The Allaboutjazz.com Review of Water Garden by John Kelman
With the compelling, largely free-blowing 1971 session He Who Lives In Many Places (GMMC Records) finally issued on CD in 2006, Water Garden rights a similar wrong for Terry Plumeri, an overlooked bassist if ever there was one. Recorded five years later, Water Garden was an even more ambitious date that brought back guitarist John Abercrombie and percussionist Michael Smith, but also features enlists Ralph Towner and, in one of his earliest date, pianist Marc Copland.
Plumeri's career has since occupied jazz and classical spheres—both directly and in the personal nexus point between the two. Water Garden is a terrific introduction to Plumeri, whose stunning arco work elevates him above many of jazz's better-known bassists. Plumeri's fine, two-movement suite for string quartet and contrabass closes this 45-minute set on a more overtly classical note, but it's Water Garden's other five compositions that make it such an essential listen. Taking place, as it does, during the height of ECM label's groundbreaking emergence; it similarly expands the purview of jazz into previously uncharted territories. That two of Plumeri's cohorts were ECM artists (then and now) needn't suggest Water Garden would (or should) have had a home on the venerable German label, but its inherent eclecticism and boundary-busting approach would certainly possess similar appeal to its fans.
Smith's kalimba lends "Bornless One" a Gamelan feel, its repetitive nature and pulse also referencing Steve Reich; but with its languid melody and Plumeri's ethereal, overdubbed singing, it's darker in tone. Copland has since emerged as a distinctive pianist with a deeply impressionistic bent; on the strength of his intro to "Ongoing," it's clear that this has been his disposition all along. Opening with Plumeri's arco soaring, fugue-like, over Abercrombie and Copland's contrapuntal parts, "Ongoing" gradually resolves into a vivid, harmonically abstruse piano solo. Abercrombie's modal workout is a highlight amongst highlights as Plumeri proves he can swing with the best of them, before dissolving into a final arco feature for the bassist, this time more lyrically poignant, as he once again ascends in lead-in to the final iteration of the song's contrapuntal core.
"Gypsy" is another hard-swinging modal exercise; Copland's accompaniment nearly supplants Abercrombie's attention-grabbing solo, while Plumeri's arco is even more charismatic. It's revealing to hear the normally more reticent Copland play with such fiery intensity, before Plumeri takes a lithe solo that rivals ex-Weather Report bassist Miroslav Vitous's strength of tone and conceptual confidence. "Laura Rose" links Water Garden's more improv-centric material with the classicism of "Two Poems for Dance." Combining string quartet with Plumeri, Smith, Abercrombie and Towner on classical guitar, the two guitarists' interaction provides an alternate perspective on their already deep chemistry, heard on their duet record, Sargasso Sea (ECM, 1976).
On the strength of Water Garden, Plumeri is an artist for whom, had the stars aligned differently, greater visibility would have been assured and deserved. As it stands, this long overdue CD release of Water Garden goes some ways towards righting a three decade-old wrong.
John Kelman – Allaboutjazz.com