EXTEMPORA / PATUMI: Attacca. BRENNAN: West 9th Street. One for Bob. Intermezzo. Warsaw for Saw/Eleven-One. Fille Rouge. Cascades. PaniConversations Nos. 1 & 2. LINDVALL: The Story of the Noble Knight. The True Story of the Noble Knight. Milesamkeit. GOODMAN: March of the Little People.* PAGO LIBRE: Big Mama Takes a Shower + / Pago Libre: Lars Lindvall, tpt/fl-hn/prepared tpt/perc/whistle; Steve Goodman, vln/singing saw/*voice/+bass/whistle; John Wolf Brennan, pno/prepared pno/pocket synth/ +vln/xymb; Daniele Patumi, bs/*bodhrán; plus #Gabriele Hasler, voc / Leo Records LR 930
This is a real rarity for Leo Records, the intrepid avant-garde jazz label from England: a reissue of an album originally put out by a different label. In this case, it is Pago Libre’s very first CD from 32 years ago (1990), originally released on an Italian label called Splasc(h) Records (CDsII 314-2, see cover and label art below). Perhaps the most interesting thing about this recording is that the only surviving member of the group today is pianist-composer John Wolf Brennan, yet the original musicians’ names contributed to the group name—PAtumi, GOodman, LIndvall, BREnnan—and this has been retained to today despite an entirely different lineup aside from Brennan.
From the very first notes of Attacca, however, we hear strong similarities between the “ancient” and modern versions of the group, starting with the edgy string tremolos that open the piece, followed by lyrical trumpet lines that, for better or worse, have no effect on the onslaught of sound. But it only lasts 1:25 before we jump into the surprisingly lyrical and swinging, albeit bitonal, Brennan piece West 9th Street. If there is ant noticeable difference between Pago Libre then and now, it is that Splasc(h) recorded them with much more reverb around the instruments whereas Leo’s recordings have a more focused acoustic.
And the band is certainly having fun on West 9th Street, mixing American and French swing styles with outré harmonies to produce a fascinating hybrid. Although this piece is over eight minutes long, we don’t get the first extended solo until nearly halfway into it, and that is by Brennan on piano, followed by Goodman (not to be confused with the more famous and, in his own way, equally talented American folk singer of the same name) on violin. But this is indicative of this early version of Pago Libre: they seem to have been much more of an ensemble than a collection of soloists, by which I mean that what the group played was often more interesting than what the soloists could do by themselves. As someone who was initiated into jazz via big band recordings as a child, I surely appreciate this style of jazz much more than the freewheeling solo-oriented style, because to my ears it has more form. Even Brennan’s less dense but more extended solo near the end of the piece feeds into the ensemble.
Lars Lindvall’s little fairy tales The Story of the Noble Knight and the True Story of the Noble Knight are certainly strange, the first a short narration with musical “sound effects” in the background, the second a musical composition with no narration at all. This one evolves into an extended duet between bassist Patumi and pianist Brennan, followed by a lyrical violin solo. Brennan increases both the tempo and tension with gradually faster piano chords, with the trumpet and other instruments eventually falling in.
Indeed, one of the noticeable features of Pago Libre’s first album is that several of the pieces swing, and swing was something that had already disappeared from most modern jazz by 1990. I was, then, quite delighted with the overall impact of the music. There’s even a nice walking bass in One for Bob behind Lindvall’s trumpet solo.
But not everything on this disc works. I found Brennan’s long, convoluted Intermezzo to be a jumbled hodgepodge of ideas that never really coalesce, nice though some of them are (including a nice solo on the bodhrán [frame drum] by Patumi). Cascades also rambles a bit too much, going nowhere in its second half. Sometimes, experimental music, even when primarily tonal as it is here, runs the risk of trying to do too much and not quite achieving its goals. Yet there are clearly some unique moments here, particularly Warsaw for Saw/Eleven-One which is one of those rare impressionistic pieces that holds together, goes somewhere, and is not mawkish, drippy music, which you hear far too often nowadays. Yes, it does ramble a bit in the musical saw solo, but even here it is the overall impression and mood of the music that stays with you. March of the Little People is truly bizarre, a comical piece with an unintelligible, high-pitched vocal about something while the group thumps away in the background. In his own Fille Rouge, Brennan switches to prepared piano to create an almost Harry Partch-like piece..and yet, Patumi’s bass still swings in a funky way.
This CD gives a very good sound picture of where Pago Libre was in 1990 and shows the basis for their later developments. Some pieces, as I said, don’t develop well, but most are swinging, innovative and fascinating. In toto, a really interesting album of diverse pieces in different styles.
—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley
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