In a recent review for All About Jazz, I do my best to express the beauty of what went down when pianist Anat Fort made her return to New York City for a night of love-laden music. Paying homage to her dear collaborator and friend Paul Motian while also expanding the parameters of tunes from her ECM efforts, she honored all with her presence and willingness to follow as much as lead. Click the photo below to read on.
My latest review for All About Jazz is of pianist Anat Fort’s superb performance at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, where her trio, along with Italian reedman Gianluigi Trovesi, celebrated the release of her third ECM album, Birdwatching. Click the photo below to read on.
Anat Fort Trio
Anat Fort piano
Gary Wang bass
Roland Schneider drums
Gianluigi Trovesi alto clarinet
Recorded November 2013, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
U.S. release date: April 8, 2016
On Birdwatching, Anat Fort’s third album for ECM, the Israeli pianist and composer proves once again that music is a journey without repetition. I trace this axiom back to her label debut, 2007’s A Long Story, from which “Something ’Bout Camels” carried over into the 2010 follow-up, And If. This time around, another tune from that same record—“Not The Perfect Storm”—makes a reappearance, now re-cloaked by the melodic overlay of Italian reedman Gianluigi Trovesi, who joins her trio with bassist Gary Wang and drummer Roland Schneider for her farthest-reaching record to date. The rumbling pianism of that latter track speaks at once to Fort’s illustrative prowess and willingness to sidestep its clichés. Indeed, beyond the thunder implied in the lower register of her keyboard, the broad wingspan of Trovesi’s alto clarinet speaks of clearer skies. The forces at work are greater than the sum of their parts, which over the course of six and a half minutes emit more light than they absorb.
Moved by this collaboration, I opened a recent interview with Fort by asking about Trovesi’s involvement—a partnership perhaps as inevitable as it was unexpected.
“Unlike with Paul Motian, I was never intimidated by working with Gianluigi. I really loved his work, which I’d known through ECM, and fate brought us together on stage for a jazz festival in Novara, Italy in 2013. A few months later, he joined my trio in Israel. He’s such a gentle and beautiful human being, so there was never any conflict. The only thing that gets in the way is the language barrier, but at any rate we communicate through the music.”
Case in point: “Earth Talks,” which finds them conversing as a duo. Like Fort herself, Trovesi seems to attract entire planetary systems into orbit than be gravitationally pulled into others. His chromatic inflections are the blood flow of her ebony and ivory veins, which pulse with solitude even as they drink in joyful praises. Trovesi walks over, never through, Fort’s articulate themes, so as not to disturb their archaeological integrity. Even when he joins the full trio, as in “Jumpin’ In” or “Murmuration,” his sinewy topography feels like grass in love with the soil. In other words: an affirmation of roots.
Neither does the trio engage with blatant exhibitionism, but finds unity—and utility—in the negative spaces that frame each intimate spectacle. Such alignment to the inner workings of faith gives the quartet all the oil it needs to burn through the collectively improvised “Inner Voices.” Though delicate and exploratory, it never breaks its stare. Such disparate elements reach deepest convergence in two variations of “Song Of The Phoenix,” in which the trio clears a path for Trovesi’s transformation from roaming to mourning. His rougher bending of pitch enhances the emotional gravity at hand. Wang and Schneider reveal themselves to be so much more than a rhythm section, but a listening organ attuned to every gradation. Which is not to say their individual talents are not forthcoming. In the trio-only “It’s Your Song,” Schneider’s drumming is remarkably fluent, moving with the insouciance of an Olympic ice-skater, while Wang’s kinetic solo lends the scene some much-needed heat.
It’s impossible for me to experience such gestures without reading biographical impulses behind each tune. The beauty of this record, as with all of them, is that Fort allows more than enough space for individual interpretation:
“I think that’s how I usually treat my music, or how my music treats me, I should say. It’s a very personal thing. I could even call it a private universe, which of course I’m trying to share by playing and putting out there. This recording is different for having so many short pieces, which wasn’t something we planned to do. But as [producer] Manfred [Eicher] and I started mixing it together, we did more editing than I’ve ever done. It clearly needed to be a story of vignettes. That was a surprise for me, and something that the music initiated, and which we answered collaboratively. As I say in the promo video, the music will convey its own story if you let it.”
Listening to what the music was saying led to Fort to add two improvised piano solos: “First Rays” and “Sun.” Added at the last minute, these became the first and last tracks of the final mix. Within this frame, the album is better able to balance color and monochrome.
On that note of production, Birdwatching marks the first time Fort has worked with Stefano Amerio at the Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI studio in Lugano, Switzerland, thus completing her unintended tour of ECM’s heavyweight engineers, rounded out by Jan Erik Kongshaug in Oslo (And If) and James Farber in New York (A Long Story).
“Each of these experiences has been great,” Fort admits, “and Stefano has a great ear. It was very special to record at the RSI studio, because you record live, setting up on a stage in a very small auditorium without headphones or dividers. It’s really unique to do it that way, and he knows how to record so that it feels live but also clean enough to be crafted.”
One can hear this especially in “Meditation For A New Year,” which boasts some of Fort’s most soulful playing on record, but keeps its expansiveness within reason in search of a major chord. Like “Milarepa,” of which only the first of three parts appears on this album, it indicates a new phase of self-expression, a turning of the ear toward the self to know what may become of love.
Anat Fort Trio
Anat Fort piano
Gary Wang double-bass
Roland Schneider drums
Recorded February 2009 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Anat Fort returns to ECM, now with the members of her working trio: bassist Gary Wang and drummer Roland Schneider. Together they put a decade of working experience into And If, which burrows deeper into the compositional soil tilled on A Long Story. With that album in mind the trio pays homage to Paul Motian—whose encouragement led to the first ECM collaboration—in two tracks dedicated to the master drummer. The first begins the disc with poetry metered by the heart, beating in response to life’s changing climates. Like the passing of one thought to another, it shuffles melodic impulses farther down the line. “Paul Motian (2)” closes the circle, taking inspiration from its namesake by never once succumbing to the pitfalls of predictability. Such tenderness justifies imagery like that of “Clouds Moving,” which proceeds with Vince Guaraldi-like ebullience in the ground line while luminous harmonies in the right hand draw rivers catching sun during flyby. Schneider’s feel for cymbals admirably fills Motian’s absence, as do his brushes beneath Fort’s arcs of flight in “Minnesota.”
Although the album is not without a clipped feather or two (the fleeting “If” and “Nu” balance tenderness and swing, respectively), for the most part it spreads its wings broadly. One cannot help but detect a classical tinge to the wind beneath. “En If” is but one example. Its mastery builds off primary colors, awaiting the light of day to mix variations between prose and poetry. The former we get from Fort’s storytelling fingers, while the latter flows effortlessly from the rhythm section.
“Something ’Bout Camels” revisits material from Fort’s label debut, given here a flowering treatment. The daybreak of Wang’s arco introduction canopies a desert sleeping soundly. A settlement stirs: eyebrows twitch, bodies stand upright, legs move, hands work, and the beats of earthen carriage guide wheels to turn. Schneider’s bassing droops, swishing away the flies with its tail and folding the wind into parchment, that it might calligraph Fort’s footfalls.
Yet nowhere does the trio come together so effortlessly as it does in “Lanesboro.” This ballad in a classic mode is the epitome of gorgeous. Like water over rocks, it conforms to the shapes of its progression with unforced, organic flow. The lyrical support completes Fort’s picture with understated bliss.
An anthem for the soul.
(To hear samples of And If, click here.)
A Long Story
Anat Fort piano
Perry Robinson clarinet, ocarina
Ed Schuller double-bass
Paul Motian drums
Recorded March 2004, Systems Two Studios, Brooklyn, by John Rosenberg and Max Ross
Edited and mixed May 2006 at Avatar Studios, New York, by Manfred Eicher, Anat Fort and James A. Farber
Produced by Anat Fort and Manfred Eicher
Israeli-born pianist Anat Fort in her ECM debut. An event to cherish for time to come. The album’s title, A Long Story, an understatement: an expression of the infinite joy that music brings to player and listener alike, a holy exchange of which the improviser is but a fleeting intermediary, yet whose name persists as the bringer of possibility. And so, alongside her name we must include those of bassist Ed Schuller, drummer Paul Motian, and clarinetist Perry Robinson. Schuller has a long story of his own playing with Motian and Robinson, and it was he who captured the interest of the veteran drummer, who in turn put it into producer Manfred Eicher’s hands. The ECM fit came naturally, and here we have the fruits.
One needn’t look at the album credits to know that the music comes from Fort’s pen. Original and committed should be at the top of her résumé. “Just Now” anchors the set in three variations, the first and last of which begin and end the album with their hymnody, the central of which inhales drought and exhales oasis fragrance. In them, Motian breezes through leaves. He is, in fact, a revelation throughout, especially in “Not A Dream?” (from which one can’t help but draw a line of flight to his tune “Lost In A Dream”). This one brings the quartet together in clearest focus, the interplay subtle, sculpted, and secure. His affinity for Fort’s music is obvious, responding dancingly as he does to everything going on around him. Fort approaches the keyboard in kind, kneading her melodies into cells of doughy surprise. In “Rehaired,” she engages Motian in more buoyant conversation. The two are simpatico in this trio setting. Motian carries the full weight of “Not The Perfect Storm,” bringing thunder and lightning to its opening moments before Fort joins the unerring chaos. Here the theme is farthest-reaching, coalescing and spreading—a flock of birds above a field in slow motion—until the last raindrops fall, hitting every leaf like a cymbal.
Robinson, too, is comfortable in his skin. He brings a classic sound to the table, but also a few surprises in his lettings go. “As Two” and “Something ’Bout Camels” make for a fine dual vehicle. He navigates the drunken corridors of the first, a low-slung slice of night, with finesse and switches to ocarina for the second, flitting bird-like through the open skies. And the free improv he shares with Fort in “Chapter-Two” develops a fluent contrast of grit and sparkle. Schuller is another integral force, setting the stage of “Lullaby” behind eyelid curtains and touching the air of “Morning: Good” as would a magician wand a hat. Fort’s pianism shines in his company, but also keeps one arm around the shoulders of a shadow, if only to remind us that every moon has a dark side.
In her composing, Fort never succumbs to sugar. Her leading lines are savory all the way. Neither does she ornament for mere effect, but rather speaks in tongues wholly wrapped around the music. Case in point: “Chapter-One.” A distillery in sound, it swirls and ferments, building body and flavor toward peak balance. A romping beat reveals itself intermittently from the soft tangle, until all that’s left is a feeling of having been here before. We know this music because it lives within, passed from Fort’s heart to ours.