Tsabropoulos/Lechner/Gandhi: Melos (ECM 2048)



Vassilis Tsabropoulos piano
Anja Lechner violoncello
U. T. Gandhi percussion
Recorded June 2007, Auditorio Radio Svizzera
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The second album from Greek pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos and German cellist Anja Lechner, would seem to be a sequel to Chants, Hymns and Dances, but is in many ways a restructuring of that same cosmos rather than a parallel universe to it. The music of G. I. Gurdjieff again provides the heliocenter around which the compositions of Tsabropoulos and fragments of Byzantine hymns coalesce into planets and satellites, respectively. Drummer U. T. Gandhi, making his sophomore ECM appearance following his label debut with the Dino Saluzzi Group on Juan Condori, adds new colors to the project.

The title of Melos refers to the arrangement of notes into a discernible tune (hence: melody), and in this respect its contents succeed beautifully. The title track starts the album with an all-encompassing embrace. Lechner navigates Tsabropoulos’s delicate ostinato in such a way that, even as the pianist continues exploring the ripple effect of her measured silence, when the cello reprises the theme, it does so newly fortified with sacred energy. This feeling of chant, meditation, and return suffuses all that follows, so that mellower songs (for that is indeed what they are) and livelier dances become yin and yang to the program’s overall equilibrium. At its most heartbreakingly lyrical, as in the two so-called “Songs Of Prosperity” and “Song Of Gratitude,” the music retains a bright antiphony throughout. Even “Simplicity,” a piano solo of great solemnity, shines with life force.

Tsabropoulos’s notes often rise like smoke from the swinging censer of Lechner’s bowing, growing especially animated in “Reflections” and its counterpart, “Reflections And Shadows.” At around two minutes each, these lively miniatures compresses an entire history’s worth of joy into vibrant, spinning cores. Such characterization holds truer in the trios, where Gandhi’s contributions feel wedded to every underlying impulse. His cymbals crest ebony waves in the exquisite “Gift Of Dreams,” expand to a broader percussive palette in “Promenade,” and attain broadest harmony in the jazzier “Vocalise.” For “Tibetan Dance,” the first of three strategically positioned Gurdjieff tunes, he adds a distinctly soft touch, and likewise imbues “Sayyid Dance” with the delicate propulsion of a Manu Katché joint. “Reading From A Sacred Book,” on the other hand, unfurls a percussionless banner, pointing to Keith Jarrett’s own reading on the seminal Sacred Hymns, making it all the more appropriate that the present album should end with the title “In Memory,” in which is encoded a shaded smile of gratitude.

The atmosphere of Melos should be of particular interest to fans of The Sea and, even more so, The River. Not because this album has a particularly aquatic feel, but because its combination of sounds and textures yields comparable atmosphere. In addition to its clarity of engineering, Melos is notable for the ordering of its tracks. Just when the music becomes too pretty, it recedes into a shadow or twisted cavern (cf. “Evocation”), where it meditates on the irregularities of life and this fragile world supporting them.

(To hear samples of Melos, click here.)

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