How many of you would believe that keyboardist Bob James - one of the founding fathers of smooth/contemporary jazz - recorded a now, minor-classic free-jazz and experimental venture, originally issued on ESP-Disk back in 1965? And did you also know that pop-jazz saxophonist Gato Barbieri originally gained notoriety as a hard-blowing modern jazz ace? For some, these factoids might garner a chuckle or two. However, this 2008 reissue is no laughing matter, although some of the "electronic tape collage" passages, performed with Bob Ashley and Gordon Mumma are downright hilarious, yet cutting-edge for the timeframe.
James bends and plucks his acoustic piano strings while collaborating with renowned bassist Barre Phillips and drummer Robert Pozar; hence the core trio. But James’ free-form expansions and explosions pack a mind-bending wallop. In a loose manner, some of these musings sound quite fresh. With the rhythm section’s rumbling enactments and the pianist’s abbreviated improvisation segments, the band casts an unlikely sequence of musical events.
James intertwines and streams melodic intervals into the avant movements in concert with a few cosmic burnouts. Strange sounds appear and fade into oblivion as the trio works through numerous mini-motifs that somehow make sense. Then on the two tracks with Ashley and Mumma, you’ll hear sped up reel-to-reel tape passages that sound like cartoon-ish characters to complement a few radio-like voice overs. And with other wacky implementations, it would seem that James and associates invented the groundwork for future electronics performers, although this is probably not a broad-based truism.
Interestingly enough, the album notes state: "In 1974, having garnered several gold records, he returned to visit ESP on the ground floor at 290 West End Avenue, in New York City. Lounging in a swing back leather chair, he commented that he thought his ESP album was the best one he had ever made." To that end, few if any artists were morphing such peculiar frameworks into a then young, free-jazz platform. James launches a serious-minded assault on your neural network here! (Zealously recommended.... )