After making each others’ acquaintance in the early 70s, multipercussionist David Earle Johnson and keyboardist extraordinaire Jan Hammer recorded together on a few albums with the former's or latter's byline. Time Is Free (1977) was the pair’s first exclusive venture to explore the palette of tonal colors provided only by various keyboard and assorted acoustic and electric percussion instruments—no guitars, no violin, or anything else. Johnson played a Moog drum on two of nine tracks—on the second, “Juice Harp,” the drum was programmed to emulate a Jew’s harp. Most know Jan as a multikeyboardist, but he’s also a drummer, and he’s behind the kit on nearly every track here. Johnson also vocalizes on three tracks, swaying between spoken-word and scat.
To top it all off, this is Time Is Free’s first appearance on CD; we can thank Universe (owned by Italy’s Comet Records) for this reissue. The sound quality is superb.
”Grandma’s House” sounds huge for the work of two guys: Hammer burns the roof down with some magnificently jagged Moog lead work, wailing like a guitarist and modulating & pitch-bending liberally. The second half of the track finds Jan setting the tone on electric piano and playing drums. Johnson adds to his typically exotic layers of percussives with an Echoplex-ed vocal. “Lofts” is an excellent slab of atmospherics; the mood consistently tense, Johnson bangs on flanged timbales while Jan’s thick synth pads and e-piano follow a brick-and-mortar scheme, complete with another electrified synth solo—who needs a guitarist when you have Jan?
Weather Report meets Santana? Unleashed by the chaos of sample-and-hold, “Ramtide” pairs Jan’s frenetic drumming with DEJ's trio of timbales, congas & African log—a very cinematic piece constructed around tight rhythms! The effervescent percolations of astounding Moogness accounted for, “Ten Little Times” sounds like a signature Hammer piece, but DEJ receives primary writing credit (odd how liner notes seldom make sense). “Ten Little Times” is also one of the tracks to produce plenty of notes struck on a Moog drum—recall “Juice Harp” is the other, in itself an incredible sonic painting of effected vocals, relentless synthbass, and the funkiest setting on the disc. The outro synth solo is juicy, indeed.
The final trio of tunes is as varied as the first two. ”Sea, Sand and Sun” makes use of, interestingly, treble kalimba and features a fine jazz piano solo. “Safes” is another piece propelled by electric piano and a very phat Moog bass (can never get enough of those, anyway). “Skin, Log, Sand Street Suite” is a seven-minute amalgamation of different pieces that finds Jan & David trading duties (oddly enough) on a bass drum in addition to everything else.
Random Blurb Generator: Stop reading this review and buy the $%@*#& disc!