Wednesday, December 25, 2013

David Darling: Cycles

The ECM label specializes in jazz with a European bent, though such a generalization is not entirely accurate. The music tends to be very atmospheric and usually experimental, with eclectic cover art to match. When the Windham Hill label started, it was ECM Records they tried to emulate. As a result, and after the fact, ECM has been lumped in with the New Age category. True, there are some similarities between performers and even content, but it’s an unfair dismissal. Trying to describe an ECM record is like dancing clumsily, badly and loudly about Architectural Digest.
Since their inception, the label has boasted many big names in jazz, including Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny. One of their more successful pairings was the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble male vocal quartet. Just because you like one ECM record doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll like another—or any other—but their standard is of such high quality that once you’re in, anything they do is worth checking out. Some of our favorite recordings have emerged this way, including Pat Metheny’s New Chautauqua, Ralph Towner’s Diary, Eberhard Weber’s Later That Evening, Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert, The Hilliard Ensemble’s Lamentations Of Jeremiah and Jan Garbarek’s I Took Up The Runes.
Garbarek, a favorite of label owner and producer Manfred Eicher, was essentially the reason why ECM Records got started. In addition to his own vast discography, he appears on many albums in the ECM catalog, including one of the brightest of the hidden gems in the history of music. Cycles is credited to the cellist David Darling, but is essentially an ensemble piece, with prominent contributions on every track from Garbarek, Steve Kuhn on piano, Arild Andersen on bass, Oscar Castro-Neves on guitar, and the late, great Colin Walcott (most famous for his work in Oregon with Ralph Towner) on sitar, tabla and percussion.
The opener, “Cycle Song”, features a series of relative chords in fifths, not dissimilar to “Thanksgiving” from George Winston’s December. The combination of piano and cello was the sound our mind’s ear had heard for years, finally realized. “Cycle One: Namasté” offers a spooky little theme for Garbarek to spring from, and something of a setup for the epic, aptly-titled “Fly”. Side two begins almost abruptly with “Ode”, which was originally recorded under the title “Ode To A Fillmore Dressing Room” on Icarus by the Paul Winter Consort. “Cycle Two: Trio” and “Cycle Three: Quintet And Coda” are lengthy yet engrossing extrapolations on similar themes. The closing “Jessica's Sunwheel” is almost an anticlimax, as it breaks out of the predominantly modal structures of the previous tracks.
This hardly does justice to the experience of hearing the album itself, and Cycles is not for everyone. It works best at dusk, on grey rainy mornings, and particularly on yuletide nights with only the lights of the tree on. The ECM site doesn’t offer audio samples, but Amazon does. Since the label has never gone overboard promoting any of their releases, it’s never been easy to find. We got it as a gift one wonderful Christmas, in a pile of secondhand LPs selected for their importance to the giver in the hope that we’d appreciate them too. And we did. If it resonates with you, Constant Reader, then there’s a chance it might lead to you other wonderful albums as well. Isn’t it great when music does that?

David Darling Cycles (1982)—4

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