Guitarist Mick Goodrick first appeared as a sideman in Gary Burton's band playing on such classic albums as The New Quartet (1973) and Ring (1974). After recording In Pas(s)ing (1979), his first as a leader, he never again recorded for the ECM label. While he has recorded occasionally for other labels since then, he has mostly devoted his time to teaching at the Berklee College of Music. His influences include everybody from Jim Hall to Jimmy Page and can be heard to their best advantage on this fabulous album that ranks among the best ECM releases of the decade in a very crowded field.
In Pas(s)ing is an album that takes you by surprise. It's not an intense, in-your-face recording, but rather something much more subtle, understated, and introspective. Every time it goes into the player, I think it can't be as good as I've remembered it, only to find myself amazed again. The general criticisms leveled against the album are the usual "ECM pastoralism" and "it's too slow and/or quiet". This is definitely not a loud album, and while the first two tracks can be described as bluesy, the album's tempo and pace pick up from there before closing with the frantic title track. In spite of the album appearing under his name, Goodrick never dominates the self-composed material. Listen to his mellow opening phrases on "Feebles, Fables, and Ferns", or his moody opening solo on "Pedalpusher". Often compared to fellow Burton alumnus Pat Metheny, Goodrick's playing is more abstract and disjointed, his tones less lyrical and more atmospheric.
The real story of this album, however, is the saxophone playing of John Surman. This is his second ECM recording (after 1976's Mountainscapes by Barre Phillips), and shortly after this session he would join the Miroslav Vitous Group. His baritone performances ("Feebles, Fables, and Ferns" and "Pedalpusher") range from wistful and haunting to groaning and rumbling. The other three tracks feature his wild soprano work. "In the Tavern of Ruin" showcases searching, high-pitched squeals and howls, and climaxes with a stuttering trade-off solo with Goodrick. "In Passing" (improvised, perhaps?) includes Surman's best fluttering avian tones, impressionistically depicting a high-speed chase scene over miles of open highway.
Drummer Jack DeJohnette and basist Eddie Gomez (both at that time in the group New Directions with Lester Bowie and John Abercrombie) also make strong contributions to the music. Gomez's sharp soloing tone is on display throughout the album, and he vocalizes almost as much as Keith Jarrett does, but it never becomes a major distraction. No one will ever consider this to be one of DeJohnette's strongest sets, but his fiery flourishes on "In the Tavern of Ruin" and his motoring, lumbering double bass-drum work on "In Passing" are true highlights. He smacks his drums with fierce resolve on "Summer Band Camp", the shortest yet liveliest track. His cymbals are recorded especially well, and the album signs off with one final DeJohnette splash.
And now for the bad news: this "far away places" masterpiece is now no longer in print and very hard to find. Much bigger names than Goodrick's have been passed over for re-release, so this is no surprise but truly regrettable. If you can find this album before it completely disappears into the mists of time and are familiar with the players involved, do not hesitate to buy it. Brilliant, thought-provoking jazz as good as this is always hard to find. And remember, the second "s" is parenthetical.