From Meditation Music To Whaling Songs, 2 New Records Showcase Berendt's Mashups
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. German jazz historian, musicologist and record producer Joachim-Ernst Berendt was an early champion of so-called world music who'd sometimes combine players from far-flung traditions. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews two cross-cultural rarities Berendt produced in the late 1960s. One features clarinetist Tony Scott. The other begins with an English whaling song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ICY ACRES")
WILKIE AND HART: (Singing) Fare thee well, ye banks of Greenland, weary whalers homeward bound. Home where grasses lace the willow, by the rivers running free, and the waters sweetly flowing, turn toward the open sea.
KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Producer Joachim-Ernst Berendt had a good ear for how various musical systems worked, and he put together players from diverse traditions out of curiosity as much as anything. That made for some bizarre and entertaining albums, including two in the MPS label's ongoing series of download reissues. On the album "Wild Goose," English folk singers Colin Wilkie and Shirley Hart met German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff's rowdy jazz band. The most fascinating moments come when one style gives way to the other. It's as if a wooden hootenanny stage suddenly turns the glass to reveal an alternate reality churning below.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOURTH FLIGHT")
WILKIE AND HART: (Singing) Fly like the last cadenza as the song is ending wild goose, wild goose fly.
WHITEHEAD: That's Heinz Sauer on tenor saxophone. Nothing else sounded like that in 1969, although the English folk band Pentangle already peppered their live sets with Charles Mingus tunes. Anything you can think of there is usually a precedent. Another of producer Berendt's cross-cultural mash-ups paired American clarinetist Tony Scott with the so-called Indonesian all-stars on the album "Djanger Bali." The all-stars play a mix of jazz tunes and what sound like swinging versions of Indonesian traditional music, sometimes employing deep bass gongs from a gamelan percussionist orchestra. Indonesians have been playing jazz since the 1920s and Western improvisers drew on exotic-sounding scales in the '60s. So this mix wasn't so far-fetched. This is the all-star saxophonist Marjono.
(SOUNDBITE OF TONY SCOTT AND THE INDONESIAN ALL STARS SONG, "DJANGER BALI")
WHITEHEAD: That mix of jazz instruments and gamelan gongs is exotic in a good way. The music only gets weirder when clarinetist Tony Scott dives in. He sounds more liberated by the meeting than pianist Bubi Chen and his crew. Scott had been visiting Indonesia and other Asian locales for years and had already made his dreamy classic "Music For Zen Meditation." Here he takes a more aggressive role as if trying to push his colleagues out of their comfort zone. The cross-cultural rhythmic interaction gets intricate, and they find ways to bind their sounds together. That's Jack Lesmana on guitar.
(SOUNDBITE OF TONY SCOTT AND THE INDONESIAN ALL STARS SONG, "GAMBAND SULING")
WHITEHEAD: Tony Scott with the Indonesian All Stars in 1967. There were precedents for this mix, too, mainly John Mayer and Joe Harriott's then recent fusion of jazz and Indian music, but though here the interplay is a little more fluid. I don't generally like the term experimental music, but it kind of fits here. A layering of different approaches to harmony and rhythm lead to some odd textures as on the evergreen "Summertime." But that's how it is when experimenters experiment. Not everything pans out but sometimes they discover good things that they hadn't gone looking for.
(SOUNDBITE OF TONY SCOTT AND THE INDONESIAN ALL STARS SONG, "SUMMERTIME")
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and TONEAudio and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Wild Goose" and "Djanger Bali," two download reissues on the MPS label.
Tomorrow on FRESH AIR - how a group of wealthy conservatives changed American politics. Our guest will be journalistic Jane Mayer. In her new book "Dark Money," she offers some revelations about the family of industrialists Charles and David Koch. And she tracks a network of think tanks, nonprofits and political committees that spent hundreds of millions on a libertarian agenda. I hope you'll join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.