Some of the March 1971 recordings were done at The Cinematique, a facility run by avant garde film maker, Jonas Mekas. Richard Cook and Brian Morton, in their Jazz Encyclopedia, thought that the world of “non-linear, associative cinema” was closer to the spirit of Escalator Over The Hill, rather than that of music. They further revealed that “we fall in and out of love with this strange.perverse work…no jazz composition is as large and ungainly…like all genuinely original artistic experiments, it is an uneasy hybrid of genius - vivid and uplifting - and unbelievable tosh”. My feelings exactly.
Perhaps the works of Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composers Orchestra (1972′s Ode, for example) approach the architectonic grandeur of Carla Bley’s concept. Like Guy, she was heavily influenced by European classical music, and wrote lengthy composed works that featured large ensembles, which sub-divided into smaller, jazz-based groups that could improvise. Some of the latter were groups to die for - Jack’s Travelling Band, for example, featured Jack Bruce (fresh out of the cream of rock music), John McLaughlin (at his early, Live-Evil-era best), Bley herself and Paul Motion; The Desert Band were led by an on-form Don Cherry, with Leroy Jenkins, Sam Brown, and Bley and Motion again.
There are some great improvising solos throughout (at least I think they are): Gato Barbieri on the opening Overture, McLaughlin across sides 5 and 6, Bruce on both bass and vocals on Rawalpindi Blues and End of Rawalpindi’, Don Cherry on lyrical trumpet on A.I.R. As well as featuring some great scat singing by Jeanne Lee on End of Rawalpindi, the track also features a carbon copy of the Paranoid riff by Black Sabbath, spat out by McLaughlin (I’m not sure when the track was recorded though, so a degree of unconscious plagiarism is the moot point here). The influence of the the JCOA of this time even spread to early ECM Records - Witchi-Tai-To, by the classic mid-70s Jan Garbarek Quartet (which is one of my favourite 70s jazz albums, ECM 1041) featured Coltane-ised versions of both A.I.R. and Desireless, a track which appeared of Cherry’s 1973 JCOA/Virgin recording of Relativity Suite (Cherry’s version was a miniature, at less than two minutes in length, Garbarek maxed it out to over 20 minutes, as per Coltrane Quartet).
These years were ones that saw the release of some genuinely interesting and promising ‘fusion music’ - by many of the musicians involved in these JCOA/Virgin Records recordings, McLaughlin, Cherry, Bruce, etc, etc, but this promise had been largely expunged by circa 1974. It’s difficult to say where EOTH might have gone - perhaps the extended works of improvising composers like Anthony Braxton and John Zorn are its true children. Whatever, it remains enigmatic, puzzling and inspirational in equal measures.