Monday, 10 October 2016

AM 4 ‎- ... and she answered: (1989)

AM 4 (A Monastic Quartet) were a short-lived trio (yes, the oddness starts right there) featuring US-born (transplanted to Vienna since the late 70s) avant-jazz singer Linda Sharrock and two Austrians, pianist Uli Scherer and reedsman Wolfgang Puschnig.  Their only album was released in 1989 by ECM, and remains a fascinating outlier even by the standards of the label's more curious backwaters.

Right from the start, ...and she answered sounds like the soundtrack to a lost David Lynch concept centred around a mid-European 80s jazz club.  The eerily nocturnal Streets And Rivers features semi spoken/whispered vocals over a bed of keyboards and keening sax, with Sharrock wordlessly echoing the sax melody every so often.  But don't be lulled into a false sense of relaxation - the title track, of sorts (see dl link for the full track title) is an ear-splitting reed blast shadowed again by Sharrock's vocal, and underscored by doomy piano notes.  Towards the end this all becomes somewhat reminiscent of Side 2 of Bowie's Heroes, like Sense Of Doubt colliding with Neukoln.

Among otherwise original material are a couple of covers - Ornette Coleman's Lonely Woman features the lyrics written by singer/songwriter Margo Guryan (and originally recorded by jazz singer Chris Connor in 1962), and Over The Rainbow gets the AM4 treatment with shards of piano and ghostly flute all over the place.  Sharrock sings the latter freely but respectfully, mostly faithful to the original melody, which just makes the finished piece sound even more bizarre.

And don't miss Far Horizon - written solely by Sharrock, it's arguably the most conventional track here, not least in its opening sung lines, and it's possibly the highlight of the album.  Also the longest track, Far Horizon features Puschnig and Scherer first filling in the background and then starring in a great middle section, where Sharrock freely vocalises over them in gorgeous whoops.  Give this album a try - there's nothing quite like it.

And she answered: "When you return to me, I will open the cage door, I will let the red bird flee."

2 comments:

  1. This looks interesting. I have come across other recordings with each of these players involved but I don't think I have ever heard Linda Sharrock. I look forward to listening. Many thanks.

    -Brian

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    1. For a while this was the only Linda Sharrock recording I'd heard too - looked her up recently to see if she was still performing, and she is - still pushing the limits of jazz vocalising, despite having had a stroke in 2009. I recommend They Begin To Speak from earlier this year:
      http://www.improvising-beings.com/#ib46

      Meant to mention some of that in the writeup, thanks for the memory jog!

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