Reviews by Massimo Ricci

The A23H chronicle


This Earth! (ECM 1264)

In 1983, ECM’s honcho Manfred Eicher “nominated” Alfred Harth as the musical director of This Earth!, with the chance of choosing the participants to the ensuing recording. The lineup is astrophysical: Maggie Nicols, Paul Bley, Barre Phillips and Trilok Gurtu assist the record’s nominal proprietor along nine chapters entirely composed by him. The target was, in the principal’s words, “to contribute to help rising the ecological consciousness at that time, and point out the preciousness of the planet we are living on. Three years later Tchernobyl happened and set a new sign within the ecological movement..”

Lots of literary foundations and personal discoveries are infused in this creation, officially released in 1984. Sri Aurobindo, Alan Watts’ The Wisdom Of Insecurity, Abraham Maslow (already quoted in the past in a Goebbels & Harth track, “Life Can Be A Gestalt In Time”). And then, Fritz Perls, Stanislav Grof, John C. Lilly’s studies on dolphin communication, Ken Wilber, Michael Murphy. Harth was, and still is, deeply interested and moved by the exploration of the “extraordinary human potentials”; to this day, he declares himself a follower of Transhumanism.

Accordingly, a number of selections amount to a direct allusion to the improvement of the individual. “Relation To Light, Colour And Feeling” begins with a poised yet intense dialogue between Bley and Phillips to open up in spacious linearity, splendidly rendered in unison by Nicols and Harth, Gurtu adding a few percussive flavours when Nicols starts vocalizing more abstractly. “Body And Mentation” is one of the most lyrical episodes of an uncharacteristically “tranquil” record as opposed to the Frankfurter’s standards, a beautiful counterpoint branded by the inner confidence of musicians who know how to move in and around a composition even when blindfolded. The chief’s tenor leads the dance with a poignant invocation, and nothing needs to be said anymore when that heartfelt call gives room to a sizeable measure of stirring passion. “Energy: Blood/Air” is a moderately swinging piece whose melodic jitteriness approaches post-bop territories - chiefly articulated by Nicols’ scatting - and another curious setting for the notions of Harth, who accompanies the English singer with a tone that could easily be defined as classic. A concise assertion by Bley is delivered in straightforward fashion, Phillips closing the segment with a solo of his own.

Gurtu opens “Come Oekotopia” with suggestive echoes, then a sax/bass duet enters the picture in somewhat edgy conversation. Again, it’s the main actor who steals the show with a trademark dramatic departure before the English vocalist joins in. The opening of “Waves Of Being” might be compared to certain pages from Lindsay Cooper’s book, a smart chapter of modern-day chamber flair instantly pushed towards liberal swing by Bley and Phillips, who exchange ideas and energies like two well informed friends. The succeeding passages - arcoed strings and bass clarinet proceeding jointly, holding hands in stunning beauty - are an authentication of the kind of artistic brilliance able to reallocate a tune from “normal” to “attractive” with a simple idea. The final “Transformate, Transcend Tones And Images” is sung by Nicols over an arco bass/piano rarefaction, evoking shades of Julie Tippetts ancestry. An appropriate winding up for a program that never really exalts or excites, but keeps us with the mind positively firm and the ears constantly vigilant, catching small signs and slight changes that nevertheless weigh a lot in the sonic economy.

This is an effort that discards histrionically charged gestures, revealing a different side of Harth. This man’s presence on ECM has been infrequent to say the least but – in the moments in which it occurred – some outstanding concepts surfaced in unpredicted ways, unquestionably distant from the lows to which the label has recurrently crumbled down from the almost unreachable benchmarks of its glorious times. Not a surprise that we’re still waiting for an official reissue of This Earth! – exactly the same thing that is happening with the historically essential Just Music.

In Temporary Fault