Shai Maestro: Human (ECM 2688)

Shai Maestro

Shai Maestro piano
Jorge Roeder double bass
Ofri Nehemya drums
Philip Dizack trumpet
Recorded February 2020, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard
Cover: Mayo Bucher
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: January 29, 2021

After making his ECM leader debut with The Dream Thief, pianist Shai Maestro returns with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Ofri Nehemya, adding to their mix trumpeter Philip Dizack (in his debut for the label) for a sound that feels as solitary as it does tapped from the veins of collective experience. If this album’s predecessor was a reflection of past harmonies, this follow-up holds a mirror to the future. Forward-looking tendencies are immediately apparent in “Time,” which after a clear opening thesis dissipates into the gentlest of body paragraphs, and (speaking of mirrors) “The Thief’s Dream,” wherein new secrets abound. In these blushes of information, window-framed views outline the possibilities of constant change. Similar atmospheres in the title track and the brief “GG” uphold chance encounters as examples of purposeful living.

If any glimpses of permanence are to be caught, one might find them in tracks like “Hank and Charlie” (an elegiac tribute to Hank Jones and Charlie Haden) and Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” (the only tune here not written by Maestro). By focusing on ephemeral subjects, they reinforce the solidity of what’s left behind in the process of memorializing them. The same holds for the album’s deepest moments, reserved for such master narratives as “Mystery and Illusions,” which further highlights the musicians’ strengths. From the gentle way Dizack lays down the theme like a parent transferring a napping baby from arms to crib to the graceful drumming and piano aside, and Roeder’s dancing synchronicity drawing a thread through it all, the band’s sense of touch makes a statement of its age, for the ages. Like “Compassion” (a solo offering from Maestro) or the concluding “Ima” (a wonder to behold), it is a new level of music making that must be heard to be believed.

(This review originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Craig Taborn: Shadow Plays (ECM 2693)

Craig Taborn
Shadow Plays

Craig Taborn piano
Concert recording, March 2, 2020
Wiener Konzerthaus
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Cover photo: Thomas Wunsch
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 8, 2021

Since releasing Avenging Angel, Craig Taborn’s first spontaneous recital for ECM, a decade ago, the pianist’s traversal on the label has brought him to collective enterprises with the likes of Roscoe Mitchell, Thomas Morgan, and Chris Potter. All the while, his language has been as much his own as it has been a force of adaptation to contexts big and small. If that earlier effort can be said to evoke disembodiment, then let Shadow Plays be its embodied other half. From the gestures that open “Bird Templars,” one gets the sense that each of Taborn’s hands is a traveler engaged in a slow-motion contest for a single path ahead. And yet, there is no feeling of animosity—instead, a sense of wonder, especially as the music quiets in the left, allowing the right to offer its soliloquy in the spirit of accompaniment. If it is possible to whisper through a piano, then Taborn has accomplished that here. “Discordia Concors” and “Concordia Discors” both offer frantic searches for meaning balanced by the jauntier rhythms of “Conspiracy Of Things” between them. These pieces find themselves pulled to the keys by a gravitational force they cannot quite escape.

The jazziest inflections await interpretation through “A Code With Spells” and the concluding “Now In Hope,” both of which convey honeyed textures with cinematic sensibilities, each coated by resistance against the storms that have barraged us over the past year and a half. The most epic stretches are reserved for “Shadow Play,” in which chords resuscitate the possibility of harmony. As one of the cleanest concert recordings I’ve heard, it felt like I was the only one in the room: an intimacy we need more of than ever.

(This review originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Eberhard Weber: Once Upon A Time (ECM 2699)

Eberhard Weber
Once Upon A Time (Live In Avignon)

Eberhard Weber bass
Concert recording, August 1994
Théâtre des Halles, Avignon
Recording producer and engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mixed May 2021 at Studios La Buissonne
Cover painting: Maja Weber
Cover background: Thomas Wunsch
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: November 5, 2021

In 1994, during a solo European tour, bassist Eberhard Weber appeared at the Théâtre des Halles in Avignon under the auspices of the Festival International De Contrebasse, organized by Barre Philips. Much of the material presented in this recording came to the stage by way of Pendulum and Orchestra, echoes of which germinate seeds given more time to sprout. Recognizing familiar themes throughout this set of seven is as joyous as experiencing how much they change in a live context.

Setting the tone for this traversal is Weber’s “Pendulum,” a meditation that gives both rhythmic underpinnings and flights of fancy their space to sing. This is the signature of Weber’s overhanded style: he allows all gestures to make use of the air. His five-string custom instrument is an extension of his body, articulating the balance of playfulness and inner pulse as only he can.

“Trio For Bassoon And Bass” makes flowing use of overdubs for an intimate orchestra. In this composition, Weber allows the bass to interpret itself—a form of therapy that sends blood to the ears where it is needed. Without so much as a blink of interruption, he allows motifs to spread beneath the subcutaneous layers of our listening like tattoos in sound. This tune in particular allows him to flex his virtuosic muscles with unmatched stride and depth of character. Astounding here are less the denser rises and more the quieter passages in which he brings out his most artful details—each affording an unimpeded view into his heart as a musician.

The faster excursions are breathtaking in their ways. Take “Ready Out There,” for instance, which clarifies its purpose from the first step. Its otherworldly atmosphere is superseded only by its harmonic language, through which is expressed a novel’s worth of environments, actions, and enough moral glue to hold them all together.

“Silent For A While” leverages more understated overdubbing, Weber’s swelling loops drifting toward an island of promise. Thus, he turns colors into structural elements. “Delirium” likewise exhibits a melodic edge that only sharpens with speed. A faint drone gives him just enough backbone to turn an invertebrate impulse into a vertebrate melody that shines with conviction. 

“My Favorite Things” is yet another overdubbed gem. That the backdrop stays within the same lilting key makes the melody taut in its reflectiveness. It also gives Weber freer license to make of it what he will, turning the title into a mission statement rather than a pleasantry. “Air” ends things without self-accompaniment. A tender and breath-heavy farewell, it gives way to restfulness and active dreams—and that is where it remains.

There is an unshakable poignancy to this album, as underscored by its title, which implies the story of a bygone era. The age of this document makes its appearance 27 years later ghostlike in reminiscence of a genius whose future remains uncertain. Either way, we live with the knowledge that such glimpses of eternity are here to savor thanks to ECM’s dedication to contributions that will outlive us all.

Ayumi Tanaka Trio: Subaqueous Silence (ECM 2675)

Ayumi Tanaka Trio
Subaqueous Silence

Ayumi Tanaka piano
Christian Meaas Svendsen double bass
Per Oddvar Johansen drums
Recorded June 2019, Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria, Oslo
Engineers: Daniel Wold, Ingar Hunskaar (mix)
Cover photo: Thomas Wunsch
Mastering: Stefano Amerio
Album produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 29, 2021

Following her introduction to the ECM constellation via Thomas Strønen’s Time Is A Blind Guide, and more recently in her appearance alongside the drummer and clarinetist Marthe Lea in Bayou, pianist Ayumi Tanaka shines her starlight as leader across a spectrum of humbling atmospheres. In the hands of her bandmates, bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen, Tanaka’s music for trio introverts the form in a way that makes us feel subcutaneously placed as listeners. Thus, we can immediately detect her appreciation for molecularity. Any ECM admirer will understand that this concept is suited to the label, where suspending articulation in favor of physics is an almost sacred leitmotif. I asked Tanaka in an email interview whether her approach to space is a conscious decision:

“In the process of making this album, I always aimed to answer my fundamental question: ‘What would I like to hear?’ As a result, the music has space to invite silence, allowing us to hear sound surrounding and within us, and take note of musical sound more deeply, when it arrives.”

That image of arrival is a profound one to consider in the album’s opener, “Ruins.” For while it does take precedence by virtue of being our doorway into Tanaka’s sound-world, it has been singing long before we encountered it, as it will continue to when we leave it. For now, we have its attention, sharing a room as lines with neither beginnings nor endings invite us to float somewhere between inhalation and exhalation. Brushed drums and understated bass evoke creaking trees and winter-kissed leaves while the piano speaks in the language of silhouettes before shaking the boughs of their snowy dusting and moving into the future with echoes of the past in its arms. Holding these images in mind, I ask about Tanaka’s connection with the natural world:

“Since I was a child, I always enjoyed being in nature and listening to its sounds. When I am in the forest, listening to the birds, water dripping, the trees shaking in the breeze, I feel that it is more perfect than music—everything is harmonized. I am trying to learn from the sound of nature. I would like to create music that would resonate with nature.”

We hear this as much in “Ruins II” as in “Zephyr.” Both speak of landscapes vaster than can be expressed under a single title. The depth soundings of the latter improvisation for piano and malleted drums evoke the debris of human action, swirling like so much dust in the winds of collective memory. Hence “Black Rain,” a picture of time’s ablution against the wrongs of our political missteps. While the title, for me, evokes the postwar novel by Ibuse Masuji, Tanaka sees it as about more than Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

“There are things we need to learn from the past and need to carry with us to end and avoid more wars and conflicts.”

This message of hope wavers in every shadow of Subaqueous Silence. Its purpose is indeed broader than specific tragedies would have us believe; it is a formulation of the human condition written in the ink of experiential harmonies. These are the underlying tensions of “Ichi.” Here is the singularity of existence unrolled like a scroll on which a single human life has been recorded with varying levels of realism. Where one moment might find a flash of childhood rendered in vivid clarity, the next only hints at an experience too painful to bear with whispering brushwork. In that sense, I find myself wondering how (and whether) aesthetic considerations are central to the flow at hand. Given that Tanaka was born and raised in Japan and has lived and worked in Oslo for the past decade, it would be easy to draw bicultural conclusions along those lines. This characterization, however, may be far too concrete to inject into the processes documented here:

“I am not sure if I want to have an aesthetic of my music at this point in my life because I want to discover something in each moment. Being in the moment and dedicated to the music is something I am always trying to do. ‘Find your own voice’ is something that Misha Alperin, an amazing pianist and my mentor, was always saying to me. It stays in my mind and I am always seeking that. All my experiences in Norway definitely had a big influence on my musical expression. On the other hand, since I moved to Norway, the more I have sought my own approach and the more I have started to realize my deep Japanese roots and to appreciate the beauty of Japanese culture, especially in art and music. Delving into two such different cultural environments is a gift that has shaped my musical expression.”

By way of example, “Towards the Sea” teaches us that a journey is nothing but a chain of small ones linked to form a retrospective trajectory. Every gesture tells a story within a story until only single words are left to stand in for memories. This implies, too, that music is a universal language and an appropriate medium through which to explore these modalities. Tanaka agrees:

“Since I was 15 years old, I have seen music as a ‘universal’ language. When I was invited to perform my compositions in Germany, I was very moved by this experience because I felt that universal language at work. Music is a gift. It consoles us, questions us, gives recognition of something within us. I am hoping that people experience my music in their own way. I hope I will be able to give something to someone through music because music has helped me in life.”

The title track is the culmination of all of this and more: gestures born in climates, geographies, and eras that are as much drawn together as pushed away by the distances that separate them. With a heavying presence and biological self-awareness, it works its percussive prayers in the sunlight of a future age when dreams are the only things that will be real. This is the music of aftermath and new beginnings wrought in earth, stone, and wood. It searches, unafraid to share its discoveries so that we might know the honesty in which they were embraced, then freed. Instrumental highlights abound, but their cohesiveness goes against the spotlighting of “solos” or moments of interest. Surely, this connectivity cannot exist without the trust of her bandmates and producer?

“I am very lucky to have the trio members who have built trust and respect over the years. I think Christian and Per Oddvar are really good listeners, not only musically but also in general. They are open-minded and flexible in their capacity of accepting things in each moment. Christian and I were studying at the Norwegian Academy of Music at the same time, and Per Oddvar is the musician who we had been listening to. Given our common education in improvised music in Norway, I think we naturally evolved a mutual understanding. In addition to that, we happen to have common interests in ancient Japanese music, arts, and culture. It reflects on the way we play the music together. Also, the music Manfred has produced is one of the strongest reasons I am here now. I deeply appreciate his trust and confidence in my music. That personal recognition is something I carry with me.”

Said extends to the listener who, while not present during the recording, is retroactively invited to absorb every reaction as it emerges. Such intimacy is rarely given and primes our ears as pages for inscription. And so, in the wake of these expressions, I find myself returning to the question of finding one’s voice:

“Facing myself is often hard, especially when I am working alone, but it is rewarding. The joyful element is when I find my voice through collaboration with others. I think it’s natural that our voices change because we are changing all the time through all the experiences we have. I am working on finding my own voice with the hope that my musical expression becomes deeper and deeper every day.”

Let this be the first step of that staircase.

Keith Jarrett: Budapest Concert (ECM 2700)

Keith Jarrett
Budapest Concert

Keith Jarrett piano
Recorded live July 3, 2016
at Béla Bartók Concert Hall, Budapest
Producer: Keith Jarrett
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Cover photo: Martin Hangen
Mastering: Christoph Stickel
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 30, 2020

From the 2016 European tour that gifted us with Munich 2016 comes this improvised solo concert from Keith Jarrett recorded at Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in Budapest. The pianist’s Hungarian heritage and love of the venue’s namesake gave the experience a homecoming feel that fed into every note he rendered, whether spontaneous or previously held in mind. Jarrett has since held the result in high regard as epitomizing what he is capable of at the keyboard—and rightly so, because what we have here is crafted in a spirit of such welcome that one might easily forget the album was released during a time of social distancing and quarantines.

In twelve parts spanning two CDs, Jarrett digs deep within to give much without. I offer this image as something more than a metaphor; he is physically mining his cells in search of the ore that we on the outside might call splendor. That said, there’s nothing lofty about the music that results from this process of elimination. If anything, it builds ever downward to build a private kingdom. Remarkable, then, that we might share in its retrospective pleasures.

From the moment Jarrett lays hands to instrument, he touches fertile soil from which to yield the striking contrast of his shadowy left and playful right. A dance-like quality struggles to be heard but instead feels the temptation of convention slip off like clothing that is far too big for its body. This music is also very fibrous, as if Jarrett were tying a knot, fraying the leftover end, then tying a smaller one, and so on until even his nimble fingers can no longer separate the strands. Part II works its way into the silhouette dreamed of on a traveler’s pillow. It turns this way and that but only changes its outline, neither approaching nor receding. After Part III pulls out the weeds, Part IV offers a dark, jazzy affair with smoky trails and squinting brilliance. Though restrained, it feels unbound in its emotional impulses, as ancient as an image on a cave wall drawn in the dying light of day. So begins an epic harvest of which the ripest fruits are picked in rhythms woven from strands of convolution, development, and dissolution. The sweetest among them is Part VII, which elicits some of the most astonishing textures Jarrett has ever liberated. It moves with a depth of feeling that can only have been arrived at when one has less of life ahead of them than behind. Near contenders include Part V, a lyrical aside that curls like a diagram of relativity into the innermost thoughts of childhood, and Part VIII, the near-constant fluttering of which evokes the wings of an angel just out of reach.

After the bluesy Part XII, Jarrett takes an evolutionary leap from fundament to firmament in two encores: a sweeping take on “It’s A Lonesome Old Town” and the achingly comforting “Answer Me, My Love.” Thus, we are left with a lifetime’s worth of listening in the dimensions of a delineated object. And even as the atmospheric shifts of the heart turn their eyes toward a brighter tomorrow, they never seem to forget the lightless void from which they emerged into being.

Jakob Bro: Uma Elmo (ECM 2702)

Jakob Bro
Uma Elmo

Jakob Bro guitar
Arve Henriksen trumpet, piccolo trumpet
Jorge Rossy drums
Recorded September/October 2020, Auditorio Stelio Molo, RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Cover photo: Jean-Marc Dellac
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: February 12, 2021

When Jakob Bro lays his hands on an electric guitar, the guitar lays its hands on us. This chain reaction of touch was already apparent when the Dane painted the shadows of early appearances on Paul Motian’s Garden of Eden and Tomasz Stanko’s Dark Eyes. Since then, after a flight of leader dates on Loveland and a welcome home away from home on ECM since 2015’s Gefion, Bro has varnished a personal altar, placing upon it a family of melodic proportions. Indeed, the title of the present disc is derived from his children’s middle names, each a cypher of lives yet to be lived yet already full beyond delineation. Having written much of this material while his second, still a newborn at the time, was napping, Bro offers eight tunes that flow like scenes of video. Not knowing its biological origins, however, Uma Elmo evokes for me an uninhabited island that flourishes in sound, each tree the bearer of fruit that can only be discovered through listening.

The trio convened here is so new that it had never played as such before entering the studio for this session. Nonetheless, trumpeter Arve Henriksen and drummer Jorge Rossy, each of whom has charted separate paths through the label, are natural companions. Through names and motifs alike, Bro reaches out to other allies, whether living or non. Inspired by his collaborative transversal with Motian, “Reconstructing A Dream” funnels the drummer’s pliant architectural sensibility with reverence. Henriksen’s fluted playing widens the landscape with its breath and Rossy’s brushing opens its heart as Bro’s enhancements glisten in downward prayer.

“To Stanko” is a poignant reminder of how intersections can yield paths in their own right. Its mournful qualities shapeshift beyond the confines of a mere dedication, wandering through the Great In-Between as might a song in search of lyrics. “Beautiful Day,” like the album as a whole, is patient in its exposition. Bro is just as content providing liquid texture (as also in the later “Housework”) as he is providing a solid backbone. And though Henriksen grazes the clouds without releasing a single drop of rain, climatic changes abound in tracks like “Music For Black Pigeons” (in memory of Lee Konitz, who gave the piece its title) and “Slaraffenland,” ebbing and flowing to diurnal rhythms. 

High points of the set are to be found in “Morning Song” and “Sound Flower.” In the latter especially, Bro’s manipulations glow against the backdrop Rossy’s poetry and Henriksen’s siren song. Bro takes the hand offered by the dawn, shakes it in welcome, and pulls its possibilities into frame. The effect is so restrained that whenever the guitar voices itself more overtly, it feels like a momentary embrace before release. Despite often moving at a crawl’s space, this music is quick to locate its spiritual heart. Like the last star of night hanging on to its light in the face of the rising sun, it continues to shine even when it fades from view.

Michel Benita: Looking At Sounds (ECM 2663)

Michel Benita
Looking At Sounds

Michel Benita double bass, laptop
Matthieu Michel flugelhorn
Jozef Dumoulin Fender Rhodes, electronics
Philippe Garcia drums, electronics
Recorded March 2019, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard
Cover photo: Jan Kricke
Produced by Steve Lake
Release date: September 18, 2020

Bassist Michel Benita carries over flugelhornist Matthieu Michel and drummer Philippe Garcia from his Ethics group, which made such a profound mission statement with 2016’s River Silver, and welcomes to that nexus keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin in a new quartet from which the present album derives its title: Looking At Sounds. The name, Benita tells me in an email interview, is an homage to Jon Hassell: “He made an album called Listening to Pictures that I like a lot. I thought, well, you could reverse that sentence and that would give something like what we have here.” It’s an especially appropriate moniker given that ECM’s ethos has long been guided by Gertrude Stein’s playful dictum, “Think of your ears as eyes.” Indeed, there is plenty of imagery to interpret in these tunes.

Compared to its predecessor, this album feels more metaphysical, if only because its use of effect takes precedence over cause. A case in point is “Dervish Diva.” Cowritten by Benita and Michel, its bass harmonics delineate a dark pool in which Fender Rhodes and flugelhorn drop their stones of light. Cymbals trace the ripples while hand-played drums transition into brushes for a touch of the secular upon the sacred. Two tracks later, the album’s title tune unfolds in like manner, treating the bass as a skeleton and the other instruments as its flesh and blood. One can hear so much of Kenny Wheeler in this tune, especially in the aerial qualities of the playing, that it almost brings a tear to one’s eye. The same holds for “Barroco,” which is the most overt spotlight for Michel, whose flugelhorn is a joy. And yet, while each musician has a distinct voice, unity and continuity are at constant play. Consequently, the spotlight is more diffuse than traditionally shined, an unraveling of the melodic core at hand. Benita agrees:

“These guys have exactly the same idea of what playing together means. And Matthieu’s lines, beneath the fact he’s the most identified ‘soloist,’ are very much floating in space and absolutely cliché-free. Long ago, I got tired of the strictly jazz scenario of theme, solos (too many), theme, etc. I always liked bands that had a conception of playing as a whole unit. It was already clear inRiver Silver and before that with Andy Sheppard in Trio Libero. I love being part of that global sound and interplay, where no role is really defined. It also gives me a lot of freedom for my bass playing. Any one of us can decide to change directions, and the band will follow. And yes, you need a melodic core, as you call it, to make that concept readable for the listener.”

Despite the expansive implications of such an approach, the results are more intimate than they are distant. This is especially true in the diptych of “Berceuse” (Kristen Noguès) / “Gwell Talenn” (Benita), which blurs the lines of division until such lines cease to matter. Likewise, in “Elisian” (Benita) / “Inutil Paisagem” (Antônio Carlos Jobim), the fresh blends into the faded, each feeding on qualities of the other.

Three of the four musicians make use of electronics, which in tracks like “Slick Team” add droning texture and context without ever dominating the scene. These are no mere ornaments but congregations of shared values. Whether emanating from live sampling or chameleonically changing the keyboard’s tonal qualities, they give movement to stillness. Digital fingerprints can also be dusted in “Cloud To Cloud,” a studio improvisation that came about at the suggestion of Steve Lake, subbing in place of Manfred Eicher (who was sick at the time). Yet another atmospheric wonder is “Body Language,” a cinematic masterpiece that affords only glimpses of its reflection.

To my ears, there are few layovers on this journey more comforting than “Islander,” a flowing and laid-back experience that is nostalgia incarnate. As its composer notes of the tune:

“It came from an acoustic guitar motif that I had recorded on my iPhone some years ago. When starting to write new music, I went through all those tiny bits of melodic lines I had compiled and that one caught my ear. The rest of the tune developed very fast and almost by itself. I’m always trying to add a bit of rhythmic complexity or unexpected note placement to those seemingly simple melodic lines. As for ‘comforting,’ well, maybe that minor/major ostinato? I love when it modulates, in that 16-bar bridge, before going back to the main theme. I wrote that at the last moment, as I felt we needed to open the tune at one point. The title refers to my situation over the last three years as a resident of L’Île d’Yeu. I’m an authentic islander now.”

Fender Rhodes and drums form a large portion of this one before bass and flugelhorn take the image from monochrome to high-definition color. “Low Tide” explores similar themes, dipping into the waters of the past to make the present fuller in self-realization. Brushes on drums evoke the caressing of the shore by the waves and the patterns left in their recession. All roads lead to “Never Never Land” (Jule Styne), which feels naked after all that production.

This has all the makings of a classic ECM session.

Mathias Eick: When we leave (ECM 2660)

Mathias Eick
When we leave

Mathias Eick trumpet, keyboard, voice
Håkon Aase violin, percussion
Andreas Ulvo piano
Audun Erlien bass
Torstein Lofthus drums
Helge Andreas Norbakken drums, percussion
Stian Carstensen pedal steel guitar
Recorded August 2020 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Martin Abrahamsen
Cover: Fidel Sclavo
Mastering: Christoph Stickel
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 24, 2021

If you’ve ever reunited with an old friend, picking up where you left off as if no years had kept you apart, then you’ll know what it feels like to immerse yourself in the sounds of When we leave. The appropriately titled “Loving,” the first of seven mononymous originals by bandleader Mathias Eick, is a door that is always open to us. Whether we come bearing gifts of joy or bearing burdens of sadness, here we find a place to warm our bodies and spirits without the pretensions of the world at our backs. The familiar shape of Eick’s trumpet leans into Håkon Aase’s violin, which takes its scissors to the paper-thin pianism of Andreas Ulvo with the care of an artist who woke up with an entire scene in mind. Bassist Audun Erlien, whose arcing gestures in the subsequent “Caring” grace the bellies of the clouds even as Stian Carstensen paints rivers of steel guitar below, blows out the lantern of dreams and replaces it with the wick of self-sufficiency. The blessings of life reveal themselves with resolute humanity, folding every piece of sonic clothing like a napkin after the most humbling meal. All the while, a brushed undercurrent signals the input of drummers Torstein Lofthus and Helge Andreas Norbakken, whose binary star is as melodic as it is rhythmic in frequency.

If any of these impulses can be said to have brothers and sisters, they can be found roaming the architecture of the album’s predecessor, Ravensburg, the autobiographical shades of which find brighter counterparts throughout this sequel in everything but name. Whether in the overlapping territories of “Turning” or the intimate weave of “Flying,” the itinerant listener is likely to lose interest in maps, borders, and divisions of speech. Indeed, as Eick sings in “Arvo,” a below-the-radar tribute to the triadic harmonies of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, the lack of words opens us to the possibility of a language with no other agenda than porous communication. From the opening tintinnabulation arises a band synergy that has a soul of its own and offers its worship without fear. The drumming is especially vibrant and warm to the touch, as are the contours of “Playing,” which is the living embodiment of equitable conversation. And if “Begging” can be said to be a farewell, its placement last in the sequence is as inevitable as its electricity is static. It relies on the contact of our listening to hold its charge, thus passing on timeless wisdom one electron at a time, for time itself may exist of nothing more than a spark drawn to the cadence of infinity.

Marcin Wasilewski Trio: En attendant (ECM 2677)

Marcin Wasilewski Trio
En attendant

Marcin Wasilewski piano
Slawomir Kurkiewicz double bass
Michal Miskiewicz drums
Recorded August 2019, Studio La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard
Cover photo: Max Franosch
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 10, 2021

Although En attendant hit the airwaves after Arctic Riff, the Marcin Wasilewski Trio’s somewhat divisive collaboration with saxophonist Joe Lovano, it was recorded just before that earlier release. With brothers from another mother Slawomir Kurkiewicz on bass and Michal Miskiewicz on drums, the Polish pianist brings more than 25 years of deep listening into the studio for what might just be their most intuitive session to date. I make the latter claim if only because what we have been gifted here is more than a collection of memories in the making; it is a reflection of life’s supernaturally driven purpose to leave something of itself behind as a relic of its passing. Such instincts take their purest form, perhaps, in a subtle arrangement of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variation 25, the minor-keyed clothing of which reveals major-inflected whispers to be transcribed by the eager ear. That this melody reaches out to us centuries later is just as comforting as Carla Bley’s “Vashkar,” which, despite having decades under its wings, nevertheless spreads its blanket without so much as a bent corner. If jazz was ever to be organized as a novel, this tune would deserve a chapter all its own. As a touchpoint of the trio’s repertoire, it lends itself comfortably to this between-the-lines reading, inked by the quill of Kurkiewicz’s diaristic bassing.

Another calling card is the trio’s penchant for curating gems from the popular canon, and the present take on The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm” is no exception to this ethos. Like a coffee purist who sees latte art as a needless decoration, Wasilewski allows his bandmates to steep the grounds in which the tune’s familiar flavor originates. In anticipation of those dark clouds, Wasilewski’s “Glimmer Of Hope” shines as if it were the last utterance it ever wanted to offer. In this instance, we must submit the pages of our expectations to be erased, rewritten, and sealed by a lyricism so achingly precise that can only wander the train tracks of our collective vanishing point until it, too, ceases to be.

The album is tented by three freely improvised pieces entitled “In Motion.” From their searching vocabularies emerges an answer of sorts to an age-old debate: it was never about the chicken and the egg but about the inhalation and the exhalation. The cycle has always been infinite, and for the duration of a musical disc, we get cosmic blink’s worth of wisdom to revisit whenever we want. Such privilege does not go unrecognized for a single moment, either as performers or as listeners, and how fortunate that we can count ourselves among the living after its wonders have been revealed.