A Long Story
Anat Fort piano
Perry Robinson clarinet, ocarina
Ed Schuller double-bass
Paul Motian drums
Recorded March 2004, Systems Two Studios, Brooklyn, by John Rosenberg and Max Ross
Edited and mixed May 2006 at Avatar Studios, New York, by Manfred Eicher, Anat Fort and James A. Farber
Produced by Anat Fort and Manfred Eicher
Israeli-born pianist Anat Fort in her ECM debut. An event to cherish for time to come. The album’s title, A Long Story, an understatement: an expression of the infinite joy that music brings to player and listener alike, a holy exchange of which the improviser is but a fleeting intermediary, yet whose name persists as the bringer of possibility. And so, alongside her name we must include those of bassist Ed Schuller, drummer Paul Motian, and clarinetist Perry Robinson. Schuller has a long story of his own playing with Motian and Robinson, and it was he who captured the interest of the veteran drummer, who in turn put it into producer Manfred Eicher’s hands. The ECM fit came naturally, and here we have the fruits.
One needn’t look at the album credits to know that the music comes from Fort’s pen. Original and committed should be at the top of her résumé. “Just Now” anchors the set in three variations, the first and last of which begin and end the album with their hymnody, the central of which inhales drought and exhales oasis fragrance. In them, Motian breezes through leaves. He is, in fact, a revelation throughout, especially in “Not A Dream?” (from which one can’t help but draw a line of flight to his tune “Lost In A Dream”). This one brings the quartet together in clearest focus, the interplay subtle, sculpted, and secure. His affinity for Fort’s music is obvious, responding dancingly as he does to everything going on around him. Fort approaches the keyboard in kind, kneading her melodies into cells of doughy surprise. In “Rehaired,” she engages Motian in more buoyant conversation. The two are simpatico in this trio setting. Motian carries the full weight of “Not The Perfect Storm,” bringing thunder and lightning to its opening moments before Fort joins the unerring chaos. Here the theme is farthest-reaching, coalescing and spreading—a flock of birds above a field in slow motion—until the last raindrops fall, hitting every leaf like a cymbal.
Robinson, too, is comfortable in his skin. He brings a classic sound to the table, but also a few surprises in his lettings go. “As Two” and “Something ’Bout Camels” make for a fine dual vehicle. He navigates the drunken corridors of the first, a low-slung slice of night, with finesse and switches to ocarina for the second, flitting bird-like through the open skies. And the free improv he shares with Fort in “Chapter-Two” develops a fluent contrast of grit and sparkle. Schuller is another integral force, setting the stage of “Lullaby” behind eyelid curtains and touching the air of “Morning: Good” as would a magician wand a hat. Fort’s pianism shines in his company, but also keeps one arm around the shoulders of a shadow, if only to remind us that every moon has a dark side.
In her composing, Fort never succumbs to sugar. Her leading lines are savory all the way. Neither does she ornament for mere effect, but rather speaks in tongues wholly wrapped around the music. Case in point: “Chapter-One.” A distillery in sound, it swirls and ferments, building body and flavor toward peak balance. A romping beat reveals itself intermittently from the soft tangle, until all that’s left is a feeling of having been here before. We know this music because it lives within, passed from Fort’s heart to ours.