John Klemmer






Waterfalls is a psychedelic Jazz recording of eight tracks with a cavalcade of shared Exotica particularities, envisioned by tenor saxophonist John Klemmer (born 1946) and his sextet, performed live at the Ash Grove Club in Los Angeles in June 1972 and, as the liner notes astutely claim, enchanted at The Village Recorder in the same city and month. The album offers a superb fusion of Exotica, Funk, Batucada and Ambient, but seriously, the Funk part of this list is probably the least stringent force that wafts around this aquatic LP. The front artwork suggests a wonderful magic world full of vivacious trees and valleys, but this is simply not applicable in the given arrangements which burst at the seams when it comes to glittering moonbeams, nocturnal cascades and nightly rivers. This feeling is fueled in large parts by the use of an electric Rhodes piano and plinking cymbals in tandem with the saxophone.


While there is not even one birdcall in sight, let alone the probably expected inclusion of water drops or liquid field recordings, Waterfalls paints a galactic yet humane and inhabitable void of drenched landscapes. Even though it is recorded in front of a live audience, the sound quality is unbelievably crisp, with the few cheers and handclaps of the audience hailing from a curious distance, as if they cross-faded from a parallel universe into the intrinsic world which John Klemmer and his band create. The sextet comprises the talents of Mike Nock on said electric piano, Eddie Marshall on the drums, Victor Feldman on various sparsely used and not overly exotic percussion devices, bassist Wilton Felder, vocalist Diana Lee who appears in two tracks, and last but not least John Klemmer on the tenor or soprano saxophone. Luring, cleaning and seductive: here’s a closer look at John Klemmer’s Waterfalls.


Prelude I functions as the introduction to the cascading movements of Waterfalls. Sure, its title states exactly that, for it is the reason of any prelude to make the listener comfortable with the things to come, without letting him- or herself immerse all too densely in the unfolding structures. It is therefore no surprise that this is a proper solo; only John Klemmer is heard on the tenor saxophone whose heavily convoluted and labyrinthine spirals are given enough time to let the listener fathom out the backdrop of nullity and blackness. There is a strong wideness in this piece, but it is not erected via blurred reverberations rather than soaked echoes created via Echoplex electronics. The result feels emaciated yet rich, and it is this bewildering gallimaufry which the listener must swallow in order to reach the dreamier parts of John Klemmer’s utopian gardens.


And eureka, Waterfall I is ameliorated by Wilton Felder’s thick bass riverbeds and the excited cheers of the audience which otherwise remains whisper-quiet and is blinded out completely during the performance. The feeling is laid-back and nocturnal, not yet as bright as the delicate artwork suggests. Victor Feldman only very cautiously ennobles the tenor saxophone-heavy coils with a cymbal and softened hi-hats once in a while, whereas Mike Nock’s Rhodes piano delivers glistening scintillae which superbly augment the moonlit spirit of purity. Notwithstanding the esoteric psychedelia, this is indeed a postmodern Exotica piece, one that grows larger during its climactic end which does not lead to a definite eruption rather than a stream of carefully maintained bliss… followed by the introduction of Mr. Nock on the piano. These instances might throw the listener out of the dreamworld, true, but Waterfalls I is simply too luring and enchanting to get hurt by these fragments of the real world.


Up next is the innermost core called Utopia: Man’s Dream which is divided into Part 1 and Part 2, having a total runtime of almost 13 minutes. The CD reissue merges both parts together, as it should be. Completely enthralling times are ahead of the listening subject: a cosmic mélange of languorous wind chimes, galactic Rhodes piano shards and yearning saxophone tones in tandem with Diana Lee’s vocal-related mimicry await the traveler. After approximately two minutes, the composition is revised by Eddie Marshall’s skillful drum protrusions. In the meantime, it turns out that Klemmer’s sax and Lee’s vocals are really glued to each other; there are several purely instrumental segues and interludes, but the temptress joins the silkened brazen effulgence time and again. The saxophone is clearly in the forefront, as is common in Klemmer’s album, and this fact does not diminish Mike Nock’s polyhedron piano crystals but only makes the backdrop a more interesting and luring underbrush to venture into. The aura is occasionally calcined by cheers and claps of the attendees, but only infrequently.


The moments of soothing quiescence are probably the most surprising revelation of Utopia: Man’s Dream. And indeed, once the saxophone is mute and lets bassist Felder, pianist Nock and percussionist Feldman interact with each other at the end of Part 1, the ensuing interdependency takes both the song and its arrangement to new heights. Instead of high billows of rapture, a more reduced, carefully kindled luminousness is reached which partially reaches the colors of the front artwork, but otherwise nurtures the positively ashen moonlit tropicana. Part 2 is not much different and relies on the same four-note alterations of the main theme.


Speaking of the susurrant darkness: There’s Some Light Ahead addresses the missing cavalcades of colors by injecting them into the uplifting arrangement. Eddie Marshall’s drums are ubiquitous, the five-note main theme on the saxophone is gorgeously accompanied and then exchanged with glistening sparks of electric piano prowess and the accordant backing chords which mesh very well with the heavier drums and shakers, especially so since Klemmer’s tenor saxophone is replaced by a soprano one; this newly introduced device is at the same time played in a more soothing, not all too protuberant fashion. The result is a classic Funk escapade of the sumptuously poeticized kind, strongly mellow and pristine.


However, nothing prepares the listener for the following Centrifugal Force, a fast-paced, eclectic yet accessible maelstrom of Diana Lee’s chants, Mike Nock’s heftily crystallized electric piano prongs, Eddie Marshall’s cymbalscapes, Wilton Felder’s bouncing bass runlets and… the omission of John Klemmer for exactly three minutes. Despite the joyously upbeat wind chime-underpinned aqua adventure, this trip never feels forceful nor staggering. There are many Ambient segues hidden in the alcoves of the titular centrifugal force, and even though the listener as well as the band are absorbed and soaked into its very center, the tune always feels like a reverie and an breakneck voyage. The simultaneity of these feelings only makes it stronger. The album ends the way it began by offering reinterpreted versions of the first two tracks: Prelude II is strongly tied to the first prelude and features anyone but John Klemmer on a reverb-affected tenor saxophone. Waterfall II, however, differs in that it weaves the theme of Waterfall I into a more groovy, city-like beat structure without neglecting the phantasmagoric luminescence of the album. This very beat is not dropped before the Ambient half of the tune is over, and even then the ambience takes over time and again, rounding the album off with the endemic Rhodes piano glitters and mellifluous saxophone tones.


John Klemmer’s Waterfalls is a strong concept album with an admittedly bewildering last third – a second prelude? Really? – and an ever-sparkling physiognomy whose complexion is potentially gelid and frosty, but strikingly heated by the interplay between the sextet. John Klemmer is naturally heard most of the time, but he allows his fellow band members to bathe as well in the limelight by delivering highly melodious segues whose textural range is awesomely tempting. This is obviously no clear-cut Exotica album, but if the genre had not faded away during the middle of the 60’s, chances are that John Klemmer’s album would have provided one possible missing connection to the graceful, exhilarative and nocturnal moirés of the late 50’s indeed. I deem Mike Nock’s Rhodes piano as essential as the tenor saxophone, especially so since its purified omnipresence is, as the word already explicates, all over the album and rarely ever silent except in the two preludes.


This is a Jazz album alright, one with quickly vesiculating build-ups, ebullient shapes and structures, but there is never a dull moment or a designedly off-putting eclecticism that prevents birdcall-smarmed Exotica listeners from enjoying the coziness-augmenting textures. Sure, there are vintage listeners who do not want their beloved genre to be pestered with electronic devices. In this regard, they may well skip Waterfalls, but contemporary listeners in search of fast-paced, varied takes should pre-listen to Centrifugal Force and see whether it suits their fancy, whereas followers of the Ambient Exotica movement (hehe) will be pleased with all other tracks. Waterfalls is available on vinyl, CD and remastered download versions on Amazon MP3, iTunes and cohorts.


Exotica Review 255: John Klemmer – Waterfalls (1972). Originally published on Aug. 31, 2013 at