CD review

OM – “It’s About Time”

OM – It’s About Time
(Intakt CD348 – Review by Peter Slavid)

As the excellent sleeve-notes to this album point out, there is always a risk when bands get back together after almost 50 years. We’ve all seen pop stars attempting to re-live their youth by sadly trotting out their old hits.

In the 1970s this Lucerne based band was an important part of the European free jazz movement, combining that with the spirit of the contemporary icons Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane. But this is no warmed up attempt to re-live past glories.

Urs Leimgruber on soprano and tenor saxophones has been consistently active in the free improvisation and new music arena since then. Christy Doran on electric guitar and devices was born in Dublin but also lives in Lucerne and brings some of the rock fusion influences. Bobby Burri on double bass and devices is now very accustomed to the use of electronics – often using them in solo bass concerts. Fredy Studer on drums, percussion, and bowed metal, has played in more conventional styles and also on an album of Jimi Hendrix music with Doran (and Phil Minton and Django Bates); a percussion ensemble (with Paul Motian, Pierre Favre and Nana Vasconcelos) and a classical group.

I can’t pretend that this music is instantly easy to listen to. At a first hearing, sections may sound like a random collection of sounds and noises, but then it will resolve into something rhythmic and powerful. The group is adept at building the tension from nothing up to a ferocious pitch before relaxing it again.

The opening track Like a Lake is fairly typical. The first two minutes are just sounds, quiet rumbling, rustling, some squeaking. Gradually the rumbling sounds turn into an increasingly dominant rhythm, and the squeaks turn into a melody, and by now you’re hooked. The melody is built from lots of distorted and bent notes, but the heavy beat drives it all forward, and then it gradually fades back to leave the sounds and then silence.

Fragments is (guess what) more fragmented. A few bars of a pounding beat with squealing sax on top. Then suddenly a quiet slow rhythm, and these two styles alternate until finally a sudden transition to single notes plucked on the guitar, a wavering sax, and a quiet finish

There’s no way anyone could mistake this for a retro comeback album. Apart from anything else most of the electronics wouldn’t have been possible in the 1970s. And yet the music is as fresh and innovative as anything you might hear from a group of youngsters.

Each time I listen to the album it sounds less complex and with each listening I suddenly hear new things. For me that’s the mark of really good improvised music.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on mixcloud.com/ukjazz and various internet stations

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