Enrico Rava flugelhorn Fred Hersch piano Recorded November 2021 Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano Engineer: Stefano Amerio Cover: Fidel Sclavo Produced by Manfred Eicher Release date: September 9, 2022
Pianist Fred Hersch makes his ECM debut in intimately grand fashion with maestro Enrico Rava on flugelhorn. Their meeting at Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI yields some of the most effortless jazz you’ll likely hear this year. Hersch’s opening embrace eases us into Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Retrato em Branco e Preto” as if the set could open no other way, fanning expository poetry in place of lantern flame. An old-town quality prevails, navigating cobblestone streets on tiptoe yet never losing its footing.
Contrary to immediate expectation, this is followed by a free improvisation, which tempers the familiar with new shades of meaning. George Bassman’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” gets a delicate and rhythmically endearing treatment, while the title track by Jerome Kern is enigmatically transformed into a crystalline snowdrift of memory. Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso” walks a fine line between dream and reality, giving way to artful abstractions that reveal two minds with lifetimes more to say, as do the originals that precede it. Whereas “Child’s Song” (Hersch) conveys innocence with a nostalgic, summery feel that harks to yesteryears, “The Trial” (Rava) renders an entanglement of spiral staircases and other modern architectural details. All of this leaves Hersch alone with “’Round Midnight,” floating into the promise of a new day, uncertain though it may be.
These musicians achieve the extraordinary by sounding like one unit without sacrificing their voices. They dance as few know how, unfolding a love letter one page at a time until only a wax seal seems appropriate to protect its contents from the sun’s bleaching touch.
Uli Kempendorff tenor saxophone Julia Hülsmann piano Marc Muellbauer double bass Heinrich Köbberling drums Recorded March 2022 Studio La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines Engineer: Gérard de Haro Mastering: Nicolas Baillard Cover photo: Thomas Wunsch Produced by Thomas Herr Release date: August 26, 2022
Although Julia Hülsmann has crafted a hearty sequence of trio records for ECM, including 2017’s Sooner and Later, there has always been something even more intimate and honed about her quartet with tenor saxophonist Uli Kempendorff, bassist Marc Muellbauer, and drummer Heinrich Köbberling, as is refreshingly obvious throughout “Empty Hands,” in which Hülsmann throws notes like petals onto the waters of life to see where they might flow. As they did on this album’s predecessor, Not Far From Here, these effortlessly attuned musicians navigate her sound with familial affinity. After “Made Of Wood” deconstructs the introductory mood, a melodic breeze wafts over the keys, carrying over into “Jetzt Noch Nicht.” Taking two forms—initially as a duet with Kempendorff, later as a swinging outing for all four—it delicately offsets tracks like “Fluid,” an emblematic realization of their capabilities that rejoices in the ongoing moment.
Muellbauer contributes three originals with a more geometric approach to time and harmony. In his “Polychrome,” the piano is a wavering shadow, the saxophone a refraction of light stepping sideways past us, while in “Wasp At The Window,” a locomotive whimsy ensues. The landscape outside our window remains the same, but its description changes along the way. Hülsmann’s ability to carry so much cargo in so fine a mesh is marvelous. Kempendorff and Köbberling offer a tune apiece. The former’s “Open Up” balances emotiveness and restraint, and the latter’s “Post Post Post” is a standout for its liminal expressivity.
No Hülsmann set would be complete without an ode to the popular canon, and her reading of Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows In April” is no exception. With charming comfort, it promises hope at the end of a long and harmful tunnel that none of us saw coming.
Pascale Berthelot piano Recorded November 29, 2018 Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines Engineer: Gérard de Haro Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at La Buissonne Mastering Studio Steinway grand piano prepared and tuned by Alain Massonneau Release date: October 26, 2020
Pianist Pascale Berthelot, a remarkable interpreter of (and favorite among) living composers, becomes one herself—in a sense—throughout this program of five extended improvisations. Liberated at the behest of Gérard de Haro, engineer and head of Studios La Buissonne in France, these unabashedly visual evocations of in-the-moment imaginings constitute one of the most multidimensional piano recordings I’ve heard in years. While its impressionism lays its head as much on the shoulder of Poulenc as Jarrett, it shapes itself one body part at a time without the ultimate need for such comparative garments. Regardless of the lines of reckoning we might connect from Earth to its distant galaxy, it validates the listener’s imagination, and in that spirit I offer mine in return.
“Balance des étoiles” opens the curtains as if in expectation of morning but instead finds the moon masquerading as the sun, rising in mimicry of dawn. The toes become restless for the feel of soil between them, the heart for a lamp to light the way. What began as a reverie ends as a descent into ocean, where prose and poetry comingle until the difference is impossible to make out. In “Ciel s’illune,” the sky and earth are flipped, so that another distinction—that between inhalation and exhalation—is rendered mythological. When we at last get to the center of this genetic spiral, “Nuits, chères” abandons the lie of tranquility for the truth of its unsettling, thus evoking the bliss and deeper love that a relationship conflict can yield. Even in “Chambre sans langage,” in which the intonations of dampened piano strings resound like a knock at the door, spiritual tendencies move beyond prayer into communion. And so, when the dream of “Clair éclat de l’M” lights a ponderous candle with its tongue, it adds one last link to the chain we’ve been extending all along, dragging behind us a memory box whose contents we have already forgotten.
And yet, we mustn’t fool ourselves into thinking that the world Berthelot describes existed before these utterances. Rather, we experience it as she does, unfolding in real time at the touch of flesh and key until something inevitable arises. Thus, the recording itself is a song made up by a child lost in the woods, holding on to lullabies as the only answers to her questions of fear and emerging all the stronger for it.
Barre Phillips double bass György Kurtág jr. live electronics Recording/mixing: September 2020 – September 2021 Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines by Gérard de Haro, Manfred Eicher, György Kurtág jr., and Barre Phillips Mastering: Nicolas Baillard Cover: Fidel Sclavo Produced by Manfred Eicher Release date: August 19, 2022
Although Barre Phillips and György Kurtág jr., respective virtuosos of the double bass and electronics, first collaborated by chance, one might not know it by the interlacing qualities of Face à Face. Each artist translates the other’s language in a borderless loop of communication, so that by the end we are one step closer to sharing their lexicon.
They begin in subterranean space, listening as if with the tympanal organs of a beetle to the stirrings of labyrinth makers. And maybe they never plant feet aboveground, more content to abandon the light for other forms of perception. Despite hints of the outside world in the sampled drums of “Two By Two” and the kalimba of “Across The Aisle,” our flesh always feels caught by something we cannot readily touch except in thought. Still, a feeling of tactility reigns.
The briefest excursions never reach two minutes, while the longest ones exceed only four. Among the latter, “Chosen Spindle” travels into backlit caves of memory, where seemingly infinite regressions flirt with the here and now.
Phillips is a sage of the bow, turning harmonies into shaded reveries that speak of decades leading to their emergence. In “Extended Circumstances,” he sings with mythical electricity in folds of cricket-like chatter. His pizzicato, too, moves vocally through the refractions of “Ruptured Air.” Kurtág plays his instrument (a practically biomechanical array of synthesizers and digital percussion) as a physical appendage, never letting go even when placing a shushing finger in the foreground. “Sharpen Your Eyes” is a remarkable example of his structural sensibilities, artfully suited to the bassist’s renderings of space. Their deepest integration takes form in the ironically titled “Stand Alone,” wherein mitochondrial anthems resound. Even “Forest Shouts” speaks in quiet streams of thought, each ripple extending a hand to pull us upstream to where it all began.
If asked to compare this to another album, I might nominate Heiner Goebbels’s Stifters Dinge, to which this may be heard as an electronic counterpart. Both are dreams awaiting visitors.
Mathis Mayr cello Antonis Anissegos piano, prepared piano Stamatis Passopoulos bayan Dine Doneff double bass, guitar, percussion Recorded live July 2, 2015 Einstein Kultur Munich Engineer: Hans R. Weiss Remix: Pande Noushin Mastering: Tome Rapovina Cover artwork: Fotini Potamia
For the third full installment of his neRED label series, multi-instrumentalist Dine Doneff presents a live set of seven original pieces. Playing bass, guitar, and percussion, he leads a quartet completed by cellist Mathis Mayr, pianist Antonis Anissegos, and bayan player Stamatis Passopoulos. This combination yields a fascinating gallery of scenes painted in various mediums, often within the same track. The opening “Pripapindoll,” for example, introduces us to a faintly abstract sound, a pencil sketch for the paint yet to be applied. When the melody makes itself known, it leaves a trail of pigment in search of evergreen hills beyond. The range of sonorities these instruments achieve is as varied as the topography they describe, culminating in a folk-like flourish. “Endekapalmos” follows a parallel path of development from less ordered dreams to smooth awakening, opening its vista for the bayan’s welcome entrance, sunlit and free as the wind. Doneff’s bass is the anchor for “The Fallen,” in which a groovier aesthetic prevails, the cello adding a fluid overlay, riding a wave of emotional transference from one peak to another. Mayr and Doneff carry over their traction into “Meglen,” setting up an evocative vehicle for Passopoulos and Anissegos, who trade words and memories to climactic ends. After the bayan interlude of “Exile,” a cinematic nostalgia bleeds into “Rite of Passage,” the initial flow of which clots in the improvised plasma of a prepared piano. At last, we reach the turning point of “Prolet.” Building from guitar arpeggios, it shifts into higher gear through percussive color changes, driving toward the horizon without once looking back because the only thing that matters is catching the last glimpse of sun before it dies.
André Roligheten tenor, soprano and bass saxophones, clarinet Petter Eldh double bass Gard Nilssen drums Recorded June 2021 Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines Engineer: Gérard de Haro Mastering: Nicolas Baillard Cover: Fotini Potamia Produced by Steve Lake Release date: July 15, 2022
André Roligheten is one of the most exciting young saxophonists in the Norwegian jazz scene. I had the pleasure of seeing him in various guises under the auspices of the 2018 Nutshell jazz festival (see my writeup and photos here), and I always hoped to see his name on an ECM roster one day. I am happy to say that day has come, and I can hardly imagine finer company than Swedish bassist Petter Eldh (who made his first label appearance as part of Django Bates’ Belovèd on The Study Of Touch) and Norwegian drummer Gard Nilssen, whose highly sought-after name emblazons Elastic Wave as bandleader. Nilssen has played with almost anyone of note in the European circuit you can think of, from veterans like Audun Kleive (under whom he studied) and Arild Andersen to fresher talents like Maciej Obara (see Unlovedand Three Crowns) and Roligheten himself. His paths have also intersected with major figures from across the pond, including Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny.
With such a title and album cover to go with it, we might expect a frenzy of activity. Instead, we are introduced to Acoustic Unity’s fluid identity via “Altaret,” one of two more relaxed tunes from Eldh’s pen. In silver-tinted monochrome, it lays an ante of trust on the proverbial card table. Later in the set, the bassist’s “Dreignau” allows the chips to fall where they may, tapping into an ethos that animates everything the band touches. “Influx Delight” breaks form with a tenor-led romp of post-bop energy that sparks the senses and, along with “Acoustic Dance Music” (both were co-written by Nilssen and Roligheten), puts its unique brand of introspective extroversion on full display. On the flip side, we find extroverted introspection in Roligheten’s “Cercle 85” and “Til Liv.” Whereas the first is a clarinet-led stroll through streets at night, the second is an ode to the composer’s daughter, the abstractions of which capture that delightful complexity daughters so uniquely hold. Nilssen’s “Spending Time With Ludvig” counters with a tribute to the drummer’s son, while “Boogie” flows with Eldh in intuitive confluence. Its free and easy style never forces its hand, puffing out old clouds into a new sky.
Nilssen cites many influences, from Jack DeJohnette to Jon Christensen (one of whose cymbals, in fact, takes pride of place in this session’s kit), among others. The tune “Lokket til Jon, og skjerfet til Paul,” notes this album’s press release, “also alludes to a scarf once left at the La Buissonne studio by Paul Motian, used here to take the edge off the bass drum’s ringing overtones.” Brushed drums and softly splashing cymbals show an artist at the kit, painting in everything from watercolor and acrylics to thickly applied oils. Roligheten’s sensitivities retake the helm, revealing the same depth of character I experienced in live settings. The saxophonist further contributes “The Other Village,” in which he plays tenor and soprano simultaneously, surprising us with bagpipe sonorities before riding Nilssen’s rolling thunder into oblivion. The latter’s “The Room Next To Her” closes the set with the guttural wonders of Roligheten on bass saxophone. Such feet-to-flame playing enacts a slow-motion punch to the gut that leaves us stronger for it. I can’t wait for Round 2.
Avishai Cohen trumpet Yonathan Avishai piano Barak Mori double bass Ziv Ravitz drums Recorded September 2021 Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines Engineer: Gérard de Haro Mastering: Nicolas Baillard Cover photo: Juan Hitters Produced by Manfred Eicher Release date: February 25, 2022
The first eight notes of Naked Truth planted themselves in the soil of trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s mind at the beginning of the pandemic. Thus sprouted the present suite in as many parts. Every question it poses can only be answered by listening.
Cohen and his faithful bandmates—pianist Yonathan Avishai, bassist Barak Mori, and drummer Ziv Ravitz—craft a story that has been told before, but rarely with such transparency. Part I opens with a duet between Cohen and Mori that looks through holes in the fence of life to glimpse what hopes might exist beyond. Part II introduces the sparks of Avishai at the keys, floating from the small fires of Ravitz at the kit. Cohen and Mori close with a prayer as much for the journey ahead as for the rubble left behind.
The pianism of Part III reaches vastly, setting up a bass-doubled motif that circles in search of song. From these threads, Cohen spins a fibrous sound, muted yet strong enough to suspend the very earth before revealing a heart of light. Past the softer carpet of Part IV, Parts V and VI offer respective interludes for piano and drums, before the introspective Part VII rises in intimate grandeur. Part VIII adopts a backward glance, grooving subtly into the receding horizon.
The set closes with Cohen’s reading of “Departure” (written in full below), a poem by Zelda Schneurson Mishkovsky (1914-1984), in a translation from the Hebrew by Sharon Mohar and Cohen himself. Cohen recited this poem during his ECM 50th anniversary appearance at Lincoln Center. Its opening lines, which make up this review’s epigraph, have lived with me ever since. Mishkovsky reminds us that even when our elders hand us the truths of their experience, we tend to ignore them until we know them firsthand. We must live separated yet ever in the world, holding certainty like the candle it is, knowing its flame will one day sputter out. The music beneath the verses frames Cohen as a traveler whose journey has graciously intersected with ours for the exact duration of this album. I thank him for the honor of sharing the road with us.
… . …
Departure Zelda Schneurson MishkovskyTranslated from Hebrew by Sharon Mohar and Avishai Cohen
It is necessary to begin the departure from the splendour of the skies and the colours of earth, to stand alone and face the silence of death, to part from curiosity, part from words, all the words that I’ve read and heard.
And from water, that I’ve seen and haven’t seen. To die without seeing the ocean.
Part from the air of the night and part from the air of the morning.
Part from weeds, part from a fruit tree and from a barren tree, from the lesser light and from the stars.
Abandon the sight of a flying bird, part from the sight of a beast or an insect, part from my friends and comrades, part from the dampest of excitement and from fear of the obscure madness.
Part from the Shabbat, from the sweetness of the seventh day.
Part from all work and art, from rituals, from rain and from all that is pleasing to the eye.
It is necessary to part from Knowing-Good-And-Evil of this world since other terms of good and evil are there.
Part from what happened, from the deep sleep and from the dream.
Part from shame, from the fear of death, from guilt, from curse, from exhaustion.
Part from reflections about life, from reflections about human nature, from reflections about the nature of the universe.
Part from reflections about the difference between myself and the other, from reflections about identity, from reflections about my inner nature, from reflections about how little I know about myself and about all that is around me, part from the sensation of the soul facing the high mountains, part from the need of food, from anxiety, from the ridicule.
Part from the clouds, from all that is changing, from the undefined, from fire, from stones and from wisdom.
From the physical movement and from the inner movement. From love and from hate. From music. And before the end, to live with the fear of their death, and the certainty of my own.
Kit Downes piano Petter Eldh double bass James Maddren drums Recorded May/June 2021 Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano Engineer: Stefano Amerio Cover photo: Fotini Potamia Produced by Manfred Eicher Release date: February 11, 2021
On Vermillion, pianist Kit Downes continues guiding his chisel along ECM’s burnished surface. With bassist Petter Eldh and drummer James Maddren, he presents a mixture of ripe and freshly planted tunes, giving himself over to unforeseen impulses.
Downes and Eldh contribute five tunes apiece. The bandleader tries on outfits of various abstractions, finding each to be sleek and unrestrictive. The sound forged on “Minus Monks,” the album’s opener, is arboreal in its shade-providing abilities. Movements between colors, times, and places feel effortless beneath Downes’s fingertips. Paying homage to pianist John Taylor, he continues down that path of reverence with a sound that pushes as much as pulls. “Sister, Sister” takes an opposite approach, opening with exact measurements before tessellating into off-kilter rhythms, wherein his expressive body can flex without tripping over itself. It takes up no more space than it needs to, whispering its mantras of care only to those who ask to hear them. Such empathy can be hard to come by in a pandemic-scarred world, and it is a welcome gift. Further grace abounds in “Seceda” and “Bobbl’s Song.” In these, the trio shifts from wide-angle shots to close-ups, rendering the ears projection screens for the lives of others. Its breezy sentience finds solace in “Rolling Thunder” (Downes), wispy as clouds stretched translucent by the wind.
Alongside these graded plateaus, Eldh juxtaposes geometric rock formations. “Plus Puls” embraces quietly propulsive pianism while the rhythm section experiments with phonemes like a child rolling possibilities of meaning around in the brain. The upbeat fibrillations of “Sandilands” carry over that verve as its composer runs through a field of leaves without stepping on a single one of them. “Waders” is a high point for the trio’s organic changes, which do nothing to betray the difficulty of this music, rendered smooth as glass. What begins as an almost hesitant blues in “Class Fails” turns into a forthright exclamation of learning the hard way, leaving “Math Amager” to solve the Rubik’s cube of its self-regard.
In listening to Vermillion for the first time, I am moved by how these musicians treat light. Bright as our nearest star is, they manage to put a stained-glass window between it and us. This is most evident in their concluding rendition of Jim Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand,” an ode to the crumbling idols we call politics. If these reflections seem somber, it is only because those who’ve seen enough of life never stop drawing lines of awareness to the sun behind the clouds. There is always more to hope for.
Recorded September 2019 at Porgy & Bess Studio, Vienna, Austria Engineers: Martin Vetters and Juan José Carpio del Rio Additional recording, mixing, and mastering November 2019 and June 2020 at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard Design: Sascha Kleis Produced by Michael Mantler An ECM Production in collaboration with Porgy & Bess Release date: July 16, 2021
Coda: a concluding statement, based on elaborations of thematic material from selected past works. So does the booklet for this album of Austrian trumpeter and composer Michael Mantler’s Orchestral Suites define its collective title. In that sense, we might point to its reworking of material from his substantial corpus, including elements of 13 3/4, Alien, Folly Seeing All This, Cerco Un Paese Innocente, Hide and Seek, and For Two. Beyond that, it is an inclusive force that attaches its tendrils to outside influences, carved as much on the surface of the present as of the past. Using his favorite ensemble format of flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, trumpet, French horn, trombone, tuba, guitar, piano, marimba/vibraphone, and a string section (here under the direction of Christoph Cech), he walks self-referencing as a path to evolution.
While Mantler’s music has deeply cinematic skin (going back at least to 1978’s Movies), there’s no denying a dramaturgical heartbeat within. This isn’t just recycling; it’s a psychological reforming of the self. A frenetic yet never overbearing energy pulls a punch in the TwoThirteen Suite. The electric guitar of Bjarne Roupé rises from the strings as a phoenix, while pianist David Helbock stirs the ashes left behind. In the wake of this tempered triumph, the Folly Suite interrupts in mid-sentence, opening into a quieter realm where the trumpet emotes from the ledge of a skyscraper, tracking as many bodies as it can on the streets below until it loses count. Effortlessly gliding from one part of the city to another until only memories of gridlines are left, Mantler is the itinerant planner whose leaves his messages like tickets on the windows of every illegally parked car as a reminder of acoustic order in a digital world.The Alien Suite leaves such quotidian concerns far behind as Roupé and Mantler go extraterrestrial. The flute of Leo Eibensteiner adds a touch of unexamined landscapes over tense strings. The overarching sense is that of an oncoming storm that never arrives.
If the piano in the Cerco Suite is a pile of bones, then the orchestra is the archaeological team putting it back together. The excitement of this discovery veers into a cavern where the oboe of Peter Tavernaro speaks of civilizations drawn into ruin. Whatever voices we might have recovered there are subsumed into the HideSeek Suite. What were once lyrics now become impulses—the physical sensations of the breaths that produced them. As winds and piano hover beneath the heat of the electric guitar, a mature control of tension and release treats the explosive reveals of life as a matter of course.
Mantler has always had a gift for turning melodies into full bodies. More than signatures or calling cards, they hold themselves together in spite of staggered surroundings. Such is the theme of these compressed realities, each a doorway leading to another.