Saxophonist John Klemmer (born 1946) is one of the greatest artists when it comes to the supercharged albeit fuzzy genre coinage called Fusion which means many things to even more people, deriving its nucleic energy from Funk splinters, Easy Listening chords, Cool Jazz preons and that Saturday night aura which is increasingly alienated as the listener lifts off in order to reach the cosmos. Klemmer’s own works such as Magic And Movement (1974) sometimes prove to be problematic in terms of their focus, embracing esoteric erethism, gyring around galactic halides, shimmering in verglas hues. Arabesque doesn’t sport an amethystine kaleidoscope though. In fact, it is comparatively parochial and simply provides the normalcy of Fusion embroidered with the tradition of Latin music.
Released in 1977 on ABC Records and sporting nine tracks, a whole string orchestra led by Ian Freebairn-Smith and electric/acoustic chromophores, it showcases Klemmer’s grown interest in tone sequences and harmonies that are actually open to scrutiny and don’t need to be entangled and rolled out for comprehension. The album is not entirely easy to grasp – whatever that means for the respective listener – but succumbs to catchiness both in terms of timbre and textures. Principal players are guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, bassist Abe Laboriel, drummer Lenny White, pianists Pat Rebillot and Roger Kellaway, percussionists Airto Moreira and Alex Acuña as well as tenor saxophonist and bandleader John Klemmer himself. Here is a closer look at an album that features bongos, mud whistles and even a cavaquinho guitar, thereby making it an interesting artifact for dedicated Exotica aficionados as well.
From the electric piano-accompanied tenor saxophone album over the carefully prospering backing chords of insouciance to Lenny White’s sophisticated tachycardia isospins on the drums: the opener Paradise is a panchromatic tunnel vision whose angular momentum draws from benignant frenzy and great melodic interstices, the latter of which is not necessarily a given in John Klemmer’s productions. The latter half sees Ian Freebairn-Smith’s auroral strings illumine the vermillion mirage further. A fast-paced corker in the Batucada tradition. Up next is the title track Arabesque with its toned-down city lights and Flamenco/Bossa Nova superimposition. Earthbound sax accretions, the tidal flexing of Pat Rebillot’s piano and Airto Moreira’s bongo coppice paint a crimson-colored sunset in laid-back midtempo.
With the adjacent Love Affair, John Klemmer and his band embrace the Brazilian spirit in equal parts; softly lacunar, with its ventricles filled with Abe Loriel’s umbrageous-desiccated guitar licks and a certain muzak timbre before Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again Forever closes side A via a rattling Funk/Fusion stampede made of floundering piano punctilios, lilting legato lariats sax-wise and certain big city chords to absorb in this nocturnal arena.
Side B launches with the faux ballad Desire whose gorgeous-galactic synth circumambience only feigns a beatless physiognomy; 70 seconds into the track, a well-groomed, string-fueled aura enriches the macula and shuttles between electropositive hooks of salubrious accessibility and colloidal piano segues. Falling meanwhile is a slowed-down spherification schlepping its inebriated state forward in the wake of Klemmer’s spiraling subcellular saxes and schmaltzy string backends. It is not an appalling tune per se, but way too much entrapped in the ergosphere of Easy Listening, purposely lacking the energy in favor of a carefree epistemology akin to Lonnie Liston Smith’s Funk escapades of the same year.
Whereas Walk In Love remains in the same tempo range but revs up the rose-tinted phantasmagoria with the aid of Lenny White’s gridlock/go ambivalence on the drums and Pat Rebillot’s rhombohedral Fender Rhodes oxidants, Picasso returns to Latin lands by providing a bongo-based riverbed, vespertine piano prongs and a yearning superconductivity emitted by Klemmer’s sax. It is the task of the finale Mardi Gras to break these hatched colors with its flamboyant complexion. Ian Freebairn-Smith’s diaphanous mud whistle merges with Samba whistles, sax florets… and a surprisingly easygoing state that seems to watch the famous parade from afar instead of providing the closer, more immersive look. Short string estuaries and jittery Fender Rhodes crystals put the finishing touches on a comfy perianth.
John Klemmer’s Arabesque promises an ornamental decoration made of intertwined saxophone slides and perihelic flares, and it sure enough matches the fan’s expectation of whirlwind chirality and ultramafic velocity… but only in about 50% of its material. When the saxophonist’s band goes all-in tempo-wise, when the strings provide the hydrazine for the textural homeostasis to bloom and grow and the drums augment the photoevaporation, then Arabesque is at its best, oscillating between Brazilian Batucada tone sequences, Samba chromodynamics and related fermions from Latin lands, staying both true to the horticultural rhizomes of tradition and the wild amanitas of the Funk business.
Occasionally overcharged with batteries of textures, Klemmer makes sure to lessen the voltage, ease the strain and amplify the recondite hollowness of a tropical evening instead. These instances – Picasso and Love Affair come to mind – feel more empty in comparison. They are much slower and reliant on a certain balance between sustain and silence. However, the latter is usually caulked by cosmic piano positrons and other electric sparks. In tandem with the danger-free snugness of the melodies, benignancy ensues. Arabesque is by no means an obligingly complaisant album, as its sizzling verve is noticeable in every segue, solo and instance, but it also lacks the chaotic-aliphatic chemotaxis of Eruptions (1970) and fluvio-lacustrine tropopause of Waterfalls (1975). As a foreshadowing agent to Brazilia (1979) however, Arabesque is a suitable corker and can be enjoyed more than well enough without the comparative-competitive angle. Available on vinyl and a 2008 CD re-issue which also serves as the base for the download version.
Exotica Review 462: John Klemmer – Arabesque (1977). Originally published on Jan. 23, 2016 at AmbientExotica.com.