Peter Brötzmann: Nipples

Peter Brötzmann tenor saxophone
Evan Parker tenor saxophone
Derek Bailey guitar
Fred Van Hove piano
Buschi Niebergall bass
Han Bennink drums
Recorded April 18, 1969 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg (Track 1)and April 24, 1969 at Rhenus Studio, Godorf (Track 2)
Engineers: Kurt Rapp (Track 1) and Conny Plank (Track 2)
Cover design: Peter Brötzmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher + Jazz By Post

To my knowledge, Nipples is the only album produced by Manfred Eicher to not appear on the ECM label. This curious throwback was recorded in April of 1969, months before ECM’s first proper release would go down that same year in the famed Tonstudio Bauer, which yields the first track here. Of that track, which gives this album its name, we are given no warning, jumping instead into a blazing cacophony of sound. Even though it feels like waking up out of a coma in the middle of Shinjuku crossing, a bizarre sense of comfort begins to emerge the more one basks in its unrelenting glow. The one-two punch of Peter Brötzmann and Evan Parker on tenor saxophones bleeds on the proverbial page across which guitarist Derek Bailey, pianist Fred Van Hove, bassist Buschi Niebergall, and drummer Han Bennink add all sorts of diacritics, punctuation, and editorial asides. The result is like the chaos of peer review controlled in a single moving portrait wherein the listener’s visage gets split like Michelle Yeoh’s in Everything Everywhere All at Once. Despite (if not because of) this whirlwind approach, moments for solos abound, such as Van Hove’s flight of fancy about six minutes in. Against aggressive bowing and frontline drum work, his pianism kicks us in the shins and leaves us crawling for more. To that fray, Brötzmann and Bailey add uncompromising grit, all the while building up the ensemble to an ascorbic cohesion. A fantastic arco spasm from Niebergall in the third act yields equally favorable outcomes in this chameleonic chain reaction. All of this ends in a congregation of tails, each wispier and more meteoric than the last.

For the B-side, “Tell A Green Man” sheds Parker and Bailey to no less engaging effect. While the preamble from the rhythm section provides anything but discernible rhythm, its foundational qualities provide plenty of clay for Brötzmann and Van Hove to mold to their whim. Indeed, whim is the name of the game as irreverence ensues, dividing its equation until it bursts with the desire for recalibration. Niebergall’s scraping rears its tactile head for the listener to run a comb through, while Brötzmann gives himself over to less subtle temptations of vivacity.

Nipples first appeared on the Calig Records (Munich) in 1969 and was remastered by John McCortney in February 2000 at AirWave Studios (Chicago) for Atavistic. Three years later, Atavistic released a follow-up with outtakes from the same studio sessions. The result, called—what else?—More Nipples, offers up three tracks of invigorating mayhem. The title track gives up its ghost from the first moment, tracing its ephemeral paths with more delicate abandon. Despite a few ebb tides here and there, it focuses more on the inner than the outer. “Fiddle Faddle” is a reedy wonder dragged kicking and screaming through the fires of Niebergall and Bennink and may be my favorite of the collection for its control of free spirit. Finally, we have “Fat Man Walks,” which concedes to a groovier blues aesthetic, gut-wrenching and sincere in its devolvement into atonalism.

A much-needed call to attention in these dark times.

Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity: Elastic Wave (ECM 2724)

Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity
Elastic Wave

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 Unloved and 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: Naked Truth (ECM 2737)

Avishai Cohen
Naked Truth

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

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…

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,” 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.

Kit Downes: Vermillion (ECM 2721)

Kit Downes
Vermillion

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.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Sonatas for Violin Solo (ECM New Series 2705)

Gidon Kremer
Mieczysław Weinberg: Sonatas for Violin Solo

Gidon Kremer violin
Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2
recorded December 2019
at Studio Residence Paliesius, Lithuania
Engineers: Vilius Keras and Aleksandra Kerienė
Sonata No. 3 recorded July 2013
at Lockenhaus Kammermusikfestival
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Cover photo: Max Franosch
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

When Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) fled his homeland to escape the Nazis in the early stages of World War II, little could he have known the fate that would befall those left behind. It was Dmitri Shostakovich who eased his way into Russia, where the Stalinist regime would surely have killed him again had not the despotic leader died a month after Weinberg’s arrest for “Jewish bourgeois nationalism” in 1953. With more than a decade separating those events and his composing of the three solo violin sonatas recorded here, by which time his entire family had long perished in the concentration camps, there was yet room in his battered heart to amplify the need for humanity.

Violinist Gidon Kremer, who has championed Weinberg’s music on two previous discs with his Kremerata Baltica, offers the present program in reverse chronological order, starting with the Sonata No. 3, op. 126 (1979). Dedicated to his father and ostensibly taking form as a single movement, it is marked by borders that, like those in his life, were blessedly surmountable. It sharpens its blade of experience, forged in the fire of history, across stone-hard double stops before carving its way delicately through softer actions, snaking high lines, and bruised leitmotifs. Kremer navigates every chamber as if it belonged in his home, describing the furniture, curtain, and artwork hanging on the wall down to the last detail.

The concentrated sections of the Sonata No. 2, op. 95 (1967) take on descriptive titles. “Monody” digs up bare bones, while “Rests” shines a light on Weinberg’s brilliant personality. From “Intervals” to “Replies,” we see other sides of his visage—in the former, an angular nose; in the latter, a hair that refuses to stay combed. “Accompaniment” switches acrobatically from pizzicato to programmatic upswings as a magician might shuffle cards. “Invocation” cries for salvation, leaving only “Syncopes” to cut its jagged figure into the air with tactile dissonances.

Last is what came first: the Sonata No. 1, op. 82 (1964). There is a sad ebullience to its opening movement, characterized by alarming calls to action, which then turn on a dime into Bartókian flavors. The Andante is its dark side, churning as sediment in a river, slowed to the pace of a careful hunter. From there, the pointillism of a rotating Allegretto adds more stars to this sky, constellated by pliant bow work. After a multifaceted fourth movement, the final Presto recalls Bartók once again in its soil-scented urgency. Scratching motifs, strummed strings, and insistent harmonies pull each other in many directions, never straying from their handling. They know where they are going, even when everyone else around them is lost or falls behind.

As incredible as these pieces are, they are by no means “pleasant” to listen to. If anything, they listen to us, placing a stethoscope on our collective chest to amplify events we would rather ignore. If Bach’s solo violin works are of heavenly height, then Weinberg’s walk the valley of the shadow of death between them.

Michael Mantler: Coda (ECM 2697)

Michael Mantler
Coda

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 3/4AlienFolly Seeing All ThisCerco Un Paese InnocenteHide 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.

András Schiff: Brahms Piano Concertos (ECM New Series 2690/91)

András Schiff
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Johannes Brahms: Piano Concertos

András Schiff piano
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Recorded December 2019
Abbey Road Studios, London
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Balance engineer: John Barrett
Production coordination: Guido Gorna and Thomas Herr
Cover photo: Péter Nádas
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: June 4, 2021

Following his 2020 release of the Brahms clarinet sonatas with Jörg Widmann, pianist András Schiff continues his exploration of this beloved composer by diving into his formidable piano concertos. With characteristic attention to detail, peeling back layers of artifice to get to the heart of what a score is trying to convey, Schiff seeks appropriate companionship in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, a period-instrument ensemble that often performs in the absence of a conductor, as it does here. Leading this entourage alongside Schiff is a Julius Blüthner grand piano built in 1859, from which he coaxes an incredible amount of resonance. Thus, he attempts “to recreate and restore the works, to cleanse and ‘detoxify’ the music, to liberate it from the burden of the—often questionable—trademarks of performing traditions.”

It was with Ludwig van Beethoven firmly in mind that Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) wrote his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in d minor, op. 15, even as he tried to step outside the giant’s shadow. Despite its poor initial reception, it has since grown into an experimental full-course spread in the estimation of performers and listeners alike. The opening movement betrays the piece’s transformation from sonata to symphony to concerto, bursting into being with a hit of strings and timpani. Such grandeur, however, is only temporary, as the river’s flow evens out beyond the dam’s reach. When the piano makes its entrance, it dances, carrying with it all the memories it needs to fend for itself in the wilderness. The drama returns only to break the proverbial vessel for a much-needed rebuilding in the Adagio. Brahms marked this movement “Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini” (Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord) in response to the death of Robert Schumann. With unwavering emotional veracity, it shifts from dark to light and back again as unconsciously as breathing. Bringing us out of that pall is a vivacious Rondo leading the final movement’s charge. Schiff emphasizes its improvisational qualities, bringing luminous immediacy to every note.

One might not know that the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in B-flat major, op. 83, is notorious for being one of the most difficult in the repertoire from the pastoral flavor in which it opens. But as the piano’s rubato phrasing proceeds freely over the foundation, pizzicato strings trailing not far behind, the rhythmic complexities become increasingly apparent. The second movement represents some of Brahms’s finest writing. Schiff’s awareness of its textures testifies to his experience and maturity, thus emphasizing the time shift of strings and horns midway through—a resounding call for the future built on the technologies of the past. The wildly inventive third movement (with solo cello lines played by Luise Buchberger) is a lone wolf of expressivity leading us to the momentous Allegretto. The pianism takes striking turns, digging into the lower register before ending on a firmly resolute chord.

Schiff holds these pieces dear to his heart, as should we in being handed the gift of his interpretations.

Steve Tibbetts: Hellbound Train (ECM 2656/57)

Steve Tibbetts
Hellbound Train

DISC I
Steve Tibbetts guitars, kalimba, percussion
Marc Anderson congas, percussion, gongs
Jim Anton bass (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9)
Eric Anderson bass (1, 8, 9)
Bob Hughes bass (10, 11)
Mike Olson synthesizer (7)
Marcus Wise tabla (8, 10)
Claudia Schmidt voice (1, 9)
Rhea Valentine voice (1)
DISC II
Steve Tibbetts guitars, dobro, piano, kalimba
Marc Anderson congas, percussion, steel drum, gongs, handpan
Michelle Kinney cello, drones (9, 10, 11, 16)
Bob Hughes bass (15)
Tim Weinhold vase, bongos (15)
Marcus Wise tabla (3)
Recorded 1981-2017
Mastered by Greg Reierson
at Rare Form Mastering, Minneapolis
Cover photo: Lucas Foglia
Album produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: July 1, 2022

“The Best Steve Could Do” is how Steve Tibbetts describes Hellbound Train, a sweeping anthology of works drawn from his decades-long trek across internal and external terrains. The Minnesota-based guitarist and composer selected tracks for this double-disc effort in terms of how well their beginnings and endings suggested connections in an emerging (if malleable) whole. Holding it all together is the trust he shares with his musicians, including percussionists Marc Anderson and Tim Weinhold, tabla player Marcus Wise, bassists Jim Anton, Eric Anderson, and Bob Huges, and cellist Michelle Kinney, among others. In sampling his ECM traversal through Northern Song (1982), Safe Journey (1984), Exploded View (1986), Big Map Idea(1989), The Fall Of Us All (1994), A Man About A Horse (2002), Natural Causes (2010), and Life Of (2018), we are privy to an artist whose instruments are as fleshy as his flesh is instrumental.

Disc I begins with light, as such experiences often do: the glow of an ember, the first twinkle at dusk, the glint in a child’s eye. In search of roadside rest, the itinerant Tibbetts coaxes an all-out percussive mantra from the thickets flanking his path. This is the setting of “Full Moon Dogs,” one of four vital organs transplanted from The Fall Of Us All. An electric guitar courses over this landscape with the charge of a meteor shower. As in “Nyemma” (a lunar spotlight on the voice of Claudia Schmidt) and “Roam And Spy,” he makes his choice—and a fire—to settle in for the night. What follows is not a peaceful slumber, though tranquility is never far away, sharing one image after another until a story takes shape.

Five signposts from A Man About A Horse rise like telephone poles against the Milky Way, strung with trajectories of communication to take upon waking. Whether through the clopping rhythms of “Chandoha” or the sputtering lantern light of “Lochana,” a sense of unease builds to the dyad of “Black Temple” and “Burning Temple,” wherein smoke rules the day. In the aftermath of “Glass Everywhere,” hints of violence dissolve into a brief exchange of voices and laughter.

Despite its destructive qualities, fire is a constant companion, fueled at every turn by the gristle of truth. Tibbetts survives by flinging his 12-string bola at the agile game embodied by hands on drums. The sunlight grows stronger in the elastic nostalgia of “Your Cat” (our sole dip into Exploded View), intersecting the ecliptic of “Vision.” The latter encounter foreshadows the standout selections from Safe Journey on Disc II, including the sacred congregation of kalimba, steel drum, and reverberant picking that is “Climbing” and the masterful “Night Again” and “My Last Chance.” With so much scintillation to chew on, it’s a wonder we don’t turn into comets in the process of listening to them. Big Map Idea compels five entries in this sonic diary, including a nod to Jimmy Page (“Black Mountain Side”) and an excerpt from “Mile 234,” an excursion marking time more than distance.

Grander biomes await us in two tracks from Northern Song. Whereas “The Big Wind” is a winged groove, “Aerial View” feels somehow connected to the earth—so much so that their titles could be reversed and still feel accurate. Life Of sends out four of its offspring, reared in the shadows of Natural Causes, of which “Chandogra” is the epitome of renewal. As if first setting out, our feet no longer have callouses, our muscles are strong, and our packs are heavy. We look upon the open road not as a burden but as an invitation. The only answer to our call resounds in the final “Threnody,” a guitar without a need beyond the hymn it holds against the sun as a compass for all who might come after.

An ethereal souvenir from places we will never visit, Hellbound Train struggles against the current of any vocabulary. This is the best can do to tell its story. A must-have for Tibbetts fans and an ideal place to start for those fortunate to hear any of this music for the first time.

Carolin Widmann: L’Aurore (ECM New Series 2709)

Carolin Widmann
L’Aurore

Carolin Widmann violin
Recorded July 2021
Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Cover photo: Wilfried Hösl
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: June 17, 2022

Although L’Aurore represents violinist Carolin Widmann’s seventh ECM appearance, this is her first solo program for the label, making it the culmination of the many potent strands she has woven to get here. Hearing her breathe through the Spiritus sanctus vivificans vita of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), which opens the program with fundamental monophony, is equivalent to the feeling of recovering from a long illness, taking in mundane details with renewed appreciation. The angular vigor of the Fantaisie concertante by George Enescu (1881-1955) that follows reminds us further of the need to absorb as much of our surroundings as possible if we are to give back more to the world than it has given us. Widmann’s ability to bring verve to the most leaping gestures and quietest rasping of the bow ensconces the motivations of this rarely performed treasure she calls a “sweeping melisma” of improvisational qualities. Contrasts of pulchritude and decay leave us marveling over a gray area where no single impression overwhelms another. Any keen listeners drawing a line from here to the work of Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931) are rewarded by his Sonata No. 5 in G major, op. 27, the first movement of which yields this album’s title. Its multivalence drips from Widmann’s fingers like rain from leaves after a storm, her double stops leaving trails of light as she works her way toward the “Danse rustique.” Here, the mood is somehow airier, despite the denser textures and grounded form, though at no expense of emotional savor. Between these giants are the no-less-powerful Three Miniatures of George Benjamin (b. 1960). With an economy of expression that makes every note count, each tells its dedicatory story in lucid terms. In doing so, what otherwise might seem like fleeting shifts in more florid writing take on a stark significance. The central piece, in particular, stirs the soul with its elasticity.

After revisiting Hildegard’s antiphon, Widmann takes us on a journey through the Partita No. 2 in D minor of J. S. Bach (1685-1750), a piece she felt prepared at long last to present in the studio. And while it concludes the disc, it feels more like a renewal. The minutiae of her caring spirit are immediately apparent in the caressing Allemanda, from which a personal ethos of direct communication shines in welcome. Over the next three movements, she turns the mirror to capture flashes of light, fragments of dreams, and memories of better times. All’s well that ends well in the epic Ciaccona, which for Widmann is “an epitome of life” (as is Hildegard, she is quick to add). Without apparent force yet with total conviction, she renders its details with the control required to wield a feather quill. Every mark confirms the need for ink and paper, without which these leaves of the human spirit might fall from the trees of history, leaving its forest bereft of fruit.