Monday, January 30, 2012

Cluster, CLUSTER 71

Also referred to as simply CLUSTER; the Bureau B reissue uses this title, while the Water reissue and others use CLUSTER 71

Philips, 1971; reissued several times, most recently by Water and Bureau B; available

3 tracks, 44:29

The duo of Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius probably need no introduction. Having started out in Kluster with legendary sound sculptor Conrad Schnitzler* and equally legendary producer/audio manipulator Conny Plank, they continued on as Cluster with a C. While they would eventually explore all manner of electronic music (including albums with Brian Eno and Harmonia, a collaboration with Neu!'s Michael Rother), their debut finds them in a distinctly cosmic drone space. The tracks are titled "15:33", "7:38", and "21:17". Needless to say, this is also their respective lengths! The really neat thing is, much like Klaus Schulze's IRRLICHT, not a single synth was used on this album. Instead, Roedelius and Moebius create their fascinating bleeps and drones using organs, tone generators, Hawaiian slide guitars, cellos, found objects such as alarm clocks, and various effects pedals. Alternately forboding and relaxing, this is true space music that doesn't stay in one place for long while also not devolving into a noisy free-for-all (not that there's anything wrong with noisy free-for-alls!). These tracks were apparently improvised, but they have noticeable patterns and progressions that make for an engaing listen. Part of this is due to Conny Plank's production, which manipulates the sounds in real time. Plank was essentially the third member for this album. I personally consider this the essential Cluster purchase. Their later albums tend to be a bit different; CLUSTER II is the closest in spirit to 71, even though its use of synths makes for a notably different sound.  Other albums can be anything from electro-dub to Kraftwerky synthpop. Also recommended is the previously mentioned Harmonia.

*Check back soon for a review of the three-disc box set, containing Kluster's KLOPFZEICHEN, ZWEI-OSTEREI, and ERUPTION!

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Impulse!, 2001; available

3 tracks, 63:46

While the late John Coltrane needs no introduction, this album definitely deserves a better reputation. Taking up tenor and soprano sax, Coltrane is accompanied by drummer Rashied Ali, pianist (and wife) Alice Coltrane, Bata drummer Algie DeWitt, bassist Jimmy Garrison, Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax, and a percussionist who was possibly Jumma Santos*. This show was the first of two concerts performed on April 22 of 1967 at New York's Olatunji Center. After a brief introduction by Billy Taylor, the group launches into an extended free-form version of "Ogunde". Based on an Afro-Brazilian folk tune, it's completely ferocious high-energy jazz. Coltrane and Sanders trade screeches and fluid lines, with Sanders providing most of the former. Alice and Garrison do a good job, but admittedly the rough recording quality makes a lot of their contributions inaudible. The three percussionists, on the other hand, are VERY audible throughout. The constant crash of standard kit drums and exotic percussion never lets up, and by the time "Ogunde"'s twenty-eight minutes are over, you wonder how it could possibly get more intense. A brief respite comes with Garrison's extended introductory bass solo on "My Favorite Things". This mellow rhythmic excursion is soon transformed into an extended (34:38 with the bass solo!) version of that old chestnut. Don't expect this to be ANYTHING like the "My Favorite Things" you know! This is easily one of the most intense performances caught on tape, and by the time it's over you wish the second show of the day (and the May 7th concert, Coltrane's last) had been recorded. Unfortunately, the previously mentioned audio deficiencies have cast a negative light on this album. Most listeners have complained it's bootleg quality; well, this was recorded for a radio broadcast and not for general release. I personally think the sound quality adds to this particular recording's ferocity and energy, and wholeheartedly recommend it to free jazz fans.

*Yes, the credits say "possibly". Nobody seems to remember if this percussionist was Jumma Santos or somebody else, but the odds are in Santos' favor.