Revisiting JAN AKKERMAN’s Pleasure Point

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Jan Akkerman was a bit taken aback when he was declared “the best guitar player in the world” by the readers of Melody Maker magazine in 1973. Who was he being measured against? Segovia? Clapton? Django? Regardless, at the time and even more so in 2014 he remains one the most unique and enigmatic guitarists of our time having played just about every single style of guitar from sensitive classical melodies to fire breathing heavy rock. Whether with 70s progressive rock group Focus or as a chameleon-like solo artist or sideman, his clean execution, rich tone and agile phrasings are instantly identifiable. In early 1976 Akkerman left Focus and released two solo albums that deviated considerably from the Focus matrix, 1976’s award winning jazz-funk rave up “Eli” with vocalist Kaz Lux as well as a more sophisticated jazz-rock instrumental self-titled album in 1977 ( sometimes known as the “Guitar In Bed Album” ). The latter caught the attention of the jazz community and saw him performing at the Montreux International Jazz Festival in 1978 to favourable response coupled with the release of a live album that documented roughly half of the show. He also collaborated with noted German composer/arranger Claus Ogerman on a sublime orchestral classical album that featured lesser known classical works with him on solo electric guitar accompanied by a string section. .Akkerman’s music became progressively more adventurous towards the 80s and certain musical departures proved to be an encumbrance for him, often being chastised for sailing on the sea of cheese producing second-rate soft fusion that bordered on elevator or new age music. After the disappointing Jan Akkerman 3 in 1979 his contract with Atlantic was dissolved and many long time fans started to wonder whether or not Jan needed his head examined. However this was not always the case and he released some impressive material during this fluctuant period in his career.

Jan Akkerman

Pleasure Point was originally released on WEA Records ( Germany ) in 1982 and actually turned out to be one of his most tasteful and finest recordings. There is some stellar playing to be heard on Pleasure Point not only from Akkerman himself but also from his sidemen Jim Capagnola on tenor sax as well as keyboardists Jasper Van’t Hof and Joachim Kuhn. By 1981 Akkerman was also toying around with the latest digital guitar synths and the Roland GR-300 is used to great effect on all tracks here. Jan treats it as a separate instrument though, utilizing it’s harmonic possibilities to create dreamlike atmospheres to complement his conventional guitar passages. Fans of his earlier work could now sleep at night after the release of this album that veered away from that annoying funky direction that he was heading in with on Jan Akkerman 3, 1980’s Tranparental ( with Kaz Lux ) and the middle eastern/dance-friendly Oil In The Family from 1981, a whimsical album that actually made it onto the pop charts in Turkey! 1982’s Pleasure Point had all the potential for international recognition and if it weren’t for Akkerman’s unstable musical direction at the time it might have reached a larger audience. It definitely had a similar direction that some other stylistically liberal guitarists were taking at the time such as Pat Metheney, John Abercrombie or Bill Frisell.

The CD remastered edition that I’m using here for this short evaluation was released on the then newly formed UK HUX independent record label in 1998 along with From The Basement ( 1984 ) and Heartware ( 1987 ) and contains 12 bonus tracks of varying length most of which can only be considered abandoned or unfinished experiments. The core of the album contains six extended tracks of varying style and form but interblending wonderfully with one another. The album opens with a moody establishing track entitled Valdez with spacious atmospheric GR-300 synth passages that create refined scenery for Akkerman’s graceful guitar lines from which the rest of the work will emerge assuring the listener that the album will be full of character and depth. Heavy Pleasure is the rockiest track with multi-guitar tracks that echoes some of the soft compressed guitar tones heard on Jan’s early Focus work as well as the crisp harder edge he acquired after his departure in ’76. The omnipresent GR-300 provides a groovy canvass along with a full band on this dynamic piece which also displays Jan’s exceptional compositional and arranging skills. Cool In the Shadow is a worldly smooth jazzy piece with superb piano accompaniments by Joachim Kuhn with more GR-300 treatments and of course some fine electric guitar lines from Jan. Side two on the vinyl edition opens with a mystical meditative piece entitled Visions of Blue. Devoid of rhythm with Fender Rhodes piano colouring from long standing collaborator Jasper Van’t Hof it reveals Akkerman’s profound musical inquisitiveness and reminds me a bit of Ralph Towner’s radical avante-gard playing. Another reflective acoustic piece follows that features Jan on both acoustic guitar and six string bass entitled CS ( Central Stations ) that has become one of his standards during live performances to this day. The tropical flavoured Bird Island kicks in with a full band that showcases Jim Capagnola’s tenor sax and Joachim Kuhn’s piano and it can be compared to some contemporary Pat Metheney material with Jan cutting loose a bit but knowing when to lay back. The minimal use of guitar effects is evident on this piece as well and nothing gets in the way. Jan’s playing throughout the album is straight and up front with his licks coming directly from his soul to his hands. So many frustrated guitarists show up with truckloads of gear and flash trying to sound like the guitarist from another dimension but Akkerman has never really been so inclined, applying new technology in atasteful manner as he does here. So in order to really appreciate Pleasure Point the listener must be ready to get over guitar hero syndrome.

Jan Akkerman

I have to admit that the12 bonus tracks on the ’98 CD remaster were difficult for me to stomach as I purchased the album way back in 1982 in it’s original vinyl format. Even though the original vinyl LP running time ( only 37 minutes ) was a bit short I found that the bonus tracks to be superfluous and diminished the integrity of the original record. As with the other two Akkerman albums from the 80s that were released at the same time by HUX Records the addition of these tracks was most probably part of the record company’s marketing strategem. There are a few of these short tracks varying in length from 35 seconds to 5 minutes that are of passing interest nonetheless, but for the most part they come off as snippets from different sessions. 35 seconds ( That’s Enough For That Pligrim ) and Guilty By Association just sound like outtakes from an old tape that Akkerman found in a box in his garage while short tracks like Communion & Procession and Near Odessa with their religious undertones could have fit appropriately on his 1973 Tabernakel solo album. The acoustic Atlantean Dew and Angel Blue are perhaps the only two tracks that can be considered complete compositions. For me the only worthwhile purpose of including bonus tracks on a re-issue would be to include real lost gem or a decidedly different or exceptional version of a song. There’s nothing momentous happening on the 12 bonus cuts here and this would be my only qualm with this otherwise flawless work. I also don’t understand the Fender Strat on the cover because Jan considers them a horror to play!

Positively one of the most exquisite albums in Jan Akkerman’s diverse and eclectic solo catologue that includes 30 + releases spanning some 46 years, Pleasure Point sounds just as fresh and visceral in 2014 as it did back in 1982 and is definitely worthy of a revisiting.

Tracklist:

Valdez 4:14
Heavy Pleasure 8:41
Cool In The Shadow 6:00
Visions Of Blue 9:42
C.S. 3:54
Bird Island

Bonus Tracks

Atlantean Dew 5:00
Laurie’s Dance 1:34
Angel Blue 2:41
alfway 3:59
35 Seconds 00:35
Waterfalls of Eden ( outtake )
Desiderata 1:47
Terra Pax?! 1:06
Guilty By Association 00:32
Communion & Procession 2:15
Near Odessa 1::13 ( A Village Called Akkerman
Anne Mia 2:58

Line-up:

Jan Akkerman - guitars, 6 string bass guitar, Roland GR-300 guitar synth, guitar synth, drums on “Cool In The Shadow”

Jasper Van’t Hof - Fender Rhodes piano on “Visions of Blue”

Joachim Kuhn - acoustic rand piano on “ Cool in the Shadows,” “Visions of Blue” & “Bird Island”

Jim Capagnola - tenor sax

Pablo Nahar - bass guitar

Roland Zeldonrust - drums on “Bird Island”

Hans Waterman - drums on “Heavy Pleasure

Martini Martupeyressa - Percussion

Links:

Jan Akkerman Official website

www.janakkerman.com

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