John Klemmer, Part Two: The Saxophone Touch

John Klemmer, Part Two: The Saxophone Touch

Written by Rudy Radelic

Part One (Issue 157) covered John Klemmer’s early recordings from 1967 – 1970.

With five albums at the Cadet and Cadet Concept labels behind him, Klemmer made a move to Impulse! Records. His label debut, Constant Throb, was a more grounded record than his prior recording, Eruptions. While he could still cut loose with an unleashed barrage of notes (as he does with “California Jazz Dance” on this album), the track “Neptune” leans toward a melodic approach.


Recorded live, the Waterfalls album features more of Klemmer’s music, continuing the stylistic approach from Constant Throb. The title track is a mood exercise with the Echoplex, while “There’s Some Light Ahead” features Klemmer on soprano sax.


Klemmer recorded three more albums (Intensity, Fresh Feathers and Magic and Movement) with Impulse! and ABC in the 1970s in a similar style, with Fresh Feathers being more accessible to average listeners than his earlier Impulse! records.

In 1975, Klemmer would confuse (or upset, depending on who you asked) fans of his earlier straight-ahead style with the album that changed everything: Touch. Setting aside the cosmic and spiritual overtones and freeform soloing he featured on many previous albums, Touch settled for relaxed, moody grooves. This would prove to be a hit, as it became one of Klemmer’s best-known albums and biggest sellers. A defining moment in his career, Touch would become the blueprint for many albums that followed, and also inspired the name of his own record label, Touch Records.

“Sleeping Eyes” is a perfect example of this new style. Beginning almost from a hush, Klemmer builds up the slow-cooking excitement with his solo, against the impeccable performance from his group. Dave Grusin takes over on an electric piano solo, seasoned with Klemmer’s overdubbed flute parts.


The follow-up to Touch was Barefoot Ballet, with nearly the same lineup of supporting musicians playing the same type of melodic mood music. Thankfully, not every record that followed was a clone of Touch, and Klemmer changed things up with the Arabesque album. With a different backing group, Klemmer opted for an upbeat sound that incorporated Latin elements into his music. On board are percussionists Airto Moreira and Alex Acuña, along with future collaborator Oscar Castro-Neves on guitar. The title track features some great ensemble playing, but the album’s tone was set by the frantic samba “Paradise” (which was a new arrangement of “Crystaled Tears” which had previously appeared on Constant Throb):


A follow-up album, Lifestyle (Living and Loving) could best be described as the Touch style crossed with the upbeat energy of Arabesque. A more memorable album that followed was Brazilia, which incorporated more of the Latin elements from Arabesque while still offering a relaxed groove. Much of the same personnel who appear on Arabesque also support Klemmer on this record. The frantic title track kicks it off in fine fashion, and “Copacabana” provides a nice groove on which the group can solo.


Around this time, Klemmer took a detour, releasing the solo saxophone album Cry. Featuring tenor saxophone, overdubbed and often run through an Echoplex, Klemmer creates everything from a whisper to multiple layers of cascading notes. This is “Happiness.”


Many of Klemmer’s albums followed in variations on these styles, including a handful of nicely performed albums on the Elektra Musician label, and two direct-to-disc recordings for Nautilus Records entitled Straight from the Heart and Finesse, the latter being reissued by Elektra Musician two years later. His last full recording was 1998’s Making Love, Vol. 1 on his own Touch Records label, although he has made appearances throughout the years on other artists’ records.

Klemmer recorded a few one-off side projects over the years, such as the duo album Simpatico with Oscar Castro-Neves from 1997. Featuring only guitar for accompaniment, with some seaside sounds occasionally overdubbed, it makes for a fresh and interesting album. Unfortunately, individual tracks are not available on YouTube, but a sample of the record appears here:


An earlier side project from 1979 was the two-LP Nexus for Duo and Trio, recorded for Arista Novus. This recording featured Klemmer playing mostly solo, with only drums (Carl Burnett) and/or bass (Bob Magnusson) for accompaniment. This was reduced to a single CD entitled Nexus (for Trane) in 1987. This is “My One and Only Love,” featuring the trio format.


Finally, here is a 90-minute gig (date unknown, but likely recorded in the 1990s) featuring John Klemmer in Los Angeles, a good summary of his overall sound from the mid 70s onward.


Selected Discography

Here is a list of original albums mentioned in this series, along with a handful of side projects Klemmer has appeared on. Straight from the Heart and Finesse were direct-to-disc recordings on Nautilus Records (the latter reissued two years later on Elektra Musician), and Touch was reissued by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab on LP in 1978 and gold CD in 1989.

Involvement (Cadet Concept, 1967)
And We Were Lovers (Cadet Concept, 1968)
Blowin’ Gold (Cadet Concept, 1969)
All The Children Cried (Cadet Concept, 1970)
Eruptions (Cadet Concept, 1970)
Constant Throb (Impulse!, 1972)
Waterfalls (Impulse!, 1972)
Intensity (Impulse!, 1973)
Magic and Movement (Impulse!, 1974)
Fresh Feathers (ABC, 1974)
Touch (ABC, 1975)
Barefoot Ballet (ABC, 1976)
Lifestyle (Living and Loving) (ABC, 1977)
Cry (Solo Saxophone) (ABC, 1978)
Arabesque (ABC, 1978)
Brazilia (ABC, 1979)
Straight from the Heart (Nautilus direct-to-disc, 1979)
Magnificent Madness (Elektra Musician, 1980)
Finesse (Nautilus direct-to-disc, 1981; Elektra Musician, 1983)
Hush (Elektra, 1981)
Solo Saxophone II – Life (Elektra, 1981)
Music (MCA, 1989)
Making Love, Vol. 1 (Touch Records, 1998)

Anthologies on CD:

Mosaic – The Best of John Klemmer, Volume One (MCA, CD reissue 1996)
Priceless Jazz Collection (GRP, 1999)

Side Projects:

Nexus for Duo and Trio (with Carl Burnett, Bob Magnusson) (Arista Novus, 1979)
Nexus One (For Trane) (abbreviated CD reissue of Nexus for Duo and Trio) (Bluebird, 1987)
5 Birds and a Monk/Birds and Monks (multi-artist project featuring John Klemmer, Joe Henderson, Joe Farrell, Johnny Griffin, Harold Land, and Art Pepper) (Galaxy, 1981; CD reissues, 1995 and 1998)
Ballads by Four/Ballads by Five (multi-artist project featuring John Klemmer, Art Pepper, Johnny Griffin and Joe Henderson; Joe Farrell added for Ballads by Five CD reissue) (Galaxy, 1981; CD reissue, 1997)
Two Tone (multi-artist project feat. John Klemmer and Eddie Harris) (Crusaders Records, 1982)
Simpatico (with Oscar Castro-Neves) (JVC, 1997)

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