, Oregon’s most easily approachable album to date, though it made no musical compromises. Towner’s “Yellow Bell” may feel light and airy with a lithe melody, but shifting meters and his distinctive voicings make it no less of a challenge than songs whose complexity exists more clearly on the surface.

Walcott’s “Dance to the Morning Star,” featuring Towner’s resonant twelve-string guitar, demonstrates how the subtlest percussion can create strong forward motion. Walcott was a master of implication, and some of his best work can be found here. Bassist Glen Moore has always been a dualistic writer, capable of abstruse ideas and a wry sense of humor. “Fall 77” combines both with a playful melody that shifts into a riff-based solo section featuring McCandless’ bass clarinet. (

These guys are all incredible musicians. There is no question about that. But Oregon was one of those "greater than the sum of its parts" groups. It was a synthesis that transcended its members individual skills (which were immense), and transcends my ability to describe it. The jazz is just the beginning. The improv explores textures, rhythms, harmonies, and ensemble effects that just were not familiar to Americans at that time, and which still would enlighten the casual listener even in today's more diverse musical soundscape. The tabla, sitar, oboe, piano, bass, soprano sax, and other sundry instruments combine into something that occasionally gives you a surge of other-worldliness, as though this group has just broken the nirvana barrier and taken you with them. As a woodwind player myself, Paul McCandless provides endless inspiration. Genius is an over-used word, but I don't feel hesitant to use it to describe him. Ralph Towner leaves behind his roots with Paul Winter Consort to give us a performance that sounds as though it comes from one mind with his fellow players. Repeat that last phrase for all four players. This is an achievement in ensemble playing that is not to be missed. It should be required listening for all musicians. (


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Third Ear Band... is a reflection of the universe as magic play illusion simply because it could not possibly be anything else. Words cannot describe this ecstatic dance of sound, or explain the alchemical repetiton seeking and sometimes finding archetypal formes, elements and rhythms. Contradictions are their energy force, dualities are discarded in flavour of the Tao, each piece is as alike or unalike as trees, grass or crickets. This is natural, magical, alchemical music that doesn't preach, but just urges you to take your own trip. If you can make it into the music you're adrift in fantastic Bosch-like landscape, a strange acoustical perfume fills the mind, on rare occasions a vast door seems to open, band and audience appear to float in a new dimension, transcending time and space where nothing exists except this very strange and beautiful music.

Note this is just how one person felt on hearing the group live, because ultimately sound, like the wind, does not exist in a concrete form - it is magic, alchemy, and anyway someone said they would like something about the group on this LP.

                                               Glen Sweeney, 1969
                                               (original sleevenote for 'Alchemy')

Third Ear Band - Elements (1970) [EAC-APE]

1. Air
2. Earth
3. Fire
4. Water

Glen Sweeney - percussions
Paul Minns - oboe, recorder
Richard Coff - violin, viola
Ursula Smith - cello

This album (sometimes referred to as Elements) was their sophomore effort, and features four long pieces named after each of the four elements. Air opens the proceedings with some wind noises, the four musicians gradually fading in during the first two minutes. This sets the tone for the rest of the album; nobody solos, nobody coasts and the pieces have a mantra like, compelling quality to them. The playing is good from all four musicians. Glenn Sweeney's feverish percussion at times can be compared to some of Daniel Fieschelsher's work with Popol Vuh, another band who were as concerned with vertical texture as they were with linear development. Paul Minns plays the oboe with a surprising range of tone and impeccable phrasing - in some parts he's overdubbed, creating a shenai-like sound as the melody lines chase each other over the rhythmic foundation. Air is as light and breezy as it's title suggests, while Earth starts as a slow paced dance around the Maypole, with piizzacatto strings and plodding percussion, and gradually builds to a dervish frenzy befroe the whole thing falls away and starts again. Fire is a monotonous, dissonant piece that doesn't really go anywhere and takes over 9 minutes to do it, while Water is appropriately the gentlest of the four tracks, featuring another enchanting Paul Minns oboe part over a hypnotic beat and some low viola and cello chords. The album closes with the sound of waves lapping the shore, as it started with the sound of the wind. (

Link1 Link2

Third Ear Band - Alchemy (1969) [EAC-APE]

1.  Mosaic
2.  Ghetto Raga
3.  Druid One
4.  Stone Circle
5.  Egyptian Book Of The Dead
6.  Are Three
7.  Dragon Lines
8.  Lark Rise

Glen Sweeney - percussions
Paul Minns - oboe
Richard Coff - violin, viola
Mel Davis - cello, slide pipes
DJ John Peel - jaws harp
Dave Tomlin - violin

Started in 1968 by percussionist Glen Sweeney and reedist Paul Minns, Third Ear Band was formed from the ashes of a previous Sweeney project, the psych band Hydrogen Juke Box. While generally overlooked in the history of British and improvised music, Third Ear Band developed a distinctive and aesthetically important sound -- equal parts Indian, psychedelic, and minimalist -- dubbed "electric-acid-raga" by Sweeney. Alchemy, their first release, is a wonderful record. With shorter tracks than found on later albums, Third Ear Band here makes excursions into improvised chamber music. In the opener, "Mosaic," which is at seven minutes one of the longest cuts, guitar meets recorder and violin in a disharmonic free jazz summit that fades away before building into a trancy mini-crescendo. On "Stone Circle," recorder lines interweave over an unadorned drum's repetitive rhythm. At times the recorder lines are so fluid and unnatural they sound like they're being played backwards -- which indeed they just might be. Generally the remainder of the tracks run the course between half-structured improv and droning chaos. Comparisons could be drawn to Soft Machine or the Dream Syndicate, but neither quite has the sense of "collective first" nor the repetitive insistence of Third Ear Band. The songs, to quote Sweeney again, are "alike or unlike as trees." For those even vaguely interested in the history of innovative music, Alchemy is worth hunting down.

Link1  Link2