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Common One

Warner Bros. CD 26399
(Released August, 1980)

  1. Haunts of Ancient Peace (7:05)
  2. Summertime in England (15:30)
  3. Satisfied (6:00)
  4. Wild Honey (5:47)
  5. Spirit (5:06)
  6. When Heart is Open (15:03)
    Total time: (55:01)

Musicians:
David Hayes: Bass
Mark Isham: Synthesizer/Trumpet
John Allair: Keyboards
Herbie Armstrong: Guitar/Vocal
Pee Wee Ellis: Saxophone
Mick Cox: Guitar
Pete Brewis: Vocal
Eddie Lee Charlton: Drums
Van Morrison: Guitar/Keyboards/Saxophone/Vocal
Peter VanHooke: Drums

Review by Scott Thomas:
1980's Common One remains the least accessible album in Morrison's catalog. Recorded in a week's time with the core of the Into the Music band (Pee Wee Ellis on sax, Mark Isham on trumpet, Herbie Armstrong on acoustic rhythm guitar, Mick Cox on electric lead guitar, David Hayes on bass, Peter Van Hooke on drums, and John Allair on keyboards), Common One possesses a starkness which is the result of mostly live-in-the-studio performances and the disappearance of Into the Music's two kingpins, Toni Marcus and pianist Mark Jordan. What remains is closer in sound and philosophy to an improvisational jazz group than a R&B band.

Just compare Into the Music's opener, "Bright Side of the Road," to its counterpart on Common One: the tempo of "Haunts of Ancient Peace," in keeping with the lyrics' patient quest for peace and solace, moves at a hypnotically subdued pace while the melody shifts drowsily over a few neighboring notes. The open spaces implicit in lengthy, bare-bones compositions of this sort make the input of the backing musicians more crucial than ever before. (David Hayes and Pee Wee Ellis are particularly brilliant on this piece.) On Common One, where jazz, pop, and folk influences find common ground, Van's expressive singing is merely one of several instrumental voices.

The songs here are long even by Morrison's standards. Two of them, "Summertime in England" and "When Heart Is Open," clock in at over fifteen minutes! In the former, Morrison experiments with the kind of automatic, spontaneous, verbal improvisations first attempted on "You Don't Pull No Punches..." from Veedon Fleece. The lyrics, chanted over a beat that switches back and forth between a jazzy shuffle and a slow waltz, invite his lover to meet him for a summer gathering whose guest list will also include Yeats, Eliot, Joyce, Jesus, and Mahalia Jackson! Romping right along with Van are his wonderful musicians, this time assisted by Jeff Labes' fiery string arrangements. Thanks to the creative spirit of (once again!) Van's backing band, "Summertime in England," despite its staggering length, never wears out its welcome.

"When Heart Is Open," which is really an extension of Joe Zawinul's "In a Silent Way" as recorded on the Miles Davis album of the same name, remains Van's most experimental piece ever. Like Veedon Fleece's "Country Fair," "When Heart is Open" has the misty, unfettered, rhythmless quality of a dream. Trumpet, bass, electric guitar, and reverbed flute provide a blurred but sensual backdrop for Morrison's voice as it traverses a deliberately minimalistic tune and a haiku-like lyric: "When heart is open / You will change just like a flower / Slowly opening." Great stuff, but not recommended for the casual listener!

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