Friday, 17 August 2018

Mark Isham / Art Lande - We Begin (1987)

Another 80s ECM one-off; the decade in the label's history that never ceases to make me think "wow, that's just gorgeous" or "seriously, wtf?", or sometimes both, as in the case of We Begin.  Recorded by Rubisa Patrollers Mark Isham and Art Lande in January 1987, on its release later that year We Begin must've caused a bit of consternation among even hardened ECM fans when they heard its opening moments.  Anyone who stuck with the album, though, will have found another minor classic to cherish.

That first sound on opening track The Melancholy Of Departure is a drum machine; not just a low-key accompaniment, but a full minute of big, brash beats before Isham's trumpet and synth join in.  His lovely, contemplative melody continues to unfold with subtle piano from Lande; their stately progression completely at odds with the unchanging, Trans Midwest Express rhythm galloping away in the background.  This pairing sounds so wrong at first that it's almost comical, but after a few listens I was hooked on it.  The eerie ambience of Ceremony In Starlight that follows is another weirdly appealing piece, and not just for how uncannily Jon Hassell-like Isham sounds.

The rest of the album, apart from a lengthy shared composition, switches Lande into the driving seat.  The absolutely gorgeous title track shows what the album's opener would be like without the beats, before some subtler percussion is added back in for the brief Lord Ananea.  On the album's second half, the 10-minute Surface And Symbol is arguably the album's most successful exploration of rhythm and texture, with Isham layering his trumpet parts over the insistent percussion.  After that, we get a lovely Lande piano solo in Sweet Circle, and a fanfare duet to close.  All in all, one of the most memorable oddities in the ECM catalogue; it Sometimes shouldn't work, but in Isham and Lande's hands just does.

mega / zippy

7 comments:

  1. Thanks again Alan for bring more ECM wonders to light

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  2. That first track is the albums's standout, IMO. And if you're implying the drum machine was a new thing, I would direct you backwards two and half years or so to Shankar's Song For Everyone, which has rather prominent drum machine throughout. WITH Trilok Gurtu and Zakir Hussain also there. Which takes a certain type of genius to pull off.

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    1. that's the one with Garbarek, isn't it? Haven't listened to it for years, thanks for the memory-jog. Will dust that one off.

      Not meaning the drum track on the opener was a novelty as such (although it may have been for some listeners); just that at that timbre and tempo it sounds incongruous with what follows. I absolutely adore it too, found Isham's main melody stuck in my head for most of yesterday evening.

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  3. Nice to know there are people in the world who still listen closely to rare tunes. Keep up the good listening everybody! Nice work Alan!

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  4. Hmm, I might be double-commenting. Anyway: At this point, nothing surprises me about Mark Isham. Around this period, he recorded the soundtrack for the Afghani/Soviet war film "The Beast (of War)." If you haven't heard it, it sounds like a very good Nils Petter Molvaer album years too soon. My brother, a veteran of the Iraq war and generally into industrial pop like Nine Inch Nails at the time, was a big fan of this soundtrack album.

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    1. cheers for the recommend - I'm definitely intending to explore Isham further.

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  5. This is an amazingly aesthetically beautiful melding of jazz and electronic music and sort of threw me for a curve back in the 1980s when it was released because Art doesn't record with electronics at all. Art and Ishams two previous collaboration as Rubisa Patrol are incredible ECM records and still sound very modern today. Good luck finding a copy of The Beast that was s/t is very rare I have a copy if you want let me know Alan as you have been most generous to us! I also have the s/t to the Hitcher which oddly sounds alot like some of the stuff Isham recorded on his Vapor Drawings another classic!

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