Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for the South Side (ECM 2494/5)

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Roscoe Mitchell
Bells for the South Side

Roscoe Mitchell sopranino, soprano, alto and bass saxophones, flute, piccolo, bass recorder, percussion
James Fei sopranino and alto saxophones, contra-alto clarinet, electronics
Hugh Ragin trumpet, piccolo trumpet
Tyshawn Sorey trombone, piano, drums, percussion
Craig Taborn piano, organ, electronics
Jaribu Shahid double bass, bass guitar, percussion
William Winant percussion, tubular bells, glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, roto toms, cymbals, bass drum, woodblocks, timpani
Kikanju Baku drums, percussion
Tani Tabbal drums, percussion
Recorded September 2015 at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago by David Zuchowski
Mixed May 2016 at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines by Gérard de Haro with Steve Lake
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Steve Lake
Release date: June 16, 2017

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Roscoe Mitchell presented a cornucopia of trios at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in conjunction with the exhibition The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now. Said exhibition included percussion set-ups favored by Art Ensemble of Chicago legends Don Moye, Malachi Favors, Lester Bowie, Don Moye, and the reed-favoring multi-instrumentalist himself, all incorporated into the present double-disc recording.

Mitchell is the alpha and omega of this project, spearheading a series of designated trios to explore different organs of his immense compositional body. With Hugh Ragin (trumpet) and Tyshawn Sorey (here on trombone), he offers “Prelude to a Rose,” a somewhat funereal dirge that pops a cathartic blister about midway through.

With Jaribu Shahid (double bass) and Tani Tabbal (drums), Mitchell presents an unabashedly soulful sermon in “Prelude to the Card Game, Cards for Drums, and the Final Hand.” By force of his muscular alto, he punches holes in the time cards printed and cut by Shahid’s thick bowing before Tabbal turns the very concept of time inside out in an extended soliloquy, leaving a brief trio to throw some light at the end of the tunnel. Mitchell continues down that same introspective avenue in “Six Gongs and Two Woodblocks.” For this he’s joined by James Fei (reeds, electronics) and William Winant (percussion) for what may just be the album’s most brilliant turn of events. Its balance of outer and inner is at the very core of what Mitchell does best as a composer.

Even with pen laid aside, as in “Dancing in the Canyon,” a group improvisation with Craig Taborn (piano, organ, electronics) and Kikanju Baku (drums, percussion), he’s still the catalyst for an otherwise impossible chemical reaction. His sopranino dances as if it’s on fire and the only way to keep itself from turning to ashes is to sing until its throat runs dry. The sheer musicality of this unscripted dive inward is lucid to the extreme.

The album’s remainder is as shuffled as its musicians, for throughout it Mitchell recasts his trio actors in new roles and configurations. From the picturesque latticework of “Spatial Aspects of the Sound” to the nearly 26-minute blend of ambience and explosions that is “Red Moon in the Sky,” the latter segueing into the AEC’s calling card, “Odwalla,” played by the entire nonet, sound is substance. Connective tissue along the way spans a world of apparent influences, from Pierre Boulez and Iannis Xenakis to Anthony Braxton and Edgard Varèse. Taborn (electronics) and Shahid (bass guitar) unearth haunting ore in “EP 7849,” while in the title track Ragin slings precise arrows of piccolo trumpet over the “percussion cage” Mitchell created for the AEC and which is resurrected here to wonderous effect by Sorey. But even at its most explosive, as in the drums- and piano-heavy “The Last Chord,” there’s more Genesis than Revelation at play. Let there be music.

Jakob Bro: Streams (ECM 2499)

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Jakob Bro
Streams

Jakob Bro guitar
Thomas Morgan double bass
Joey Baron drums
Recorded November 2015, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 23, 2016

The title of Streams, guitarist Jakob Bro’s second leader date for ECM, could hardly be more appropriate to describe music that flows with the quiet charm of a forest creek, bubbling all the way from childhood to whatever here and now you happen to inhabit when encountering it.

“Opal” touchingly opens the album’s inner sanctum: a sacred gift for profane times. As the first of seven layers, it peels back just enough of life’s opacity to sense a shared humanity deeper within. Bro zooms in on filaments of memory, each a wire drawn from one biographical telephone pole to another. Bassist Thomas Morgan is so attuned to these electrical impulses that the possibility of a power outage seems a distant fantasy. Drummer Joey Baron marks their trail with care, ending with raindrops on a silo.

“Heroines” is one of Bro’s most patient confections. Morgan shuttles through the composer’s loom, soloing with restraint and focus, while the guitar folds itself in layers of cosmic radiation until the night itself begins to glow. This tune is further recast in a solo guitar version later in the set. Like a plant regressing to seed, it has all the world in its mouth before it opens to sing.

“PM Dream” is a free improvisation dedicated to Paul Motian. As in the music of its namesake, its heart beats somewhere between veiled ambience and solid ground. Morgan and Baron dot its continent with runes of memory, as they do in “Full Moon Europa,” which through its quiet substructure yields achingly dramatic elicitations from Bro. “Shell Pink” is another stunner, tracing its nautilus spiral into origins. Morgan is wonderous and sincere, enhancing that locomotive quality, inherent to all of Bro’s finest, along a parabola of ice to fire to ice.

Nowhere is geologic force so thoroughly studied as in “Sisimiut.” Where normally Bro is more interested in following a burning fuse than chronicling the explosion it foreshadows, this time he allows a little of that fire to spill over. But because destruction would be antithetical to the loving atmosphere he has so painstakingly created, we never encounter a bang, going out instead with a hush.

Dominique Pifarély: Time Before And Time After (ECM 2411)

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Dominique Pifarély
Time Before And Time After

Dominique Pifarély violin
Recorded in concerts in September 2012
at Auditorium Saint-Germain, Poitiers (France)
and in February 2013
at Cave Dimière, Argenteuil (France)
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: August 28, 2015

Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty…
–T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”

After leading a string of caravans across the sands of ECM, Dominique Pifarély enchants on this set of solo recordings taken from French concerts in 2012 and 2013 at Auditorium Saint-Germain (Poitiers) and Cave Dimière (Argenteuil). Although nearly everything is improvised, the violinist dedicated each piece in retrospect to a certain poet, from whose verses he also chose a title. More than highlighting personal connections between literature and music, this artistic decision reveals an agency of spontaneous creation.

The Near Eastern quality of “Sur terre” (for Mahmoud Darwich) makes for a poignant introduction to this border zone where motifs converse for want of being equally heard. Every color and texture is like the seed of a new community, touched by horizons yet to be unfolded, and in this respect shares kindship with “L’air soudain” (for André du Bouchet). The latter’s robust yet plaintive cry yearns to be acknowledged in a place uninhabited except by its own singing. Arid climates are evoked in the rasp of a bow: a gargantuan tongue scraping along the earth in search of nourishment but finding only dust and ruins.

“Meu ser elástico” (for Fernando Pessoa) and “D’une main distraite” (for Henri Michaux) are both jagged wonders, wherein leaping suggestions of dance are constantly pulled back to origins, while the masterful“Gegenlicht” (for Paul Celan) shows us thefull scope of Pifarély’s technical and artistic capabilities. Like a prisoner who succeeds in digging his way through a wall with bare hands, he peels away the barrier to freedom one granule at a time. But before he inhales fresh air again, he must pass through “Violin y otras cuestiones” (for Juan Gelman). A struggle that is as political as it is personal, it finds temperance only in the sul ponticellosalvations of “Avant le regard” (for Jacques Dupin) and “L’oubli” (for Bernard Noël).

If shades of the Baroque are present, they’re no illusion, as even Pifarély admits: “[O]f course Bach is in the air because Bach is polyphonic, and the violin is polyphonic.” Bach also informs his decision to close his solo performances with a standard—in this instance Victor Young’s “My Foolish Heart”—to assert the violin’s autonomy. His interpretation thereof looks in the proverbial mirror, hoping to recognize itself but instead finding awe in what it has become.

Bruno Maderna/Luciano Berio: Now, And Then (ECM New Series 2485)

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Bruno Maderna
Luciano Berio
Now, And Then

Orchestra della Szizzera italiana
Dennis Russell Davies
conductor
Pablo Márquezguitar
Recorded August 2015, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Michael Rast (RSI)
Editing and mixing: Michael Rast and Manfred Eicher
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 27, 2017

Bruno Maderna (1920-1973) was an instrumental force in contemporary music throughout the 1950s, when composers of “modern” persuasion were still struggling to at once uphold and break open the secrets of bygone masters. Maderna was no stranger to the past and had a particular fondness for the clarity of the Italian Baroque, as evidenced in his transcriptions of Girolamo Frescobaldi, Giovanni Legrenzi, Giovanni Gabrieli, Tommaso Lodovico da Viadana, and Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer presented by the Orchestra della Szizzera italiana under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies.

It should come as no surprise that Maderna had a love for the theatre, as these pieces breathe like dramaturgical backdrops to well-studied action. While nearly all of them date from 1952, the sole exception is Gabrieli’s Canzone a tre cori (1969/72), of which Maderna’s recrafting turns glory into lyrical shadow. Frescobaldi’s Tre Pezzi (1952), by contrast, constitute an exercise in contradiction. Robust yet naïve, they move fluidly across and between planes of exposition. The liturgical center, comprised of a brief “Christe” and “Kyrie,” hints at a spiritual undercurrent before deferring to a regal finish. Against this, La Basadonna (1951-52) is a delightful interlude that dances with delicate assurance across this dioramic stage. As heartbeats of golden ages mesh into an elegy for silver futures, Viadana’s Le Sinfonie (1952) reads like an archive of memory. It’s portrait of Italian cities bustles with life and character. Of these, the buoyant “La Venetiana” recalls the programmatic brilliance of Carlo Farina. Last is the “Palestrina-Konzert” (1952) by Wassenaer. Once attributed to Pergolesi, this gorgeous triptych sets up an alluring Vivace through two slower precursors. Enchanting sonorities abound.

From all of these, we know that Maderna understood Baroque music as a giant wheel, sporting a clearly defined center from which regular spokes extended to an more open perimeter. His respect for that underlying architecture reveals its own.

Lodged therein, between the Legrenzi and Gabrieli, is Chemins V, a self-transcription of Sequenza XI (1987-88) by Luciano Berio (1925-2003), with whom Maderna founded Europe’s first electronic music studio, the Studio de fonologia musicale di Radio Milano. This piece, composed in 1992, receives its premiere recording here. Featuring guitarist Pablo Márquez on the instrument for which it was originally written, it’s a deeply psychological journey. Márquez navigates every topographical change with confidence, finding purchase on the narrowest of cliffs and staying grounded on the slipperiest of terrain. Brimming with Berio’s uncanny ability to make the beautiful eerie and vice versa, it treats the guitar as leading voice and internal percussion, ambulating without apparent direction until the subdued, shimmering finale. Worth the price of entry alone, this rare morsel in an already-rich covering speaks to the core of our being as a species at a time when uncertainty rules the day.

Dominique Pifarély Quartet: Tracé Provisoire (ECM 2481)

Tracé Provisoire

Dominique Pifarély Quartet
Tracé Provisoire

Dominique Pifarély violin
Antonin Rayon piano
Bruno Chevillon double bass
François Merville drums
Recorded July 2015, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: June 3, 2016

In the immediate wake of his solo album Time Before And Time After, violinist Dominique Pifarély returns to ECM leading a fearless quartet with pianist Antonin Rayon, bassist Bruno Chevillon, and drummer François Merville. The album’s title, which translates into English as “Provisional Layout,” is at once accurate and a misnomer. Accurate because Pifarély’s stoic humility allows no leeway for ego. Misnomer because this music is anything but provisional, archived as it is for posterity in this crisp recording.

The album is mostly populated by three diptychs, each split throughout the program. “Le peuple effacé” opens the ears to an honest exploration of space, Pifarély’s bow trembling like the feeler of an insect. Its second part extends a steadier hand, hennaed with designs and motifs that, despite having lost their original meanings, take on new ones by virtue of clinging to flesh. With rhythmic acuity in spades, Pifarély navigates every twist without so much as grazing his instrument along the way. Just as forthrightly, he settles into a lethargic meditation.

DPQ
(Photo credit: Jean-Baptiste Millot)

The title dyad abides by an even more exploratory grammar, wherein orthography is found lurking in every pause. The groovier settlement into which once-nomadic impulses find themselves collapsing is as haunting as it is energizing. The rhythm section is on point here, transitioning from robust to delicate maneuvers with nary a blink to be sensed. Part II is Rayon’s realm. Here the pianist diverts attention to shadow with light, and vice versa, before leaving the other three to dance until their bodies disappear.

“Vague” is a rich soundscape of breathy violin and percussive details, a progression from womb to tomb that consumes philosophies as if they were food. This leaves two standalones. Where “Le regard de Lenz” is an exploded geometry of pent-up force, and as such is the album’s fulfillment of rupture, “Tout a déjà commencé” is a thirteen-and-a-half-minute mosaic of elegiac and celebratory influences. Chevillon ups the bassing quotient significantly, leaving room for a ripple effect to sing. In this regard, the band’s willingness to go as deep as they need to in order to unearth what it is they’re searching for is admirable, and leaves us feeling filled to the brim.

Markus Stockhausen/Florian Weber: Alba (ECM 2477)

Alba

Alba

Markus Stockhausen flugelhorn, trumpet
Florian Weber piano
Recorded July 2015, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: April 1, 2016

Markus Stockhausen has walked a jagged path through the annals of ECM, but the German trumpeter can always be counted on to provide an experience that is unique, unforced, and above all genuine. On Alba, he presents for the first time in studio his collaboration with pianist Florian Weber. Six years in the making, this music and the interactions built around it are vessels of experiential intensity rounded by currents of thoughtfulness.

Weber Stockhausen

The album’s 15-track program shuffles originals and improvisations from both musicians in a stacked deck of melodic beauty. Weber’s end of the spectrum is concerned with honor and past reflections. In the latter vein, his opener “What can I do for you?” is dedicated to the late John Taylor, a vital ECM presence under whom he first studied as a young piano student. Like Taylor, he realizes that, in order to access the piano’s inner voice, those playing it must be willing to let go of their own.

Weber is a painter in sound. Whether evoking shifting granules of sand in “Emergenzen” or fantastical impressions in “Die weise Zauberin,” he wields every key as one would a brush. He’s also more prone to playfulness, as in “Surfboard,” a tune that precisely illustrates the duo’s creative process. As musical surfers, they know firsthand the value of a reliable board and choice wave, but use those parameters as prerequisites for joyful freedom. Weber’s “Emilio” is a highlight for turning a familiar arpeggio into a surprising vehicle for Stockhausen, who reaches expansively across intimate geographies.

Stockhausen Weber

Stockhausen’s universe combines the theoretical and the spontaneous. His “Mondtraum,” “Synergy Melody,” and “Zehpir” have their genesis in classical contexts, but here are pared to their base elements. His own whimsy emerges in “Befreiung,” albeit in a more cleanly predetermined vein, while “Better World” serves as a poignant expression of hope, transitioning from mournful reflection to twirling dance in a masterful turn of phrase.

Scattered improvisations round out the proceedings. Of these, the duetted “Ishta” is heartfelt to the extreme. In “Resonances,” Stockhausen plays directly into the piano, wherein untouched strings reverberate sympathetically, while “Barycenter,” “Possibility I,” and “Today” finds Weber alone with nothing but intuition to lead the way.

In addition to the richly flowing music, Alba is significant for being Stockhausen’s first for ECM in 16 years and for being Weber’s label debut. A release to be treasured.

Wolfert Brederode Trio: Black Ice (ECM 2476)

Black Ice

Wolfert Brederode Trio
Black Ice

Wolfert Brederode piano
Gulli Gudmundsson double bass
Jasper van Hulten drums
Recorded July 2015, Auditorio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: April 1, 2016

It wasn’t the notes, it was the silences between the notes. Some music is the very enemy of silence, keeping the sounds coming so that the listener has no time to reflect. But other music, the music she played for herself, was different…
–Simon Mawer, The Glass Room

Following his quartet outings, Currents and Post Scriptum, pianist Wolfert Brederode dips into the font of trioism, joining forces with bassist Gulli Gudmundsson and drummer Jasper van Hulten. It’s a setting in which Brederode feels very much at home, despite the varied ensembles of which he has been a part, both within and without the ECM stable.

Given the vast amounts of energy put out by those preceding albums, “Elegia” involves as a tender welcome. Brederode’s sound-world is no less clearly defined, but here maps its crisp shoreline by the waves rolling onto it. A strum along the piano strings lands us softly into the arid “Olive Tree,” for which the band sidesteps that slow-motion crash in favor of utter restraint. In that restraint, however, lurks the ever-present possibility of fractures, so that every groove courts rupture. That everything holds together is due to fierce communication between the musicians, best expressed in the evocative title track: a smooth, glassine surface across which melodies glide without fear of falling through.

WBT

The patient unfolding of “Cocoon” proves just how dedicated Brederode and his crew they are to keeping their vessel afloat. Solos are few and far between, as they should be, as no voice is intended to dominate. Gudmundsson’s shaded “Conclusion,” the only non-Brederode original of the set, foregrounds its composer in one of few exceptions. The bassist’s presence throughout “Curtains” and “Rewind,” both highlights, is also notable. Likewise van Hulten’s snare in “Fall,” another oceanic mooring.

As with anything Brederode touches, however, primary focus is on message over medium. Where “Bemani” is a tapered ligament connecting soil and sky, “Terminal” is an unsettling illustration of horizontal anxieties. Meant to evoke an airport after hours, its brevity is proportional to its experiential vividness. But nowhere does the candle of evocation burn so brightly as in “Glass Room,” which by its architectural sensitivity treats windows not as portals but as palimpsests of our deepest desires.

Another glorious example of why ECM is the world’s most significant trio archive.

Burkhard Reinartz: Eine Olive des Nichts (ECM New Series 2435)

Eine Olive des Nichts

Burkhard Reinartz
Eine Olive des Nichts

Burkhard Reinartz conception, reciter
Anja Lais reciter
Bruno Winzen reciter
Recorded August 2013, Rheinklang Tonstudio, Köln
Recording engineer/sound design: Alexander Hardt
Album produced by Burkhard Reinartz
Release date: September 19, 2015

For Eine Olive des Nichts (An Olive of Nothingness), Cologne-based radio director Burkhard Reinartz has curated a personal collage of poetry by Adam Zagajewski, Tomas Tranströmer, and Philippe Jaccottet, as read by Anja Lais, Bruno Winzen, and Reinartz himself. More than a spoken word project, however, it coheres by virtue of music drawn from ECM’s vast back catalog by Eivind Aarset, Susanne Abbuehl, Jon Balke, Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, the Stefano Battaglia Trio, the Wolfert Brederode Quartet, Ketil Bjørnstad, David Darling, Andrey Dergatchev, Mathias Eick, Sidsel Endresen, Morton Feldman, Food, Michael Galasso, Paul Giger, Jon Hassell, Arve Henriksen, the Benedict Jahnel Trio, Meredith Monk, Arvo Pärt, Michele Rabbia, Trygve Seim, Steve Tibbetts, Tomasz Stanko, the Bobo Stenson Trio, the Tarkovsky Quartet, Steven Kovacs Tickmayer, and the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble, amounting to a play without a stage, if not a film without images.

Unlike Re: ECM by Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer, in which ECM snippets were stretched into barely recognizable washes of ambience, or, at the other end of the spectrum, Christian Reiner’s bare readings of Friedrich Hölderlin on Turmgedichte, here a haunting medium between the two is struck. Interwoven with the poets’ reflections on their art and pockmarked with plenty of nostalgic moments for label listeners, this montage of creations and creators speaks with a timeless quality, as if one could enter and exit it at any moment and it would continue flowing, with or without us.

Reinartz

Even without a shred of German recall, ECM completists and adventurous listeners alike will find purchase in this project’s deft blend of speech and sound. One can also appreciate the intimacy with which the poetry is read—so intimate, in fact, that one feels like they shouldn’t be there, as if the words were intensely private, fogging the mirrors between conscious and unconscious awareness.

The mixing of samples is seamless, passionate dip into the label’s oeuvre. Whether in the nocturnal tinges of Hassell’s “Blue Period” and Darling’s “Darkwood IV” or the sun-drenched excursions of Tibbetts’s 12-string, in the downward rhythmic spirals of “Modul 42” by Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin or the poignant elegy of Stanko’s “Dirge For Europe,” the inner lives of familiar tunes reveal fresh perspectives of association. Much like the poetry they surround, meanings in this music are suggested by their connection to lived experiences, and through those connections invite us to graft our own.

Golfam Khayam/Mona Matbou Riahi: Narrante (ECM 2475)

Narrante

Narrante

Golfam Khayam guitar
Mona Matbou Riahi clarinet
Recorded July 2015, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Ramin Sadighi
Release date: May 20, 2016

With Narrante, Iranian musicians Golfam Khayam (guitar) and Mona Matbou Riahi (clarinet) make their ECM debut. The Naqsh Duo, as they’re also known, became known to producer Manfred Eicher through earlier tapes before he invited them to record at Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI with Stefano Amerio engineering. Thus welcomed into a pristine studio under the auspices of this hallowed label, the Naqsh Duo offer a program of nine originals.

Although a liner note describes the album as “a unified piece that traverses different stages and variations of a dialogue, each related to a formal structure with open sections for improvisation,” one may point to self-contained highlights therein. Of those, the concluding “Lamento-Furioso” shows the duo at its freest, raw and rich with ideas. As in “Battaglia” a handful of tracks before, Khayam and Riahi elicit an artfully controlled restlessness. Labored breathing in the latter lends relevance as commentary on today’s geopolitical malaise. “Lacrimae” is another standout, not only for its evocative trembling but also because beneath it is an acknowledgment of life, as if having the ability to grieve were confirmation of perseverance. In this sense, the music rightly claims that emotions are never uniformly made, but born of many disparate strands.

Narrante Duo
(Photo credit: Hessam Samavatian)

Such openness percolates through “Testamento,” in which Riahi purifies the space for Khayam’s guitar. Like a pair of hands opening a window outward onto a wave-caressed shore, it conveys a message of solitude—one that, despite emerging from the interactions of a duo, represents parts of the same psyche. That same two-in-one feeling is magnified in “Arioso,” throughout which trills in both instruments float and sink simultaneously, leaving a melodic body suspended between them. Other moods range from dreamlike (“Sospiro”) to reflective (“Silenzio”), but always with an ear attuned to the larger picture at hand.

The title track is the most intimate of all, making effective use of spaces between notes. This is, in fact, what the duo does best: mold resonance as substance into sculptures of resistance. Like the colors of “Parlando,” it shapes wind and time into a cherished memory, as this program is certain to become once it finds a home in your heart.