Anja Lechner and Vassilis Tsabropoulos: Chants, Hymns and Dances (ECM New Series 1888)

 

Chants, Hymns and Dances

Anja Lechner cello
Vassilis Tsabropoulos piano
Recorded December 2003, Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt am Main
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The enigmatic sound-world of G. I. Gurdjieff (c.1877-1948) made its first appearance on ECM via the spirited renditions of pianist Keith Jarrett. Now another wizard at the keyboard, Vassilis Tsabropoulos, joins kindred spirit cellist Anja Lechner for a redrawing of old maps alongside the newly discovered continents of Tsabropoulos’s own stilling compositions around Byzantine hymns. The result is less a hybrid and more of a conversation across (and of) time. Harmonically a simple world, it elides the trappings of the social, forging its own divine concept in the grip of ideological binds. Some, like Chant from a Holy Book, build up in intensity as might a raga, spinning from humble beginnings a sustained lyricism that speaks with the language of afterlife. Others maintain that humility throughout, as in Prayer. Tsabrapolous’s approach to these free-floating motives is gently improvisational, and yet the star of every note seems to hold its place in the music’s nightfall. In Duduki, for one, we hear in the pianism a potency of such fragile proportions that Lechner’s cello seems to weep with the passion of a last dance.

The album’s heart also renders a portrait of Tsabrapolous’s, as he gives us his own bridging melodies in the wilting graces of Trois Morceaux après des hymnes byzantinshas. In these Lechner’s exquisite tone glows, threading an emotional line as one might find in an Eleni Karaindrou soundtrack. The playful undertones of Dance then give way to Chant, which is closest to its surroundings in mood. Although elegiac, it is bright with textless voices. More Gurdjieff rounds out program, of which the highlights are the evocative Assyrian Women Mourners and its sister piece, Woman’s Prayer.

Anyone who enjoyed Jarrett’s earlier take on the shape of things will find plenty to open the mind further on Chants. I can hardly imagine an album better suited for ECM’s pioneering programming. It is a quiet, unassuming space that takes nothing for granted, granting as it does all that it has ever received.

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