Sinikka Langeland: The half-finished heaven (ECM 2377)

2377 X

Sinikka Langeland
The half-finished heaven

Sinikka Langeland kantele, vocals
Lars Anders Tomter viola
Trygve Seim tenor saxophone
Markku Ounaskari percussion
Recorded January 2013 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Sinikka Langeland is that rare artist whose albums feel as if they’ve always been with us, only it takes the divine intervention of recording them to make them perceivable in this dimension. As a virtuoso of the kantele, a Finnish table harp of the psaltery family, she is unparalleled. As a singer and composer, likewise. Yet beyond her physiological understanding of the relationship between text and arrangement, beyond her sonic woodblock printing of an ancient yet personal mythology, it is her willingness to grow into new territory with every project that makes her visions feel so ingrained. And in that respect she continues her rainbow chase toward the achievement of a settled style, freshening the colors of that spectrum by virtue of her very own.

SL

Langeland owes her evolution in part to the respect of collaborating musicians, whom over the years have grown and changed as the seasons. Out of previous ECM sessions she retains, from Maria’s Song (one of her most unexpected and shatteringly magnetic creations), violist Lars Anders Tomter and, from The Land That Is Not, saxophonist Trygve Seim and percussionist Markku Ounaskari. The idea for this album had been brewing since her debut with the label, after which producer Manfred Eicher suggested a solo kantele outing with minimal singing. The half-finished heaven is the compromise: a program of mostly instrumentals from which three songs rise like spruce trees against a listening sky.

The words come from Nobel Prize-winner Tomas Tranströmer, whose naturalist poetry also gives the album its name. The instrumental set-up of the title song feels like sitting down for a meal with someone you can only hope to see again. The sting of finality in the air is as strong as the drink at your lips as you try to focus on the good memories, which come marching through to the beat of Ounaskari’s snare. There is an intensely cinematic quality to the scene before Langeland silences the cameras with her vocal truth. “Each man is a half-open door,” she sings, “leading to a room for everyone,” and with that single statement the world awakens to the possibility of enjoying the God-given light in peace with others.

In captivation of rising arpeggios from the kantele, “The light streams in” unfolds far less checkered table cloths of expectation:

Outside the window, the long beast of spring
the transparent dragon of sunlight
rushes past like an endless
suburban train—we never got a glimpse of its head.

Langeland’s music is inherently attuned to just this sort of spatial and temporal mixture. Every touch of her instrument thus produces an observational moment, bending notes like branches aching with fruit. Ensnared as they are by sunlight so intense that it “makes the statues blink,” Tomter’s grave double stops drag arms along a wasted earth once filled with beautiful mourning yet which is now only mournfully beautiful. And just over the album’s central cusp is “The tree and the sky,” which at surface level links its titular metaphor to us and nature, while at the biological level erasing any distinction between the two. The viola moves like that tree, an Ent-like presence living out of time but in deep connection to all things material. Langeland’s (bene)diction here is a fairytale come to life for those who will believe it.

In the absences of words, we gain knowledge of absences. Throughout the opening “Hare rune,” for instance, we may notice that Ounaskari’s forested drum speaks as much to the effect of branches as to the sky feathered between them. Even the kantele—in this case, a 15-string version—twirls its ribbons of mercury to draw attention to the resulting chain of circles. Seim’s breathy tenor, meanwhile, sounds like an animal horn blown from a great distance, so that by the time it reaches us it is barely clinging to its note. “The blue tit’s spring song” is another 15-stringed tune, one that features goblet drum for a distinctly brighter sound.

With the additional exception of “Hymn to the fly,” a miniature played on 10 strings, the rest of the album features the 39-string concert kantele, which like a piano is equipped with a sustain pedal that allows for longer decay. Such capabilities of resonance enhance “The white burden,” an old piece from 1978 now making its first appearance on record, but more so the album’s faunal illustrations. Whether trailing feathers in “The woodcock’s flight” and “Caw of the crane” or reveling with “The magical bird” (modeled after a traditional polsdans from Finnskogen), each plucked string is hollow-boned and attuned to any change in wind direction. As in the delightful “Animal miniatures,” we may feel the way of every flit and burrowing.

To hear Langeland, be it through strings or song, is to be healed and know the way of holistic music. Like the ancient materia medica, her runic ways turn plants into cures and animals into protections. She is by no exaggeration a living treasure, and this may just be her most invaluable relic yet.

(To hear samples of The half-finished heaven, click here.)

Benedicte Maurseth/Åsne Valland Nordli: Over Tones (ECM 2315)

Over Tones

Over Tones

Benedicte Maurseth Hardanger fiddle, voice
Åsne Valland Nordli voice
Recorded May 2011 at Strype Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Audun Strype
Production coordination: Guido Gorna
An ECM Production

Over Tones is among a recent crop of ECM recordings featuring young duos playing some of the most absorbing music from the label in years. Unlike the unexpected microscopy of Vilde&Inga or the cavernous implosions of Kappeler/Zumthor, however, the interests of Benedicte Maurseth and Åsne Valland Nordli gravitate toward the traditional folk music of their native Norway. Both hail, in fact, from Hardanger, after which the fiddle at Maurseth’s fingertips was named. The instrument has had its finest advocacy on the label so far from Nils Økland, but Maurseth and Nordli are special for adding their own singing to its sympathetic strings. That they once worked regularly with Berit Opheim (now a fulltime member of the Trio Mediaeval) should come as no surprise once you hear the clarity of their voices. So effective was their overlap that they paired forces in this seamless program of old and new music, and it makes a welcome addition to ECM’s new directions.

Over Portrait
(Photo credit: Ingvil Skeie Ljones)

While this album will speak most directly to fans of Økland’s premodern sets, and despite the fact that Hardanger fiddling is very much its own entity, those familiar with the alpine visions of Swiss violinist Paul Giger (see, for example, Alpstein, to which I have also compared Økland’s Lysøen) will find much to admire in the duo’s free improvisations. “Overtone” in particular expands on likeminded impulses of dance and drone with the fleshiness of human voices. “Ales” is another silhouette of externalized thought in which history appears as a glowing exchange between the self and its double. In this sense, Nordli’s purely vocal presence is an integral part of the music’s solution and dissolution, for its power may carry us out softly on a woven raft even as it readies the next one.

Norwegian folk singing, known as kveding, encompasses a range of styles and encourages the performer’s spontaneous detailing, but in the context of Over Tones its core religious aspects are lovingly foregrounded. Despite appearing in lyric form on only two songs culled from the villages of Luster, in western Norway, the overtly redemptive themes of “Jesus gjør meg stille” and “Kilden” turn also on the instrumental axes of the duo’s original tunes. The origins of Maurseth’s opening “Adle,” for one, are unquestionably divine in origin. The patience with which its harmonic-only melody turns the fiddle into a choir of glass is like seeing the moonlight through a forest canopy, but knowing it speaks in a dialect of sun. And Nordli’s own “Veverskens tid” matches the fiddle’s keening heart with a leaping vocal act that pulls relics from the past in the manner of a bird catching worms.

Any secular inclinations are to be found in two traditional dances from the southern valley of Setesdal. The combination of human-possessed and human-made instruments lends three-dimensionality to every step and shows that each, like the musicians themselves, has a little of one in the other.

(To hear samples of Over Tones, click here.)

Jean-Louis Matinier & Marco Ambrosini: Inventio (ECM 2348)

Inventio

Inventio

Jean-Louis Matinier accordion
Marco Ambrosini nyckelharpa
Recorded April 2013, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Lara Persia
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Although French accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier and Marco Ambrosini, Italian virtuoso of the nyckelharpa (a Swedish traditional instrument that is something of a cross between hurdy-gurdy and vielle), have existed as a duo since 2008, it took a period of refinement and an invitation to record for ECM Records in 2013 before their music at last saw the digital light of day. Anyone who has followed the career of Anouar Brahem in the 21st century will have encountered Matinier alongside the Tunisian oudist on 2002’s Le pas du chat noir and 2006’s Le Voyage de Sahar. Ambrosini is recognized as a leading proponent of the nyckelharpa and has carried that instrument in fresh directions across a varied terrain of recordings. Matinier has elsewhere characterized his musical relationship with Ambrosini as “a total dialogue,” and the description could hardly be more appropriate. They complete each other’s sentences.

Inventio Duo

The first strains of “Wiosna,” among the lion’s share of tracks penned by Matinier, immediately recall another duo: Argentine bandoneonista Dino Saluzzi and German cellist Anja Lechner. Both partnerships are savvy in terms of rhythm and atmosphere, morphing from tears into triumph at a moment’s notice. And yet, if Saluzzi and Lechner could be said to treat the listener like a canvas, Matinier and Ambrosini treat the listener like a movie screen on which to project moving images. This analogic difference comes about through both a distinct timbral palette and an unprecedented program. It is virtuosic and gorgeous all the same, but in its own way indivisible.

Matinier’s writing comprises a folk music all its own. Whether in the cartographic flybys of “Hommage” and “Kochanie Moje” or in the briefer passages of “Taïga” and “Balinese,” an underlying pulse finds consummation in the musicians’ synergy, which is so seamless that it’s sometimes difficult to tell where one instrument ends and the other begins. Even in Matinier’s two solo tracks, the nyckelharpa’s droning spirit lingers. Of those solos, “Szybko” is particularly moving and brings to mind the flute playing of Guo Yue. Like the “Siciliènne” (by accordionist-composer André Astier) that closes the album, his are fleeting portraits of places out of time. Also out of time are Ambrosini’s own compositions, through which the nyckelharpa’s sympathetic strings resonate like a life force. His “Basse Dance” best exploits the duo’s interlocking sound and might just as well have been lifted from a Renaissance manuscript. In this context the nyckelharpa sounds like a viola da gamba and signals the titular dance with a locomotive pulse. His “Tasteggiata” and “Tasteggiata 2” are likewise steam-driven, chugging through a full spectrum of color.

The album’s circle rounds out with segments plucked from a tangle of Baroque repertoire by Giovanni Pergolesi, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, and Johann Sebastian Bach. A “Presto” from the latter’s g-minor sonata for solo violin is reborn at Ambrosini’s fingertips, which imbue this familiar piece with an ancient air, while the “Inventio 4” from Bach’s Two- and Three-part Inventions yields not only the album’s title but also its most luminescent notecraft. Folk touches from Ambrosini again pull this music into a deeper origin myth. Such integrations make the Baroque selections something much more than obligatory nods to an established canon. Their placement stirs the waters with a certain depth of interpretation that links them to a chain across borders.

(See this review as it originally appeared in RootsWorld online magazine and listen to samples here.)

Review of Inventio for RootsWorld

My latest review for RootsWorld online magazine is of Jean-Louis Matinier and Marco Ambrosini’s Inventio. For what it’s worth, this is so far (and by far) my favorite ECM release of the 21st century. No exaggeration. Click the cover to read my review and hear samples of this phenomenal album.

Inventio

The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble: Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff (ECM 2236)

GFIE

The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble
Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff

Emmanuel Hovhannisyan duduk
Avag Margaryan blul
Armen Ayvazyan kamancha
Aram Nikoghosyan oud
Levon Torosyan oud
Meri Vardanyan kanon
Vladimir Papikyan santur
Davit Avagyan tar
Mesrop Khalatyan dap, dhol
Armen Yeganyan saz
Reza Nesimi tombak
Harutyun Chkolyan duduk
Tigran Karapetyan duduk
Artur Atoyan dam duduk
Levon Eskenian director
Recorded November and December 2008 at Teryan Studio, Public Radio of Armenia, Yerevan
Recording producer: Levon Eskenian
Engineers: Armen Yeganyan and Khatchig Khatchadourian
Mastered by ECM at MSM Studio, Munich
Album produced by Manfred Eicher

The music of esoteric spiritual teacher G. I. Gurdjieff has been a lucid, if sporadic, touchstone of ECM set lists since Sacred Hymns, released in 1980. Keith Jarrett’s solo album was an appropriate place to begin such an association, as Gurdjieff’s inner melodies were made available to the outer world through the piano transcriptions of his student, Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann. Music was an integral part of Gurdjieff’s teachings, and much of his oeuvre of over 300 pieces came from a place unknown. The energy of his melodies molded the skeleton of its own sacred geometry, and to have an entire ensemble of musicians dedicating their musical lives to casting its patterns across the oceans is a gift, pure and simple.

On a mission of his own to nuance this romantic vision is Levon Eskenian, whose program draws from Gurdjieff’s experiences in lands where the instruments of this ensemble would have been heard in context, singing of the earth even while soaring above it. Eskenian and his talented musicians thus shine Gurdjieff’s light through the prism of the traditions he would have encountered as an itinerant (anti-)ascetic. There is an unmitigated sensibility at work in their extraction of the Armenian, Greek, Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian, and Caucasian sources Eskenian heard echoing in Gurdjieff’s music. At last, we can experience them in interlocking contrast.

Four pieces link to cellist Anja Lechner and pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos’s Chants, Hymns and Dances, the 2004 album which took Gurdjieff as starting point for improvisational pathways. Excepting the brightly inflected “Bayaty,” the present versions put the Armenian double-reed duduk at the center of the picture. The “Chant from a Holy Book” places three duduk alongside a single oud. Structured as a tagh, or Armenian sacred song, its cantabile enchantment opens the program at dusk. In comparison to the previously recorded reading, this one suspends itself, rendering the oud a current of wind beneath feathers. “Duduki” adds to this instrumental configuration the dap, or Persian frame drum. With such flexible tension in tow, the melody coheres by way of a mournful finality, even as it extends back toward infancy. Four duduk and one dap form the evocative palette of “Assyrian Women Mourners,” which is as cleansing as it is heart-wrenching.

Some tunes ply the trade of ancient dances. Two selections from Gurdjieff’s Asian Songs and Rhythms explore the ensemble’s percussive capabilities to the fullest. Combining Armenian motifs and spontaneous creation, they allow insight into the meta-level of it all: We can hear Eskenian hearing Gurdjieff hearing something in the world. Others, like the “Caucasian Dance,” draw from a rainbowed palette, relaying ecstatic flights and contemplative landings. Elsewhere, as in the “Sayyid Chant and Dance No. 10,” amalgamations of Greek, Sephardic, and Andalusian influences abound. In these compressions, the receiving body becomes a sheet of paper folded until its resistance as a single molecule can no longer be doubled.

The most transformative moments are reserved for the Kurdish tunes: a “Shepherd Melody,” played on instruments used by shepherds, and the “Atarnakh, Kurd Song,” which traverses continents in single bounds yet with a quiet dignity that feels as effortless as a cloud. At the heart of all this stands a “Prayer” played solo on the kanon zither. By its sounding a nameless portal opens, through which the hesitation of spiritual experience flees into the darkest corners of the mind.

In the album’s booklet, composer Tigran Mansurian describes a silence at the core of this music. Indeed, it moves to what Gurdjieff called the “swing of thought,” that unquantifiable rhythm by which flesh and spirit dance their eternal dance. These sounds are shadows of those movements, and in them is the key to a door, behind which glows the solace of another key.

(To hear samples of Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff, click here.)

Giovanna Pessi/Susanna Wallumrød: If Grief Could Wait (ECM 2226)

If Grief Could Wait

Giovanna Pessi
Susanna Wallumrød
If Grief Could Wait

Giovanna Pessi baroque harp
Susanna Wallumrød voice
Jane Achtman viola da gamba
Marco Ambrosini nyckelharpa
Recorded November 2010, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Music for a while
Shall all your cares beguile…

Harpist Giovanna Pessi and vocalist Susanna Wallumrød join forces with Jane Achtman on viola da gamba and Marco Ambrosini on the nyckelharpa (Swedish keyed fiddle). The songs of Henry Purcell (1659-1695), Leonard Cohen (80 years old at the time of this review), Nick Drake (1948-1974), and Wallumrød herself are subjects of this unforgettable disc. Drawing on the early music assemblage to which she so artfully contributed in Rolf Lislevand’s Diminuito, but also the genre-breaking experiments of Christian Wallumrød (through whom she met the pianist’s younger sister, Susanna), Pessi describes without words as much as Wallumrød with. Together, they open rear doors into vintage houses, rummaging through dust-covered artifacts until the spirit of each becomes obvious. Only then do they press RECORD.

Portrait of Grief

Among the Purcell selections are references to his opera The Fairy-Queen (“The Plaint”), his incidental The Theater of Music (“If Grief Has Any Pow’r To Kill” and “O Solitude”) and Oedipus (“Music For A While”), and the anthemic Harmonia Sacra (“An Evening Hymn”). Through all of these runs a plaintive thread from which is hung ornaments that sound as spontaneous as they do plucked from the pond of antiquity in which they originated. Despite exploring the most resilient themes of song—death and love—their enchantment feels fresh by virtue of Stefano Amerio’s engineering, which cuts the harp’s glitter with shadow and spikes pools in forest glades with melancholy.

Of Cohen’s craft, which might seem unlikely company were it not for the similarly forested landscapes, we encounter two examples. Pessi and Wallumrød expand “Who By Fire” from its two-and-a-half-minute appearance on the 1974 album New Skin for the Old Ceremony—incidentally, a suitable descriptor for the present album’s reworking of the past—to a four-minute prayer (Cohen, too, tended to play the song for longer durations in live settings). The song’s morbid list of deaths, barely removed from its religious roots in the Unetanneh Tokef of Jewish liturgy, cuts an especially intimate silhouette. “You Know Who I Am” reaches back further to Cohen’s second album, Songs from a Room, released in 1969. Its poetry embraces a rare combination of vulnerability and fortitude that glistens as it beckons and turns the planets like elements of a larger-than-life mobile. All the more so for being so lovingly recreated here.

It is through such passion that Wallumrød the singer can be superseded only by Wallumrød the composer. Her rustic “The Forester” travels diagonally across fairy realms. Like an Arthur Rackham illustration come to life, it takes shape in leaves and brambles, flowing dresses and birdlike bodies. Her refrain of “Who are you?” explores curiosities of interaction much akin to Cohen’s. “Hangout,” too, reveals a songwriter keenly aware of spaces in which nature comes down like a mist and descends on those who breathe it in, so that they might exhale a language of dissolution.

Finally, Drake’s “Which Will,” off the tragically short-lived singer’s final album, Pink Moon (1972), is the flipside to “Who By Fire.” Its agile, seeking lyricism yearns for love in brighter places. As with the smattering of Purcell instrumentals that rounds out this disc, it cages dancing airs and sunrises within the cold hands of experience.

If Grief Could Wait is a must-have for fans of John Potter’s Dowland Project, and for those who appreciate the art of song, magnified.

(To hear samples of If Grief Could Wait, click here.)

Sinikka Langeland: The Land That Is Not (ECM 2210)

The Land That Is Not

Sinikka Langeland
The Land That Is Not

Sinikka Langeland vocal, kantele
Arve Henriksen trumpet
Trygve Seim soprano and tenor saxophones
Anders Jormin double-bass
Markku Ounaskari drums
Recorded September 2010 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Norwegian singer and kantele virtuoso Sinikka Langeland expands the brilliance of her ECM debut, Starflowers, in a program of original settings of poems by Edith Södergran (1892-1923) and Olav H. Hauge (1908-1994). Here the enmeshment of her roots with modern jazz achieves a harmony of the spheres. “I long for the land that is not,” she sings in the title song, “for I am weary of desiring all things that are.” Södergran’s words reveal a shaded, modernist voice that, like Langeland’s, tracks border zones between melancholy and luminescence. The rasping of her bandmates sets a tone of expanse by a sound that is both new for Langeland and an intensification of the traditions feeding every word she shapes.

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Regarding said bandmates, Langeland nestles herself in the company of trumpeter Arve Henriksen, saxophonist Trygve Seim, bassist Anders Jormin, and drummer Markku Ounaskari—all familiar names to anyone whose ridden ECM’s Nordic currents in the past decade. Yet despite recognition of those names and the varied styles flowing from beneath them, this is not an album of solos and highlights. Verily, one might point to Seim and Henriken’s trajectories in “What Is Tomorrow?” and the herder’s call that begins “Spring In The Mountain,” or even the anchored bassing of “A Strip Of Sea,” but these are three stars in a galaxy of thought that spins outward from the program as a whole. They emit light as melody incarnate, dusting the crops of Langeland’s salt-of-the-earth voicings with affection.

The Land That Is Not, then, is not just a title but also a method. In being so vividly founded in language, its awareness peels away from terrestrial understandings. The larger questions put forth by such songs as “Triumph Of Being” and “It’s The Dream” seem to shine from the mouth of Time personified: a creator and destroyer in one. The grooviest passage thereof pave equal deference through light and darkness, while around it all Langeland’s kantele paints an ever-growing ice shelf of c(h)oral colors before planking a harbor of need at which we may all dock ship, spouting the rhyme of the most ancient mariner of them all: love. This is how we arrive at such a cosmic reach. Be it through the thaw of spring in the words of a laboring current (“The River Murmurs”) or trembling of first encounters blown into dust (“The Day Cools”), left like a trail of breadcrumbs along a freely woven path of fortune (“Lucky Cat”) or as the bloodstain of a heavy heart (“Slowly The Truth Dawns”), we can feel in these arrangements the ticking of some giant clock, of which we are the faintest passing seconds, such that by the end flesh becomes the shroud of a new year, a new era, a new self-awakening.

Like the label it calls home, this music travels by unraveling, even as it unravels by traveling.

(To hear samples of The Land That Is Not, click here.)

Stefano Bollani & Hamilton de Holanda: O que será (ECM 2332)

O que será

Stefano Bollani
Hamilton de Holanda
O que será

Stefano Bollani piano
Hamilton de Holanda bandolim
Recorded live August 17, 2012 at Jazz Middelheim, Antwerp by VRT-Vlaamse Radio en Televisie
Engineers: Walter de Niel and Johan Favoreel
Mixed at Rainbow Studio, Oslo by Jan Erik Kongshaug, Roberto Lioli, and Stefano Bollani
Album produced by Manfred Eicher

Since first sharing a stage together at a 2009 music festival in northern Italy, Italian pianist Stefano Bollani and Brazilian bandolim (10-string mandolin) maestro Hamilton de Holanda have met frequently as a duo. In this, their first full live album, they expand their commitment to beauteous improvisation in an electric atmosphere bound by faith in the moment. While not such a surprise in terms of programming—Bollani has, after all, extolled his passion for Brazilian music on Orvieto, and elsewhere—the album sparkles with ingenuity.

Bollani and de Holanda

In his pointillist fervor, Bollani has an obvious affinity for Chick Corea and Scott Joplin, while de Holanda’s playing dovetails Django Reinhardt and Egberto Gismonti at their best. These are a mere few of the many influences one might read into the notecraft of these consummate virtuosos, to say nothing of the great composers whose timeless melodies fly from their fingers. That said, the verdant, sparkling relays of Bollani’s “Il barbone di Siviglia” and the crystalline wanderings of de Holanda’s “Caprichos de Espanha” hold their own alongside classics from Astor Piazzolla (“Oblivión”), Antonio Carlos Jobim (“Luiza”), and Pixinguinha (“Rosa”). In their capable hands, such timeworns are fresh as summer while the originals feel like folk songs torn from the pages of a shared past. Across the board, de Holanda’s picking is restless but never overbearing. Bollani in the meantime emotes assuredly, caressingly, and all with a smile like the setting sun.

Two tracks of strikingly different character epitomize the duo at its most attuned. De Holanda dominates the ins and outs of “Guarda che luna” (Gualtiero Malgoni/Bruno Pallesi), in which his impassioned singing inspires cheers and laughter from the audience. A memorable relay as he switches to muted comping beneath Bollani’s flights of fancy adds oomph to their pristine musicality. Even more engaging is “Canto de Ossanha” (Baden Powell/Vinicius de Moraes), which becomes a rhythmic master class in controlled tension. The feeling of progression here is so vivid, it’s practically uncontainable. And yet, contain it the musicians do by means of their joyful, flared unity.

A smattering of lyrical tunes rounds out the set. Between the lush, balladic opener “Beatriz” (Edu Lobo, Chico Buarque) and the vivacious “Apanhei-te Cavaquinho” (Ernesto Nazareth) that closes, Bollani and de Holanda become increasingly more like each other, reflections of anticipation and follow-through. Like the title track (also by Buarque), their enchantment comes about in the exuberances for which no score has a means of notation. Rarely has a duo been this exciting, and results of this fortuitous encounter rank easily among ECM’s top 10 for the new millennium.

(To hear samples of O que será, click here.)

 

Saluzzi/Lechner/Saluzzi: Navidad de los Andes (ECM 2204)

Navidad de los Andes

Dino Saluzzi
Anja Lechner
Felix Saluzzi
Navidad de los Andes

Dino Saluzzi bandoneon
Anja Lechner violoncello
Felix Saluzzi tenor saxophone, clarinet
Recorded July 2010, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Building on the fruitfulness of their previous collaborations, Dino Saluzzi and Anja Lechner have never sounded so beautiful together as they do on Navidad de los Andes. Their unity reaches profoundest depths, more attentive than ever to the value of spaces between them. This achievement proves to be the album’s blessing and its curse.

In light of their groundbreaking Ojos Negros, the Argentine bandoneón master and German cellist welcome the former’s brother Felix, a reedman of exquisite talent who has graced such classic records as Mojotoro, Juan Condori, and more recently El Valle de la Infancia. Where in those larger contexts the Saluzzi “family band,” as it has come to be known, worked wonders in selective navigations of original and traditional sources, in this more compact setting Felix’s contributions on tenor saxophone feel somewhat excessive. Thankfully, they appear only on three tracks, working progressively better from the incongruous “Requerdos de Bohemia” to the jazzier “Candor/Soledad” and lastly to “Ronda de niños en la montaña,” where it fits best for being more like a voice singing a lullaby.

Lechner and the Saluzzis

Felix’s clarinet, on the other hand, is a revelation. Whether nominally fronted in fragments from the “Trio for clarinet and two bandoneóns” or exploring the tango in “Variaciones sobre una melodia popular de José L. Padula,” his heavenly tone deepens the atmosphere of everything he touches. On that point, the trio functions most effectively when duties are shared in equal measure, as in “Son qo’ñati,” a lively dance that finds each musician handing off motives to the next in a continuous chain of technique and ingenuity. Breathtaking.

But it is, again, the bandoneón-and-cello center that mines the purest ore. Each collaboration in this vein develops its own film of a faraway ecosystem. The whistles and birdcalls of “Flor de tuna” give way to the cloudless sky of “Sucesos” and finish the album with the egalitarian “Otoño.” Along the way, the duo gives “Gabriel Kondor,” last heard on Saluzzi’s ECM debut, Kultrum, a nostalgic makeover.

Despite the tenor’s minor setback, the album stays true to its title, which translates as “Andean Nativity.” A spiritual sense of family and community across eras has always been at the heart of Saluzzi’s music, through which those dynamics thrive. Indeed, life would be nothing without them.

(To hear samples of Navidad de los Andes, click here.)