Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Tom van der Geld and Children at Play "Patience"

Patience is the second of four of Tom van der Geld’s “Children at Play” albums recorded between 1973 and 1980. The group’s first record, Children at Play (issued 1975), and the last, Out Patients (1980), were issued by the West German JAPO (“Jazz by Post”) label that has something to do with ECM Records (several of the JAPO titles have been reissued by ECM). Patience, the group’s second record, and Path, the group’s third recording, were issued by ECM.

Each of the four “Children at Play” records has an entirely different group structure and a suitably differing sound. On Patience, vibraphonist Tom van der Geld completes a quartet of fellow American ex-pats including Roger Jannotta on various reed instruments, Kent Carter on bass and Bill (aka Billy) Elgart on drums.

Not coincidentally, all four participating musicians came out of the Berklee School of Music - van der Geld and Jannotta lectured there during the early 1970s – and, more interestingly, both Carter and Elgart, who played together in Lowell Davidson’s band after attending Berklee themselves, were a vital part of New York’s thriving free-jazz scene during the mid-1960s.

Even more curiously, all four musicians left the United States shortly before this recording and have not since returned. Not surprisingly, all four found Europe to be a greater bastion of musical and artistic freedom than the United States proved to be. While musical fads have come and gone since then, these four have held steadfast to their musical beliefs. Thankfully, all four musicians are still actively performing. But Tom van der Geld and Bill Elgart are now better known in Germany than the United States, and both are probably more famous as academicians than musicians.

Tom van der Geld was born in Boston in 1947 and since 1974 has resided in Germany. Currently he lives and works in Cologne. He also factors on Kenny Wheeler’s 1979 ECM recording Around 6 and several recordings with longtime German resident and Hungarian ex-pat, clarinetist Lajos Dudas.

Reed player Roger Jannotta, who appears on all four of the “Children at Play” records, was born in Chicago in 1943, and since 1978, has been a resident of Munich. He can also be heard on many of Carla Bley’s big band recordings like The Very Big Carla Bley Band, Appearing Nightly, The Carla Bley Big Band Goes To Church and Big Band Theory as well as Michael Mantler’s The School of Understanding and Hide and Seek.

Bassist Kent Carter was born in 1939 in New Hampshire, though he grew up in Vermont, and currently resides in the south-west region of France. Carter has led many of his own groups, performed and recorded as a soloist and played with many groups including the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra and as part of Paul Bley’s Touching and, most notably, as Steve Lacy’s bassist from 1965 to 1982.

Drummer Bill Elgart, who appears on CaP’s Patience and Out Patients as well as Paul Bley’s Mr. Joy, was born in 1942 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has been in Europe since 1976 and currently resides in Ulf, Germany.

Recorded in May 1977 in Ludwigsburg, Germany, Patience requires a bit of, ah, patience to appreciate. But like its title, such virtue helps one to enjoy what the participants aim to achieve and rewards in a creative musical experience that requires more than one or two cursory listens would ever provide.

Make no mistake. This is creative, mostly all improvised music. It is not the angry out-and-out exploratory music free-jazz players plied during the 1960s, but rather the investigative music of inward journeys; reflective and collective in the sense of certain attainment and enlightenment, what many neatly label now as “spiritual.” Here, the players combine to achieve a particular sonic end, not proclaim any sort of protest. Some may find that indulgent. But after all, most any form of creative music is indulgent. It’s up to the listener to choose the road less traveled and accept the beauty of what he or she experiences along the way.

Patience blossoms with beauty. A vibes-led quartet has great appeal and ECM had earlier done much featuring Gary Burton in such settings and, later, did so with David Friedman. Tom van der Geld is an interesting, though not outstanding, player. He’s certainly not constructed your typically rhythmic jazz event. Indeed, one could argue that music like this and other such explorations that Paul Horn had begun dabbling in at the time gave birth to the surprisingly un-jazzlike “New Age” craze that arose in the 1980s. At the time of Patience, improvisation could still attain a purity of beauty that was assuredly creative and not as easily reckoned as New Age.

The program on Patience consists of five rather longish explorations: two by van der Geld (the Debussy-like “Patience” and the lovely ballad “Alison,” which seems to require further exploration), two by Jannotta (“Golden Stabs,” and the seemingly Dolphy-inspired “Celia”) and one (“And Then…”) credited to the entire group. The “melodies,” such as they are, seem more like the spontaneous creations Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette are now justly celebrated for on such ECM outings as Changes, Changeless, Always Let Me Go and Inside Out.

The tunes are neither hummable nor as immediately memorable as one might hope for or expect. Like many ECM records of the period, this is about what happens when a group of musicians comes together to collaborate and see what results – the genesis of all great jazz. Check your expectations at the door. Producer Manfred Eicher always prefers collaborations like this of the unexpected. And Patience delivers.

These four have an articulate chemistry together that is almost telepathic. A sense pervades that the collage of sound the quartet has assembled here reflects or refracts a sort of scenic particularity, a rain-streaked soundtrack of a gray-ish day: beautiful, but not pretty; messy, but not without reason. It’s like telling your kid they shouldn’t do something you know they need to do: children at play.

I would describe the mood here as one that is mysteriously contemplative. The titles don’t often lend themselves to descriptive progressions the musicians take to journal their individual or collective journeys. But the trip is well worth the experience anyway. All the musicians seem to listen as much, if not more than, respond in kind to the abundant imagination the others display. Each one seems to be on the other’s wavelength. Each one knows where the other is coming from.

The album’s very best moments are its jazziest. First there is Jannotta’s almost fusion-y “Golden Stabs,” the most composed sounding piece heard here. It is also the most rhythmic and seemingly coordinated piece too. Jannotta leads on soprano sax and buffers van der Geld’s best solo on the record with a gorgeous ostinato on bass clarinet, no doubt inspired by Bennie Maupin. Carter, who is resplendently inspired, and Elgart are terrifically animated here as well.

The quartet comes to life again on the ten-minute group improvisation “And Then…”, suggesting a jazz take on one of Steve Reich’s mallet-oriented compositions as if phase-shifted through Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band (interestingly, ECM captured Mwandishi members Bennie Maupin and Julian Priester’s initial solo forays several years earlier). Again, the ostinato provides an enticing framework for some inside, or “outside within,” improvisation. But the high level of playing suggests that there was a unity of feeling and emotion in the sounds this quartet was striving to achieve.

Perhaps alienation loves company. But such alienation may also explain why Patience has yet to show up on CD or digital download. It’s certainly worth tracking down on vinyl. Patience is, indeed, its own reward.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff. I sure wish I had spent the last 35 years in Germany and France.