Wednesday, November 5, 2014

John Klemmer "Touch" (1975)

Sometimes the recording industry just isn't fair. The music industry as a whole can't reward all the players out there, especially in a world inundated with pop music icons and images to sell music. But even in the jazz field, guys like John Klemmer fall into that netherworld. The kind of sound he played in his heyday of the 1970's fusion boom was more technical, somber and prescribed to mood. Touch was one of those albums that defined his brand as a saxophone player.

You may have seen Klemmer's name in Steely Dan's Royal Scam, playing his signature repeat scaled notes on Caves of Altamira, a track whose theme was perfect for Klemmer's unique, entranced style of sax. John Klemmer kind of fell off the face of the earth by the mid-1980's after a few chained solo efforts -- a saxophone player different from the rest in that he plays a more ethereal, mystical kind of sax instead of, say, Tom Scott, David Sanborn or Wilton Felder funky sax. Klemmer made wonder with the saxophone, unlike many musicians of the time just playing fusion, Klemmer made soundscapes, all with the help of his own style but also the echoplex, or a tape delay effect that helps convey that mystical wonder of trailing of notes.

Touch is a real chill kind of album, you're not going to be funkin' to this like you might a Crusaders' recording or even the aforementioned Tom Scott & The L.A. Express. Perhaps this kind of jazz is more definitively trippy err, mood jazz but more raw than the commercialism fusion brought by way of disco and pop influences. Klemmer's Touch is a storybook with a glimmer of a far-off fantasy world on tracks like Tone Row Weaver and the George Duke (er, “Deorge Guke”) contribution on Waterwheels.

Touch lured a slew of impressive fusion players behind-the-scenes: the pre-GRP Dave Grusin, a still Crusadin' acoustic Larry Carlton, with whom also defined Steely Dan's Royal Scam, though his playing is more serene here, less strung out. You've even got L.A. Express' John Guerin on drums, the always in-demand Harvey Mason, too.

The album's sound throughout is consistent, tranquil but interesting -- with a primer of Fender Rhodes and solos (yes, a real treat for Rhodes fans) on each, Klemmer almost exclusively on tenor sax, some flutes here and there, and vocals kept right where they should be: brief. That last track Walk With Me My Love And Dream, Klemmer drops the sax for one-man instrumentation on layered flutes, rhodes and narration, which is hypnotic lullaby of flutism.

Touch may not have hit mainstream ears but was Klemmer's step-forward into his solo career long before slipping into oblivion after funk-fusion took a backseat to a vastly electronic age of fusion by the 1980's. For my ears, I've not heard anything quite like Touch or for that matter John Klemmer's free-form fusion (maybe Norihiko Hibino follows his work), which will take you to a far away land.

NOTABLE TRACKS: Tone Row Weaver, Body Pulse, Sleeping Eyes
COOL TO HEAR: “Deorge Guke” George Duke, Larry Carlton and Dave Grusin' guest spots
IT'S LIKE: stepping into a storybook fantasy world from the foggy 70's

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