Burton Greene Ensemble – Aquariana 12” LP

Burton Greene - Aquariana

An astonishing record! It’s got to be one of the most peculiar that I have come across at the same time as being a total success in it’s own right (not relying purely on it’s rare unusualness for effect). Greene is a cult Jewish pianist/composer & a formidable visionary, precipitating some of the most advanced & daring excavations into deep’ deep Experimental/hyper Avant-Garde surrealism & intensity early in the game. The two albums I have studied from Burton prior to this release (On Tour & Live At The Woodstock Playhouse) both boast extraordinary merit & acute adventurism (especially “On Tour”, which enacted some ridiculously futuristic decorum-smashing techniques & themes for it’s time), but this album is quite something else & is one of my most treasured LP’s. It’s not just Greene’s exceptional direction & set-up that makes this LP so special, it’s anomalous instrumentation – two  double basses (played simultaneously by Beb Guerin & Dieter Gewissler) a trumpeter, alto-saxophonist, flutist & drummer Claude Delcloo (a great Avant-Garde drummer that played on a fare-few of the Actuel dates, including Sharrock’s Monkey Pokey-Boo LP). The saxophonist is non-other than Arthur Jones, a brilliant player that only seems to cameo (& lead on his excellent Scorpio LP) on Actuel releases (another mysterious, near exclusive & incredible contributor on the Actuel circuit was saxophonist Kenneth Teroade)) joined here by the great Jacques Coursil on trumpet (another fine musician that has only resurfaced in recent years). So having these magnificent & mysterious moguls participating in this truly momentous, totally stand-out LP only adds to the baroque singularity of the material. This is a very’ very challenging LP! It’s exceedingly eerie, almost disturbing, with an exotic & psychedelic aura (not in the garish, flamboyant mode but in a much more serious, intensely introspective exploration). Realms of acoustic Noise, polytheist divination & intoning, bleak sombre & sepulchral sentiment & structures, turbo-aggravated free-form caterwaul, complex time signatures, unconventional instruments, pronounced phase & morphology & absolutely awesome playing from everybody. in short, this is profoundly extensive & the end result really is quite spectacular.

Side A exhibits one track, the sublime Aquariana at 18.24 minutes in length. It’s a ghostly, very unsettling, unworldly & ginormously dark piece of brilliance. Really’ really intense stuff, & not by battering-ram but deliberate conjuring & carefully crafted dynamics gradually engirdling the listener on slow release intoxication. It’s really the ultimate haunted house soundtrack, massively eldritch & phantasmal, like an insufflation or spirit-reading attempt gone badly wrong, extremely powerful stuff. Greene has devised the suite in six segments (Mystery-Eastern-Piano trio-Interpretation-Basses painters-Aquariana) all with their unique argot. It begins with what sounds like some kind of violin-screel-noise/anti-phonic bowing at the high-end whilst a cello scrapes out ultra low-end, in the rhino-groan territory on the opposing bank. Percussion (muted with mallets) & reeds (including spectral flute/shenai played by Didier Malherbe) edge their way in like creeping fog. Delcloo eventually settles on a sequence in five that he maintains before one of the basses try’s to presumably interact with the signature, but the bass pattern is a beat short. Perhaps this is intentional? it works either way, almost adding to the absolute outréness of it all. Someone, perhaps Burton? Seems to be on some kind of Zither (or piano strings?) – I frankly don’t know what instrument is being played but it sounds incredible. The motion mizzles & sparse Avant-Garde assumes the mantel, we then have a benediction/orison from Burton, compositing two religions/mantras. what on earth is going on here? The unheimlich expanse continues to uncoil, the weirdness unbaiting. At one stage, saxophonist Jones almost bollocks-it-up by playing licks that are too straight! He can incinerate like a mad man, but this, deepest crux of outer-body obscurity & haunting requires something else entirely. Eventually we hit the final phase (Aquariana) where Burton lays down one of the most frightening & minatory simple low-end piano dirges before everybody goes berserk. Such power. The amelioration/extraction process is also awe-inspiring. It’s such a strong piece of work. It would not at all surprise me if half or all of the guys were on psychedelics when this was recorded! & that could be totally’ totally inaccurate, but the severity & absorption are super impressionable here, mental stuff.

Side-B has two tunes beginning with the hectic 5.10 scramble “From <<Out Of Bartok>>”, an energetic & rathe flurry of chaotic free-form & fast contrived coordination. truly great stuff, much more up-beat than the extremist peculiarity of the Aquariana Suite & baring more vitality & vigour, but still utterly bonkers.

The third & final phase of the record is Two-One-Two Vibrations, a 19.20 minute multiloquence stippled with dramatic off-road, severed compositional contrivance & tenebrous Avant incantations. It’s a splendid stretch, unpredictable & anomalous with so many contrasting sentiments, energies & actions.

This is an exorbitantly accomplished LP. For me it’s definitely one of the greatest Actuel moments (not easily accomplished considering how much good stuff they did) & definitely one of my favourite Avant-Jazz LP’s period. It really stands out as well, for it’s instrumentation, personnel & approach which is exceptionally novel & fiercely heterodox. Burton Greene is a paramount figure that laid down some of the most challenging & divergent music of the day & really must not be missed by any historian/listener that’s serious about the development of the lineage.

I am exasperated t’ say that this LP seems to have not been reissued on CD? Or at least is currently out of print. Hopefully someone wi’ a bit of sense will emendate this soon. The LP is otherwise fairly frequent & absolutely worth the exertion of hunting down. A great’ great record.

Rekd: 1969

Label: Actuel/BYG