Benedikt Jahnel Trio: Equilibrium (ECM 2251)

Benedikt Jahnel Trio

Benedikt Jahnel piano
Antonio Miguel double-bass
Owen Howard drums
Recorded July 2011, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Making its ECM debut is the phenomenal Benedikt Jahnel Trio, for whom Equilibrium is more than a title. Under direction of the eponymous German pianist, already familiar to label listeners as a backing member of Cymin Samawatie’s “Cyminology” project, the Trio marshals two of the New York contemporary jazz scene’s brightest—bassist Antonio Miguel (by way of Spain) and Owen Howard (by way of Canada)—who share his penchant for strong dynamic twists, meticulous rhythms, and lyrical touch. Recorded at the same Lugano studio that has brought such sparkle to recent recordings by Amina Alaoui, Marcin Wasilewski, and Bobo Stenson, this leader date retains engineer Stefano Amerio and follows a similarly eclectic trajectory through a set of seven originals.

(Photos by Uli Zrenner-Wolkenstein)

From the muted-string depths of “Gently Understood” we can draw analogy to the work of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin. Similar is the Zen groove aesthetic and modular approach that has its roots in the Trio’s first album (unsurprisingly, Modular Concepts), uncoiling from a filamented core lasting gestures of great melodic sweep. Howard’s tracings build character, coalescing into an idol of dreams. After a light intro, the theme of “Sacred Silence” speaks in undulating phrases. It whisks away our angst with the flutter of an eyelash and leaves us primed like archival paper for the impressions that follow. Miguel in his solo follows the paths left behind by tears to their sources as Howard whites out every vein with a nocturnal sigh.

For all its auspicious beginnings, “Moorland & Hill Land” brings smiles to the faces of its history, for in being so remembered they live anew, unimpeded by the shackles of convention into which they were born. Jahnel is both the voice of reason and its crumbling philosophies. As the snowball rolls and the slope increases, the overall sound becomes only more permeable, and ends with a flick of the wrist, striking a match of silence. Howard’s delicate interactions between snare and cymbals make “Wrangel” the most rhythmically deft track of the set. Miguel keeps us keyed into reality, while Jahnel brings fantasy so close we can taste it. Together, “Augmented” and “Hidden Beauty” form a decidedly rubato interlude toward the final (and title) track, which closes the door and opens another. Here is the traction and romance of life in less than ten minutes.

The Trio’s approach to soloing is remarkable. Vague is the cordoning of instrumental voices. In its place, an effortless symbiosis, an equilibrium of contribution. Like an archaeologist, the Trio moves clods of earth before working methodically at the details with brushes and breath, leaving only the value of every sonic relic to shine as it once did before it was buried.

Without question, among ECM’s Top 5 releases of 2012.

(To hear samples of Equilibrium, click here.)

3 thoughts on “Benedikt Jahnel Trio: Equilibrium (ECM 2251)

  1. Can you be a follower of ECM and not take a particular interest in the piano trio format? Of course not. This is wonderful music from these fine young musicians. Thanks!

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