TIMELESS

I remember where but not which.

The shop was in Princes Gate Arcade, down the end in a kind of cul-de-sac where only record hunters and lost commuters ended up. I remember a big window, counter, racks—sparsely distributed around a loungeroom-sized space—and bean bags where you could audition an LP of your choice under headphones and the watchful gaze of the hip staff. Euphoria Records. Well named indeed.

There is an aura, a kind of aesthetic elegance, surrounding ECM records. The covers display a house style that varies yet is instantly recognisable (not least due to the ever-present ECM moniker). Production values were high right from the inception of Manfred Eicher’s label. Jazz, but not as you know it.

That’s the section I used to browse, wanting to move beyond the Modern Jazz Quartet and late Teddy Wilson whose delicate dexterity had become accustomed like the bicycle route to a mate’s place; all the options are known and there’s safety in the cornering.

But ECM was an adventure above everyday streets, a lunge into rarefied air promising light-headed enchantment, magical realms of unfamiliar music, swirling currents and refracted melodies.

Intriguing in anticipation, captivating on immersion.

What was the first ECM record I bought? This or that?

When Return to Forever appeared in the post Faves and Waves no glowing pinpoint memory lit up on mental junction board. And when I featured the album last year I awarded it the genesis position for reasons of narrative economy, not from certainty. Of course it does not matter. It was either Chick Corea or John Abercrombie—I treasure them both.

Particularly right now, as I process the news that John Abercrombie has died, aged 72.

Timeless, his first album, signified a turning point in my musical journey I have no expectation that the wonder it delivered over forty years ago can be squeezed into words, nor the joy it brings to this day adequately transmitted. It marked a new country—exotic, engaging, a little confronting—at the edge of the existing map, at the borders of the known world. And here is something: I can easily imagine how Timeless could serve that function still.

A trio comprising Abercrombie on guitar, drummer Jack De Johnette and Jan Hammer on organ, synthesiser and piano, the music they made together does not slide easily into any category. Just the fact there is no bass player (Hammer providing the low-end pulse via his keys) marks this out as something not quite jazz, certainly not rock, but revealing a strong genetic influence of each.

The album opens with a funky, synthesised flurry of notes and melody. “Lungs” rocks along for a few bars before an abrupt change of pace, letting us know nice and early this is music brimming with invention and unexpected twists. Guitar and organ pass the swirls between each other like jugglers pitching fireworks that dart and sparkle. It’s a laugh, a blast, a conversation with an edge like a playful welcome slap that leaves a mark—show me what you got, well I got plenty enough for you. “Lungs’ seems shorter than it’s twelve minutes due to the parts. It’s a trilogy with the second section being slow, mysterious, spacious, introverted. Then some space-age synth funk from Jan Hammer lays the ground for some Abercrombie shafts of light. Meteor spurts over a purple beach. A party in your head doesn’t get much groovier than this, space cadet. Breath it in.

If “Love Song” is a love song, that’s some kinda love, as Margarita told Tom. Between thought and expression lies a lifetime*. Jan is on piano, John on guitar. It is exquisitely pretty, but in an off-kilter way, the not-unison-not-counterpoint playing of the two soloists meeting in the spaces as much as the moments of confluence. Marg and Tommy are not your average couple, that’s for sure.

If The Matrix had a cantina scene à la Star Wars, “Ralph’s Piano Waltz” could be the tune the be-shaded trio were grooving on. Triple time, yet as far from a Strauss waltz as can be imagined, De Johnette tosses the rhythm around with die-cut precision while Hammer lays out an organ background and some anchoring bass lines. Abercrombie juggles silver cutlery over the three course tune before an organ solo that evokes Bo Hansson’s folk-tinged explorations. They get fast but never frantic and change pace and rhythm with nonchalant ease. Superb, just superb.

Side two, in brief.

“Red and Orange”—more funky synth and cooking organ with insistent rocking guitar. Think Mahavishnu Orchestra on Mars, only even better.

“Remembering”—atmospheric and plaintive; an abstract ballad for piano and acoustic guitar.

“Timeless”—the album has a twelve-minute piece at either end. This title track could have been composed for the cover image (Art by Rolf Liese). Guitar over synthesised drones evoke a wide alien landscape populated by lines of guitar and organ in a slow, stately dance, movements at once enchanting and unfamiliar. This is progressive jazz-rock impressionism at its best, but don’t let any of those words put you off. First and foremost it is beautiful, and as strange as Circinus crystals showering from ancient suns.

Maybe you have caught something of my enduring delight in Timeless. Track it down and live with it a while. Play it in the morning when the sun glances through the kitchen window. Spin it late (or later) in the sensuous intimacy of a solo headphone encounter.

If you become a comrade, tell me.

Or don’t.

I’ll know by your smile anyway.

* No prize other than VC respect for identifying the lyric reference.

33 comments

  1. Wow, another name from the past. I did not know he had died nor had I thought about him for quite a while. I don’t know this album but I will definitely give it a spin. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As jazz-rock debut albums go, this one is a ripper, Jim. Not quite like anything else. If you track it down, hope you enjoy it!

      Like

      1. I actually listened to some of it and dug it. I had to go out but will take it from the top once I reconnect with it. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, what a fantastic album and one I was totally unfamiliar. Also, a great review on your part that made me rush to look this up online. Well done! I’ll be on the lookout for this on my future vinyl hunts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great Rick. I’d been intending to write about ‘Timeless’ for ages, and though it has been prompted now by a sad event, I’m sure JA would be pleased if others find his music.
      Cheers, Bruce.

      Like

  3. I like that juggler visual Bruce – and fast, without becoming frantic, sounds like my kind of speed.
    Nice post

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Geoff. There is quite a lot of jazz-rock that flashes frantically, so I’m chuffed to hear that the pace er, paced itself with/for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I know the name, but I’m not at all familiar with the music. I know we’ve discussed it before, but the feeling when someone who has had such important role in one’s musical journey passes is a strange one. I hope you find comfort in the grooves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Have been spinning quite a lot of Abercrombie across the weekend, James. Enjoying it too, which is the point I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A wonderful review. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks trancescripts. Bit o’ heart in this one.

      Like

  6. A totally new one to me Bruce, but your write up really does make me want to explore it. Job done!

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    1. Would love hearing any responses if you do, Joe. I have a theory that ‘Timeless’ could be a gateway album still (as it was for me). Would be more than happy for you to be a Tester. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Happily Bruce. My only misgiving is that I’m not much of a Jan Hammer fan.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Fair enough too.
          I like Jan (a) early career, and (b) more in collaboration (e.g.: this and Jeff Beck). This is still analogue, not the sheeny shiny digital sounds of the Miami Vice years.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Another great piece. I share your feelings on this record. I have a pretty good selection of ECM recordings but not near enough. ( Listening to Timeless right now on my morning laze. Good title. Sounding good. Interesting on the bass. Had me fooled.).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Delighted to find another ‘Timeless’ fan, CB. It’s a beaut.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It really is Bruce. I listened to it yesterday and forgot how good it was. Thanks. You nailed the over all album on your take. The band plays it hard at times and your MO reference was dead on. Then I hear the Bo Hanson similarities and it caught me off guard. I’m not a Bo expert but I could hear it. Keep them coming
        (Bruce do you remember a band called Jonesy out of the UK in your travels, Yes, Crimson like?)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Cheers CB. Yes, I have one Jonesy album. They’re amongst what one of my (non-prog loving) mates calls my love of ‘B-grade English prog’. Bit harsh, but not without some truth!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Ah. I knew it! I dropped a comment on ME’s site. I said you would know them. Yeah a bit of the “all over the place” but still some good moments.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Well the quote is VU, but that’s easy man. I often think of that phrase of Lou’s, ‘between thought and expression…there lies a lifetime.’ And I recall first hearing that, though its setting was not at all romantic. We did have some, mid-afternoon grass and filtered sun coming through. Kind of all you need with that record, sitting Indian-style on the carpet. Ahhhh. Situations arise…because of the weather.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely.
      And as we inch towards a stupid and decisive mail-order survey of views on marriage equality in this increasingly spineless country, the next line should be made into t-shirts immediately…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        No kinds of love are better than others? Amen. Spineless; love takes courage! And almost more so, acceptance.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. So much great writing on this site. Like this:

    “But ECM was an adventure above everyday streets, a lunge into rarefied air promising light-headed enchantment, magical realms of unfamiliar music, swirling currents and refracted melodies.

    Intriguing in anticipation, captivating on immersion.”

    Poetry…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Aaron. Sometimes the word-groove just carries you along and you reach the end hoping that it’s not all flowery rubbish!

      Like

      1. You do an amazing job, no rubbish here!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I have one album with De Johnette on it (1998’s Parallel Realities). Your superb write-up makes me want to hear this immediately.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. De Johnette is a fabulous drummer. I’d like to hear ‘Parallel Realities’ – it has Pat Metheny on guitar.
      And yes, I think you might well dig this one, KMA.

      Like

      1. I remember playing it and liking it (I think?) but I’d need to here it again to be sure. I’m down for anything with Metheny on it. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for this one here, see what comes my way…

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  11. “Circinus crystals” had me hastily Googling, the whole post had me even more frantically Spotifying. The Circinus search came up trumps but although Spotify recognises John Abercrombie’s Timeless album she refuses to play it. Sigh. It’s so annoying when you want to sample something you might want to buy and can’t. 😦

    Still, every cloud has a silver lining. ‘Timeless’ threw up ‘Poppy Ackroyd’ and after a longish diversion I added her first two albums to my digital music collection. That’s nothing like Abercrombie & co. but I’ll take it as a consolation prize.

    Like

  12. I got a chance to listen to this all the way through. Outstanding. One of the best fusion albums I think I’ve ever heard. I already texted my music buddy Steve and told him to listen to this. Although I’d be surprised if it’s not already in his collection. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s fantastic, Jim. Really chuffed you dug it. Thanks for the update!

      Liked by 1 person

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