JOHN MARTYN: not taken as seriously as he should be
AND WHILE all this other stuff was going on, John Martyn was wandering off on his own quirky path.
It's been something like three years since Martyn's last studio album, Sunday's Child. One World's a natural progression. So fine-spun you half expect the record to float on and off the deck.
Martyn's music fools around with textures. Listening to his guitar on Dancing is like watching a speeded-up movie of a hundred spiders weaving webs in mid-air. Dancing leads into 8 minutes 40 seconds of Small Hours, the most adventurous track on the album. Imagine an Eno track, one of the ghostly synthesiser stretches on Another Green World, pared down to Winwood's keyboards suggest dream sequences e.g. dawn on a desolate beach that you can just see through the mist. You're standing on top of the cliff, and the gulls are circling below you.
Listen, the least you can say about this album is it fires the imagination... Or look at it this way: Small Hours is where side two of Low meets Charlie Haden's Closeness. All is hinted at/ All is revealed. Martyn's rhythm tracks are uniquely structured. Bass and drums are basically jazz-funk; they're overlaid with a layer upon layer fretwork of guitars frothing and chiming in elaborate, delicate cross-rhythms. The rhythm sections vary – Steve Winwood plays bass while Andy Newmark drums on Dealer, the excellent Hansford Rowe plays bass on the title track with crystal simplicity, Fairporters Bruce Rowlands and Dave Pegg unite for Dancing and Martyn's long-standing bass accomplice Danny Thompson accompanies Martyn and Winwood on Couldn't Love You More.
It's clear that Chris Blackwell, who produces, has a deep sympathy with Martyn's music; the album maintains its candy-floss-Chartres-Cathedral textures through all the musician combinations. Two exotic surprises on the album: Rico's trombone on the samba-esque Certain Surprise and Martyn 's co-songwriting effort with Lee Perry (the Jamaican producer, aka Scratch, aka the Upsetter, though if you don't know by now) on the patently naughty Big Muff – a rude song in the 'Wet Dream' tradition, it sounds like a new musical form, jazz-dub. Guitar reverb counterpoints softly funking bass, and other fragments of guitar bleep into haze around the edge of the sound, like miniature spaceships taking off from the landing-deck of the bass and drums. Moog chases its own tail round and round through your skull, phasing and twinkling from left to right, while Martyn's voice performs abrupt disappearances, bobbing up immediately at some other angle to the ears.
I sometimes get the infuriating feeling that people don't take John Martyn as seriously as they should. Is it possible that they still regard our answer to Don Cherry, our Alphonso Johnson on a guitar level, our –there isn't any other musician doing what Martyn does, so comparisons are useless as well as inaccurate– as some kind of pint-of-scrumpy-man-plus-guitar minstrel? When he's really a secret weapon?
The spirit of John Cale/ Terry Riley music expansion is working among us. If you're not too bored to walk to the stereo, listen.
- VIVIEN GOLDMAN
This review was published in Sounds magazine of 26 November 1977. The issue had Kraftwerk's Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider on the cover and originally cost 18p.