Bobo Stenson Trio: Contra la indecisión (ECM 2582)

Contra La Indecisión

Bobo Stenson Trio
Contra la indecisión

Bobo Stenson piano
Anders Jormin double bass
Jon Fält drums
Recorded May 2017, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: January 19, 2018

After a six-year hiatus, pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Anders Jormin, and drummer Jon Fält return to the studio with a new direction in tow. The path of said direction carves its way through equally varied territory, but with a philosophical nakedness of association that distinguishes it from previous outings. Compositionally speaking, the focus is on Jormin, who contributes five new tunes. In each of these, especially the Hamlet-inspired “Doubt Thou The Stars” and intimate “Three Shades Of A House,” the broad-ranging palette of not only the composer but also Fält is showcased.

Whether coasting along the edges of consciousness with contemplative themes or shifting into a midtempo groove without looking back, the trio moves as a simpatico vessel, attuned to the subtlest changes of wind and current. Jormin’s confidence is expressed through unforced engagement, which in “Stilla” inspires colorful adlibbing from Stenson. The bandleader’s only original this time around is “Alice,” a haunting piece finding him in dialogue with bowed bass, not a hint of disagreement within earshot.

A smattering of bandmember favorites rounds out the set, including a unified rendition of Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodríguez’s title track, as well as classical melodies drawn from the oeuvres of Béla Bartók (“Wedding Song From Poniky”), Erik Satie (“Elégie”), and Federico Mompou (“Canción y Danza VI”). The latter two are standouts for their respectful introductions and denouements. The freely improvised “Kalimba Impressions” is also noteworthy for its synchronicity and lush, modal development. At once grounded in the source material and straying far from it, it gives testimony to Stenson’s favoring of poetry over prosody.

Although perhaps not quite the masterpiece that 2012’s Indicum was, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t occupy its own territory, beyond the trappings of comparison. As unassuming as an observer whose thoughtful profundity far outweighs the extroversions of its regard, it prefers a quieter approach, masterful in its own way.

(This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Stefano Battaglia: Pelagos (ECM 2570/71)

Pelagos

Stefano Battaglia
Pelagos

Stefano Battaglia piano, prepared piano
Recorded May 2016 at Fazioli Concert Hall, Sacile (Italy)
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 15, 2017

No one can comfort me in my misery
In my lamenting and suffering for love
But for the one in the beautiful mirage…

Following a string of concept albums—including the cinematically inflected Re: Pasolini—and endeavors with his trio, pianist Stefano Battaglia returns to ECM with a two-disc solo effort of mostly spontaneous music. Playing piano and prepared piano—and sometimes both—he weaves together a program from behind closed doors and live on stage, and by its sequence tells the story of a shoreline thirsty for the tide.

The piano at his fingertips is a printing press, every letter and ornament moved carefully into place before transferring messages to the pages of our inner ear. From the sweeping grandeur of “Migralia” to the brittle unspooling of “Brenner Toccata,” he understands that the sea is a force of forces, each drop with the potential to swallow vessels whole. He dots the map between them with exes and lines, charting terrain both vertical (“Horgos e Roszke”) and horizontal (“Life”). Like the sustains breathing throughout “Lampedusa,” his notes resonate as gifts for the broken.

Preparation of a piano is often seen as a way of expanding its vocabulary. Battaglia, however, treats it like an endoscopic camera into the instrument’s very heart. Taken as a measurement of its pulse, the gong-like meditation of “Processional” and rhythmic intensity of the brief “Dogon” indicate a healthy organism whose dreams are as melodic as they are ineffable. “Destino” is, perhaps, the rawest of these improvisations. It feels like déjà vu, folding time into a mysterious origami.

The title track is one of five composed pieces in the set. Among them, its archaeology of recall is matched only by the urgency of “Migration Mantra,” a wave of untold stories given room to breathe. In light of which the Arabic traditional “Lamma Bada Yatathanna” glows with all the beauty of life in its hands. A necessary touch of wordlessness for a world that can’t keep its mouth shut.

Jon Balke/Siwan: Nahnou Houm (ECM 2572)

Nahnou Houm

Jon Balke
Nahnou Houm

Mona Boutchebak vocals
Derya Turkan kemençe
Helge Norbakken percussion
Pedram Khavar Zamini tumbak
Jon Balke keyboards
Barokksolistene
Bjarte Eike violin, leader
Alison Luthmers violin
Øivind Nussle violin
Milos Valent viola
Per Buhre viola
Torbjørn Köhl viola
Judith Maria Blomsterberg violoncello
Mime Brinkmann violoncello
Johannes Lundberg double bass
Recorded January 2017 at Madstun and The Village Recording, Copenhagen
Engineer: Thomas Vang
Mixed May 2017 at The Village Recording by Thomas Vang and Jon Balke
Mastering: Christoph Stickel, MSM Studios, Munich
Produced by Jon Balke
Release date: November 3, 2017

Even when we drink entire seas, we stand amazed
that our lips are still as dry as dunes…
and endlessly we seek the sea to wet our lips, without seeing
that our lips are seaside dunes and we the sea.
–Attar Faridu Din

Divisive times call for unifying music, and that’s exactly what Jon Balke’s Siwan project has created. Taking Al Andalus and its culture of inclusion—convivencia—as inspiration, the pianist and his progressive assembly weave for us an anthem of humanity. “There is no room or time now for the division between them and us,” writes Balke in a liner note. “We are them and they are us.” Such thinking is already inherent in the instrumentation. Encompassing Balke himself on keyboards, Pedram Khavar Zamini and Helge Norbakken on percussion, and Derya Turkan onkemençe, all infused by the strings of Barokksolistene under the lead violin of Bjarte Eike, it feels alive with borderless awakening. But the light of that dawn rests surely in singer Mona Boutchebak, who joins the project in solidarity.

Boutchebak’s voice is quill to the ensemble’s paper, an artisan of a yearning so ancient that it feels immediately with us. The doorway to it all is “Duda” (Doubt), wherein poetry of Ibn Al Zaqqaq (12th century, Spain) ride a Baroque-like wave of strings and harpsichord. This transitions into a more delicate accompaniment of percussion as Boutchebak sounds the call for a sweeter love than that with which the world has become so distractedly obsessed. In response, the mournful cry of Turkan’s kemençe weeps for fallen grace.

Kindred spirits flow through the ensuing songs. Across spectrums of sorrow in “Castigo” (another setting of Ibn Al Zaqqaq), Boutchebak understands that singing is closest to speaking: without communication, it fails. And communicate she does, speaking the words of Saint John of the Cross (16th century, Spain) in “Sin Nada Querer” (Wanting Nothing) as if they were letters to be opened and read by candlelight. “To attain pleasure in everything,” she begins, “seek pleasure in nothing.” A philosophy put into practice by the musicians at hand.

Intimate details underscore these sentiments. Distant storms and rainfall trace the edges of “Itimad” and “Desmayar Se” (Swooning), each an ode to the timelessness of love, while the title track and “Del Rey” dig into atmospheric soil with crowding voices. The latter is one of a few instrumental ligaments, of which Zamini’s “ZemZemeh” is a highlight. Other remarkable amalgamations include the fluidly arranged “Aun Bebiendo” (Even When We Drink), which sets a text of Attar Faridu Din, a 13th-century Sufi mystic from Nichapur, Iran, and the Andalusian traditional “Ma Kontou,” for which Boutchebak sings unaccompanied, repeating the verse like a mantra. Because truth is always worth hearing, and must be repeated until it shines.

Stephan Micus: Inland Sea (ECM 2569)

2569 X

Stephan Micus
Inland Sea

Stephan Micus balanzikom, nyckelharpa, chord and bass zithers, shakuhachi, voice, steel-string guitar, genbri
Recorded 2014-16 at MCM Studios
An ECM Production

Release date: June 16, 2017

When talking about differences between cultures, it’s tempting to uphold products such as food, art, and music as foci of distinction. On the latter point, Stephan Micus has dedicated his life to that without which music would not exist: the instruments themselves. From the staggering amount in his repertoire, he draws stories that could never have been written by any other means. Take the duo, for example, which makes its first appearance in his milieu via the opening “Haze.” The balanzikom, an obscure seven-stringed lute from Tajikstan, feels so much like the mountains and open plains of its origins that it could never have come from anywhere else. The very land is its womb, as also of the wordless gestures projecting life into being. The nyckelharpa, a Swedish bowed instrument keyed like a hurdy gurdy, is as crisp as the climate of which it was born, accordingly grounded. Micus listens to these instruments much more than he plays them, and through his performances allows them to learn new languages by the same tongue and teeth. As the only one-on-one conversation between them, “Haze” sets a precedent of civil and spiritual exchange for all to follow. The nyckelharpa, for its part, glows in triplicate in “Dawn” and “Dusk.” Their combined song is more than diurnal; it’s life and death.

Likewise, the shakuhachi is more than a conduit for breath. For while Micus has rewritten its futures many times over, its ancestral home is unalterable. In “Sowing Wind,” he matches this Japanese bamboo flute with the chord zither, a 68-string instrument of his own design. The arc thereof is a primordial one, along which feelings of mutual regard flow as if they were a mythology to which we’ve blinded ourselves. This relationship deepens in “Reaping Storm,” switching chord zither for its bass counterpart. Now the mood is fragile and of a different season, fragrant of a world humbled by nature.

The balanzikom delineates further circles for Micus’s singing in “Flor del Sur.” Radiating along cardinal axes as if to hold continents in its embrace, the solo voice welcomes five percussive nyckelharpa, chord zither, and shakuhachi in “Nuria,” and among that assembly enacts a tale of disparate peoples brought together by tragedy. For “Virgen de la Mar,” Micus choruses his voice fifteen times over, and to it adds three genbri, a three-stringed bass instrument from Morocco. Treading the same soil packed by the feet of “Dancing Clouds” (plucked nyckelharpa, 6 percussive nyckelharpa, 3 bowed nyckelharpa, steel string guitar, genbri, bass zither) and laid to rest by “For Shirin and Khosru” (2 bass zithers, 2 nyckelharpa, 3 steel string guitars, genbri), it treats melodic resolution as the caress of a loving parent who dispels fears of darkness. Thus we are protected, hoped for, and fortified to face new days, bringing our own children to the well of mortality, that they might also see the reflections of all who came before them.

Till Fellner: In Concert – Beethoven/Liszt (ECM New Series 2511)

2511 X

Till Fellner
In Concert: Beethoven/Liszt

Till Fellner piano
Années de pèlerinage
Concert recording, June 2002
Wien, Musikverein, Großer Saal
Tonmeister: Gottfried Zawichowski
Engineer: Andreas Karlberger
An ORF Recording (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Österreich 1)
Sonata No. 32
Concert recording, October 2010
Middlebury College Performing Arts Series
Mahaney Center for the Arts, Robison Hall
Tonmeister: Mark Christensen
Mastering: Markus Heiland
An ECM Production
Release date: November 2, 2018

But where of ye, O tempests! is the goal?
Are ye like those within the human breast?
Or do ye find, at length, like eagles, some high nest?
–Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

After a mosaic of recordings spanning the gamut from J. S. Bach to Thomas Larcher, Till Fellner returns to ECM with a pastiche of live recordings from 2002 and 2010. The first presents the Austrian pianist in his home capital for year one of Franz Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage. Inspired by the composer’s trip to Switzerland from 1835 to 1836 but unpublished until 1855, this aural scrapbook is alive with alpine imagery and motifs, encompassing firsthand memories, friendships, and even political views. It’s on the latter note that the collection begins with La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell. This stately introduction to an otherwise flowing work sets a precedent of architectural soundness that infuses all to follow. Contrast this with the watery beauties of Au lac de Wallenstadt and Au bord d’une source, and you already have a sense of the variety to which Liszt had eloquent access, rendered by Fellner with dynamic temperament.

While many sections, such as the sunlit Pastorale and Eglogue (the latter riffing on a shepherd’s song), are built around fleeting impressions, each nevertheless feels complete. This may be due to the fact nearly all of the music is revised from earlier material, an exception being the tempestuous Orage. No matter the duration, emotional integrity is the primary ingredient, so that the descriptions of Vallée d’Obermann’s thirteen precious minutes feel just as thick as Le mal du pays. Both seem to find the composer yearning for home when away from it, if not also for distant travels when in it, lending themselves to a score that only serves to nourish Fellner’s radiance. All the above shades of meaning cohere in Les cloches de Genève, by which the pianist elicits rich yet subtle sonorities.

If Liszt is a photographer, then Ludwig van Beethoven is a filmmaker whose magnum opus is surely the Sonata No. 32 in c minor. His Opus 111 shares its key signature with the Fifth Symphony and other monumental works, and provides a fitting end to his sonata cycle. As suggested in William Kinderman’s deeply considered liner essay, “The pair of movements of this sonata interact as a contrasting duality suggesting strife and fulfillment, evoking qualities which have stimulated much discussion, reminding commentators of the ‘here’ and the ‘beyond,’ or ‘samsara’ and ‘nirvana.’” Such spiritual language is no mere hyperbole, but an activation point of Beethoven’s grander concerns over the effects of art on the soul. As The Art of Fugue was to Bach, so is the Sonata No. 32 to Beethoven with regard to variation.

To be sure, Fellner touches upon those grander narratives, but more importantly keeps his ears attuned to the details. In the opening movement, for example, his arpeggios feel like quills on paper. Balancing stream-of-consciousness impulses with deeply articulated control, he links an unbreakable chain of progression. The second and final movement begins almost timidly, as if sifting through old notes for fear of what one might find, only to be surprised by a joy one never knew was waiting for rediscovery. Urgency compels the left hand while trills in the right signal a transformation of flesh into glory. “The transformational power of this closing music,” says Kinderman, “acts like a utopian symbol, which seeks to neutralize if not dispel the tragic reality embodied in the weighty opening movement of the work.” And perhaps weight is the most appropriate physical property by which to analyze what’s happening here, for regardless of size and scope, the relationship of every note to gravity is meticulously examined, its potential for flight believed in like a prayer.

Yuuko Shiokawa/András Schiff: Bach/Busoni/Beethoven (ECM New Series 2510)

Bach Busoni Beethoven

Yuuko Shiokawa
András Schiff
Bach/Busoni/Beethoven

Yuuko Shiokawa violin
András Schiff piano
Recorded December 2016, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 27, 2017

Seventeen years separate the first appearance of Yuuko Shiokawa and pianist András Schiff on ECM’s New Series and this long-awaited follow-up. Here they bring their intimate knowledge and experience to bear on sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Through its sequence and execution, the program reveals as much richness of ideas within the pieces as between them.

Shiokawa Schiff
(Photo credit: Barbara Klemm)

Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1016, dating to his 1717-23 tenure as Kapellmeister at Köthen, is emblematic of a then-nascent genre, and finds both composer and interpreters ordering lines of many shapes and sizes. Schiff’s role at the keyboard is a challenging one, each hand operating independently yet with deep awareness of the other, while Shiokawa must paint with an actorly brush from first note to last. The vulnerability she brings to the opening Adagio is but one example of her ability to take something so lilting, so fragile, and render it impervious to the trampling feet of time. From there she takes us on a journey of inward focus, and by an interactive cartography traces bubbling streams to destinations of delight.

Although Busoni was more steeped in Bach than perhaps any composer before or since, one would be hard-pressed to find Baroque affinity in the first movement of his Sonata No. 2 in e minor, Op. 36a. Towering over a decidedly Beethovenian landscape, it leans toward and away from its historical precedents with fervor. Whereas single movements in the Bach were facets of a larger mosaic, each of Busoni’s sections is a sonata unto itself. The gargantuan final movement, however, is a theme and variations on the Bach chorale “Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seelen, wenn ich in deiner Liebe ruh,” as it appears in wife Anna Magdalena’s Clavier-Büchlein of 1725. Busoni’s 17-minute exegesis goes from funereal to exuberant and back again. Between those worthy bookends stand two slim, insightful volumes. Where the Presto is playful yet adhesive, the somber Andante treads over shifting terrain.

In light of these fantastic excursions, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 10 in G Major comes across as non-fiction. As the composer’s last violin sonata, it holds a status all its own, and its details are organically suited to the duo. Where the trills and harmonies of its Allegro yield an enchanting ripple effect, the Adagio holds us suspended as if in need of nothing more than a confirmation of breath. A brief Scherzo scales the highest peak before trekking down into an Allegretto with a joy given life through musicians who care genuinely for everything they touch. It’s therefore difficult to listen to this recording without reminding oneself that Shiokawa and Schiff are partners in both music and life. Not only because they play so lovingly, but also because they listen to each other with rapt attention, inspiring nothing short of the same.

Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts (ECM 2527)

Daylight Ghosts

Craig Taborn
Daylight Ghosts

Craig Taborn piano, electronics
Chris Speed tenor saxophone, clarinet
Chris Lightcap double bass, guitar
Dave King drums, electronic percussion
Recorded May 2016 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Assistant: Tim Marchiafava
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: February 3, 2017

In the footsteps of two successful leader dates for ECM, pianist Craig Taborn rolls the die of paradigm once again and hits a solid four with Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Chris Lightcap on bass and guitar, and Dave King on drums and electronic percussion. Opener “The Shining One” is sure to delight fans of label mate Tim Berne, whose penchant for complex geometry is echoed here. Comparison aside, there’s a DNA helix all its own down which these musicians slide toward endings as abrupt as their beginnings. Speed navigates the bandleader’s genetic code as if it were his own back yard, while Lightcap and King engage in sequencing that feels at once parasitic and parthenogenetic.

“Abandoned Reminder” unravels its story from whispering electronics, as Taborn narrates a ballad-turned-trip down a stairway of psychological proportion. Such changes are indicative of an overall constitution, which by suggestion of an unusual fluidity activates proteins in underused listening muscles. The title track and “The Great Silence” are remarkable in this regard. Their enmeshment of soft virtue and hard truth is the quartet’s calling card. Like the arpeggios that thread both in their final phases, they treat predictability as a springboard for its own undoing.

Says Taborn of working with such widely accomplished musicians, “This music trades on transparency. I wanted all the elements to be crystalline, so that the layers of the music work like a prism.” Indeed, prismatic effects abound throughout“New Glory,” in which Taborn and Speed exchange unveiled conversation, and “Ancient.” The latter’s transition from bass monologue to ritual confluence shows a band working with patience and detail. As the parts, so the whole. Whether in the resonant piano-drums duet of “Subtle Living Equations” or the cosmic textures of “Phantom Ratio,” which floats Speed’s tenor on an ocean of nostalgic loops, the effect is consistently appropriate to the theme at hand. And while Taborn’s writing tends to pay homage to those themes at microscopic levels, his nod to Roscoe Mitchell’s “Jamaican Farewell” sees the jewel for the facets, and shines a methodical light of appreciation through a heart whose every beat is musical gospel. This is good news indeed.

Shinya Fukumori Trio: For 2 Akis (ECM 2574)

For 2 Akis

Shinya Fukumori Trio
For 2 Akis

Matthieu Bordenave tenor saxophone
Walter Lang piano
Shinya Fukumori drums
Recorded March 2017, La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: February 16, 2018

When the sun shines, birds sing,
the oak woods here and there
grow hazy,
I’ll have dirty palms
that make a gritty noise.
–Kenji Miyazawa, “Spring” (trans. Hiroaki Sato)

For 2 Akis presents the ECM debut of drummer Shinya Fukumori. Born and raised in Osaka, he learned to play violin, piano, and guitar before relocating to the United States at 17 to pursue the drums. Yet after graduating from Berklee College of Music and immersing himself in the jazz canon, he became so inspired by classic ECM recordings, including Eberhard Weber’s Silent Feet and Keith Jarrett’s My Song, that he resolved himself to one day record for the label. Toward realizing that goal, he moved to Munich—a risky decision encouraged by this album’s dedicatory Akis, both affiliated with Osaka’s Interplay8 jazz club. In a categorically unmatched trio with fellow itinerant spirits Walter Lang (piano) and Matthieu Bordenave (tenor saxophone), Fukumori reimagines history as a process of ongoing revision.

Much of that revision is drawn through evocation of Japan’s Shōwa era (1926-89), a time marked by economic collapse on either end, between which unthinkable traumas transitioned into golden-age prosperity. Although his own life overlaps it a mere five years, he understands its nostalgic power as if through firsthand experience, expressed in his introverted approach to virtuosity. Such restraint indicates an artist unafraid to humble himself in silhouette against the movie screen of time on which montages of compassion flicker by. Thus, each tune of Fukumori’s selected corpus extends a narrative devoid of antagonists and bound by regressive politics of interpretation.

During the interwar period (1918-39), a concerted emphasis on delineation and preservation of folk customs infused all aspects of Japanese cultural life, including crafts, farming, and music. And it is perhaps with this timeline in mind that Fukumori begins his artful set with “Hoshi Meguri No Uta” (The Star-Circling Song). Written by literary icon Kenji Miyazawa, its original lyrics depict Polaris guiding readers on a tour of the visible universe. Fukumori likewise takes listeners by the gentlest of hands on a journey through bygone eras, along the way establishing a precedent of communication with his bandmates. In this context, Lang’s lyrical curiosity and Bordenave’s vulnerable yet integral tone are nothing less than the light to his stardust.

By the 1960s, Japan had recovered from World War II and poured renewed effort into rural development as a means of reforming national identity. It was also a time when nihon-chō kayōkyoku, or Japanese-style popular songs, infused public consciousness with their airs of better times. Presciently enough, the solitude and hardship so commonly examined in those songs foreshadowed the bubble whose burst would mark the end of the Shōwa, ushering in an era of hypermodernism and recovery. Before that key transition, however, songwriter Kei Ogura planted his “Ai San San” in the popular imagination. Its evocation of perseverance through rough times gifted an anthem of recovery before one was even needed. Made famous by actress and enka queen Hibari Misora when she released it as a single in 1986, it continues to feel premonition-worthy at a time when we could use a little calm from the storm.

The oldest song here is Rentarō Taki’s “Kōjō No Tsuki” (The Moon Over the Ruined Castle). Written in 1901, it’s a timeless meditation on the fleeting nature of things. As people and their traces come and go, it seems to say, only their love lingers, reflected in the waters of mortality. Jazz aficionados will recognize the tune by way of Thelonious Monk, who arranged his own version as “Japanese Folk Song” on 1967’s Straight, No Chaser. Says Fukumori of the version at hand: “Every Japanese child learns this song at school. The melody of the song is very Japanese, so it stands out and still sounds very authentic even though I have re-harmonized it and arranged it.” So begins a three-part suite, in which mallets elicit a soft vocabulary from the drums, shifting into pianistic shadow cast by a glowing saxophone before blending into Fukumori’s “The Light.” Like the title track, it showcases his compositional ability to activate dense reactions from delicate chemicals, proving that he and his trio are no strangers to urgency when needed. In that precise regard, the rounded peaks of emotional transference in “Silent Chaos” and “Spectacular” are emblematic of his optimism and gratitude.

All the more reason for listeners to hold in mind the timeline being explored therein. What appears to be another beauty in the form of “Mangetsu No Yube” (Full Moon Night) reveals itself to be a prayerful reaction to tragedy. Composed by Takashi Nakagawa and Hiroshi Yamaguchi in response tothe Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, it speaks the very language of connection that makes this band so transfixing. Lest we forget the potency of said language, we find two offerings by Lang (“No Goodbye” and “When The Day Is Done”) and one by Bordenave (“Émeraude”). All three are memories folded and unfolded, each more soulful than the last, as part of a collective dream.

It’s impossible to regard Fukumori as anything less than a rightful heir to Paul Motian’s legacy. His attention to detail, unflinching musicality, and penchant for understatement are rare in a musician so young (being 33 at the time of this recording). As when encountering Motian, this is music that demands the night. Anything less than total darkness would obscure its poetry against a market too often shouting with exposition.

Easily among ECM’s finest of the decade. Don’t miss it.

Björn Meyer: Provenance (ECM 2566)

Provenance

Björn Meyer
Provenance

Björn Meyer 6-string electric and acoustic bass guitars
Recorded August 2016, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 15, 2017

Björn Meyer is perhaps best known to ECM listeners as bassist for Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin before leaving the band in 2012, and by his appearances on albums of Anouar Brahem, notably 2014’s Souvenance. But the kaleidoscope he has assembled for this 2017 solo album is as surprising as it is fated. Each of its twelve vignettes acts as a window not into but out of Meyer’s singular approach to his six-string electric and acoustic basses. Through their diurnal dialogues, he elicits a sundial’s worth of possible directions, transforming reveries into grounded experiences.

In the opening “Aldebaran,” exquisite suspensions of disbelief bleed into a space where contact of flesh on metal leaves traces of communication, and where the barest whisper of a string is also its credo. Its evocations of wind and water are shared by “Trails Crossing,” which finds Meyer riding a current of arpeggios, which by their changes of direction imply a crossing not only of trails but also of those traveling along them, as if at that meeting point one might witness souls jumping from body to body in search of blessed purpose.

The title track is a spectrum of emotional transference, a series of genetic equations spliced and sequenced into chains of melodic integrity. Here, as elsewhere along the album’s trajectory, tasteful applications of electronic delays and reverb magnify what is already felt spiritually. Where “Pendulum” and “Pulse,” for example, are linked to rhythms of movement, “Garden Of Silence” and “Three Thirteen” achieve their impact through understatement.

Against such fullness of expression, the acoustic bass provides ever-expanding possibilities, spanning the gamut from funky (“Squizzle”) to descriptive (“Merry-Go-Round”) and, when combined with electric (“Dance”), sonic origami in reverse. Just as the electric resonates through harmonic comet tails in “Traces Of A Song,” so does the acoustic seek an origin story to unite them both. And in “Garden Of Silence,” by harpist and singer Asita Hamidi (1961-2012), to whom this album is dedicated, he activates a trail of molecules from instinct to action that by the end leads us back to where we began, hopeful and with all the necessary gear intact.