Zsófia Boros: Local Objects (ECM New Series 2498)

2498 X

Zsófia Boros
Local Objects

Zsófia Boros classical guitar
Recorded November 2015, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 3, 2016

He knew that he was a spirit without a foyer
And that, in this knowledge, local objects become
More precious than the most precious objects of home
–Wallace Stevens

When classical guitarist Zsófia Boros made her ECM debut with En otra parte, she did so not by planting a flag but by opening a door. Where that door led was mostly left to the listener, guided only by the signposts of an internationally minded program. Here, she treats an equally mixed corpus as a movie screen, working with an auteur’s patience to render establishing shots before allowing full scenes to take shape.

The first stirrings of character development come into view with Mathias Duplessy’s Nocturne, which by its depth of suggestion foreshadows a bittersweet ending. So intimate is its approach to darkness that can almost wear it as a cloak of protection against a blinding world. Boros gives a superb technical performance, especially in her application of harmonics, but even more so an emotional performance that turns gestures into possibilities of new lives.

Next, Egberto Gismonti’s Celebração de Núpcias, a harmonious roll of fragrant arpeggios and falling petals that first appeared on 1977’s Dança das Cabeças, is reborn in the present rendering. It’s the first of a few South American touch points that include Jorge Cardoso’swidely performed yet freshly realized Milonga (its familiar bass line a vital narrative fulcrum) and Anibal Augusto Sardinha’s Inspiração. All are bound by a feeling of kinship and inspiration: reminders to be oneself when all else fails.

Carlo Domeniconi’s Koyunbaba, named for a 15th-century Turkish saint, is another concert favorite, which for all its hermitic solitude is alive with movement. Its distant calls of intuition, achingly beautiful Cantabile, and energizing Presto, for which Boros places paper over the strings before leaping into a full-throated cry of tenderness, make for an intensely tactile experience. Against these, Al Di Meola’s Vertigo Shadow and Franghiz Ali-Zadeh’s Fantasie are spirals of geometric endurance in the puzzle of identity. The latter piece leaves room for improvisation in order to make the story the interpreter’s own. Boros floats around every note, drawing an entire garden’s worth of ideas and melodies. Via muted strings, she expresses unmuted emotions.

Our bittersweet ending is realized in Alex Pinter’s Gothenburg. It’s the sonic equivalent of knowing you will never see a loved one again yet also knowing they’ve become an indivisible part of you. Like strings on an instrument, you and they have their own voice and path, yet echo together in the same chamber of existence, waiting for that divine hand to pluck them before fate has its way of silence.

Ferenc Snétberger: Titok (ECM 2468)

Titok

Ferenc Snétberger
Titok

Ferenc Snétberger guitar
Anders Jormin double bass
Joey Baron drums
Recorded May 2015 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: April 21, 2017

Hungarian guitarist Ferenc Snétberger returns to ECM after an enchanting solo concert debut, now exploring 13 originals with an expansive trio. In that sense, bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Joey Baron are more than mere allies called upon to flesh out skeletal tunes, but musicians whom Snétberger has clearly admired from afar and who now mesh seamlessly with his acoustic nexus. The centering of a nylon-string classical guitar where normally an electric might be creates conversational sonorities with Jormin, while Baron acts as interpreter for their linguistically variant modes of expression.

The album opens and closes with a total of five spontaneous tracks, each exploring a unique plane of the trio’s many-sided synergy. The last of these ends with the bandleader by his lonesome, slinking off into the night with great expectations in tow. Between those exes on the map, the listener is treated to a dotted line winding along superbly thought-out terrain. Both “Kék Kerék” and “Rambling” reveal an artist who lives by that frequent traveler’s credo: anything goes. That said, their paths are anchored by wholesome melodies that feel predictive of their course.

From here, the set develops in stages, moving from the intimacy of “Orange Tango” (noteworthy for Jormin’s song-like bassing) and “Fairytale,” through the sun-kissed foliage of “Álom” and the lullaby of “Leolo” (dedicated to Snétberger’s grandson), and on to the jauntier “Ease,” in which the trio moves so effortlessly as to seem blood-related. All of these gestures come together in the dance that is “Renaissance,” wherein ancient and future impulses find common ground.

Titok is yet another of those albums that would never have existed without the faith of producer Manfred Eicher, whose choice of musicians, sequencing of tunes, and encouragement of freedom are felt from start to finish, making it one of the most indispensable releases of 2017.

Ferenc Snétberger: In Concert (ECM 2458)

Ferenc Snétberger In Concert

Ferenc Snétberger
In Concert

Ferenc Snétberger guitar
Concert recording December 2013, Liszt Academy, Grand Hall, Budapest
Engineers: Stefano Amerio, Giulio Gallo
Mixed at Artesuono Recording Studios, Udine by Stefano Amerio, Manfred Eicher, and Ferenc Snétberger
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: March 11, 2016

Recorded live in December of 2013 at Budapest’s Franz Liszt Academy of Music, In Concert archives a deeply personal performance by Hungarian guitarist Ferenc Snétberger. As his ECM debut, it instantly calls to mind Ralph Towner’s Solo Concert in format, sharing further affinity with Keith Jarrett for including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as encore. The ECM comparisons are more than cursory, as Snétberger grew up inspired by the label’s stalwarts, including Egberto Gismonti and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Much of the eight-part suite, entitled “Budapest,” that comprises the program is improvised, though built around heartfelt melodies of Snétberger’s design. Amid a spiraling association of history and spontaneous creation, an original voice emerges. “Part 1,” for instance, builds its castle on a faraway hill yet makes it feel as if it overlooks our own back yard. The cleanliness of tone, coated in just the right amount of varnish, resonates with a depth matched only by the recording. “Part 2” is meant to evoke Bach’s tonal voicings, and beyond that embraces a certain intimacy unique to the German composer. With a lyrical assurance that’s never cloying, Snétberger taps into something essential, as also in the Astor Piazzolla-inspired “Part 3,” wherein every sway of the curtain reveals a biographical whiff of the breeze that moved it. The samba sandwich of “Part 4” contains a monophonous passage of astonishingly vocal quality. The freely improvised “Part 5” serves as a virtuosic segue into “Part 6,” which treats the surface tension of a pond as canvas for photorealistic sound painting. If “Part 7” is the sunlight, then “Part 8” is the tree intercepting it for shade: an ideal vantage point from which to ponder the concluding rainbow in all its quiet glory.

Ferenc Snétberger

Having mentioned Towner and Jarrett at the start, it’s only fitting to end with them in mind, as much to say that Snétberger’s ECM debut belongs rightly alongside those giants of solo improvisation.

Amao Quartet review for All About Jazz

My latest CD review for All About Jazz is of the Amao Quartet’s self-produced Improcreations. A beautiful example of free improvisation (here featuring four Brazilian electric guitarists) that is neither overbearing nor confrontational. Click on the cover to discover!

improcreations_cover_art

Stefano Bollani/Hamilton de Holanda: O que será (ECM 2332)

O que será

Stefano Bollani
Hamilton de Holanda
O que será

Stefano Bollani piano
Hamilton de Holanda bandolim
Recorded live August 17, 2012 at Jazz Middelheim, Antwerp by VRT-Vlaamse Radio en Televisie
Engineers: Walter de Niel and Johan Favoreel
Mixed at Rainbow Studio, Oslo by Jan Erik Kongshaug, Roberto Lioli, and Stefano Bollani
Album produced by Manfred Eicher

Since first sharing a stage together at a 2009 music festival in northern Italy, Italian pianist Stefano Bollani and Brazilian bandolim (10-string mandolin) maestro Hamilton de Holanda have met frequently as a duo. In this, their first full live album, they expand their commitment to beauteous improvisation in an electric atmosphere bound by faith in the moment. While not such a surprise in terms of programming—Bollani has, after all, extolled his passion for Brazilian music on Orvieto, and elsewhere—the album sparkles with ingenuity.

Bollani and de Holanda

In his pointillist fervor, Bollani has an obvious affinity for Chick Corea and Scott Joplin, while de Holanda’s playing dovetails Django Reinhardt and Egberto Gismonti at their best. These are a mere few of the many influences one might read into the notecraft of these consummate virtuosos, to say nothing of the great composers whose timeless melodies fly from their fingers. That said, the verdant, sparkling relays of Bollani’s “Il barbone di Siviglia” and the crystalline wanderings of de Holanda’s “Caprichos de Espanha” hold their own alongside classics from Astor Piazzolla (“Oblivión”), Antonio Carlos Jobim (“Luiza”), and Pixinguinha (“Rosa”). In their capable hands, such timeworns are fresh as summer while the originals feel like folk songs torn from the pages of a shared past. Across the board, de Holanda’s picking is restless but never overbearing. Bollani in the meantime emotes assuredly, caressingly, and all with a smile like the setting sun.

Two tracks of strikingly different character epitomize the duo at its most attuned. De Holanda dominates the ins and outs of “Guarda che luna” (Gualtiero Malgoni/Bruno Pallesi), in which his impassioned singing inspires cheers and laughter from the audience. A memorable relay as he switches to muted comping beneath Bollani’s flights of fancy adds oomph to their pristine musicality. Even more engaging is “Canto de Ossanha” (Baden Powell/Vinicius de Moraes), which becomes a rhythmic master class in controlled tension. The feeling of progression here is so vivid, it’s practically uncontainable. And yet, contain it the musicians do by means of their joyful, flared unity.

A smattering of lyrical tunes rounds out the set. Between the lush, balladic opener “Beatriz” (Edu Lobo, Chico Buarque) and the vivacious “Apanhei-te Cavaquinho” (Ernesto Nazareth) that closes, Bollani and de Holanda become increasingly more like each other, reflections of anticipation and follow-through. Like the title track (also by Buarque), their enchantment comes about in the exuberances for which no score has a means of notation. Rarely has a duo been this exciting, and results of this fortuitous encounter rank easily among ECM’s top 10 for the new millennium.

(To hear samples of O que será, click here.)

 

Towner/Muthspiel/Grigoryan: Travel Guide (ECM 2310)

Travel Guide

Travel Guide

Ralph Towner classical and 12-string guitars
Wolfgang Muthspiel electric guitar, voice
Slava Grigoryan classical and baritone guitars
Recorded August 2012, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Travel Guide brings together Ralph Towner on classical and 12-string guitars, Wolfgang Muthspiel on electric guitar, and Slava Grigoryan on classical and baritone guitars. Representing the US, Austria, and Kazakhstan, respectively, the three came together in a 2005 tour that first brought their sound as a unit into undeniable perspective. The resulting trio builds on the integrity of every tune—in this case an even ten from Towner and Muthspiel. The two write with such kindred spirit that one needn’t even parse them, though characteristics familiar to Towner fans do give his music a distinctive arc. Ultimately, the lyrical improvising on all fronts turns every track into a matter of group belonging.

Travel Portrait
(Photo credit: Dániel Vass)

“The Henrysons” introduces a tone-setting spiral of ostinatos and leading lines in a mesh so organic that one might think these musicians had been playing together for as long as they have alone. The resonance of Muthspiel’s electric imbues the trio with a pianistic touch of magical realism throughout, especially in the title track, of which the uplifting prosody and luminescent harmonies make it a highlight. Muthspiel even lends his voice for a spell on “Amarone Trio,” evoking the instrumental singing of Nana Vasconcelos in the context of the Pat Metheny Group. But Muthspiel’s deepest achievement is his stellar writing, which spans the subdued wit of “Die Blaue Stunde” and the virtuosic “Nico und Mithra,” at moments sounding more like Towner than Towner. The latter’s unmistakable 12-string carves oars for “Windsong,” guiding a compact yet fully featured vessel down a moonlit river. Grigoryan has a standout solo here, his lyricism attuned to every negative space.

The brilliance of execution on each side of this equilateral triangle resides in timekeeping precision. Without it, so much of what is unwritten in Towner would be impossible to articulate. The fragile coloratura of “Father Time,” for instance, shows just how well the musicians understand the spirit of his texts. For indeed, Towner builds his lodgings on bedrock of language—a diary, if you will, of life’s unpredictable passage. His substantial “Duende” is the highest peak in this regard. Its impulses are every bit as linked as Towner’s solo “Tarry,” which turns toward the concluding “Museum of Light” with a cloudy but self-understanding heart.

Whether or not you’re a Towner aficionado, Travel Guide is a no-brainer for the ECM enthusiast. It requires no suitcase or ticket, only an open ear and an open road.

(To hear samples of Travel Guide, click here.)

Ralph Towner: Time Line (ECM 1968)

Time Line

Ralph Towner
Time Line

Ralph Towner guitar
Recorded September 2005 at Propstei St. Gerold, Austria
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Ralph Towner has left many indelible fingerprints along his trail of solo guitar albums, yet none so transcendent as by the acoustics of St. Gerold. The Austrian monastery has long served as recording venue of choice for the Hilliard Ensemble and other ECM New Series acts. The magnification engendered by its architecture serves only to bring out the expanse of Towner’s jazzier vocabulary, which somehow comes across all the more intimately. Exhibit A: “The Pendant.” Its lilting chromatism patterns itself like breathing, dripping just as involuntarily from Towner’s hands. Its reflective classical guitar evokes a veritable photo album of places and faces. Towner traces the flurry of sunlit arpeggios that make up his “Oleander Etude,” for instance, back to memories of Sicily, where oleanders grow in plenitude by the roadside, recreated here by the piece’s traveling speed. Other Sicily-inspired pieces are “Anniversary Song” (written for his wife, actress Mariella Lo Sardo), “Turning Of The Leaves” (written in collaboration with singer Maria Pia De Vito), and “The Lizards Of Eraclea,” which despite its evocative title has little at all to do with lizards. In contrast, “Always By Your Side” takes direct inspiration from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, for a production of which Towner once wrote it as incidental music—although, as he recalls, it feels more like Broadway than Elizabethan theatre. Like so much of the disc, it takes on its own life, dripping sweetness into the ear even as the heart proclaims it within. Whatever the original associations might have been, the truth of these pieces begins here.

Whereas Towner often allows for improvisation, “The Hollows” is through-composed. Its warped harmonies cohere by a strange geometry, which by the end reveals itself to be balanced and assured. “Five Glimpses,” on the other hand, is a collection of entirely improvised vignettes that arose during the recording process. Each is a window into Towner’s mind at work and switches from diaristic meditation to tense poetry at the drop of a pin. The final glimpse is all of 25 seconds of finger tapping, as magical as it is fleeting. Somewhere between the two is “If.” Towner interprets it as a self-contained call and response, whereby the language of the piece emerges through melodic parthenogenesis. Indeed, its shape is almost helical, a strand of DNA floating through its own dream on a cloud. Even as one of the busier pieces of the set, it wants not for breathing room.

“Come Rain Or Come Shine” is one of two standards on the album once favored by Bill Evans, an early influence on Towner. This one, by Harold Arlen (most famous for “Over the Rainbow”), is another nimble turn from Towner, who carves through it a maze with many solutions. The other standard is George Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now,” which, like Towner’s chromatic “Freeze Frame” that precedes it, is played on the 12-string guitar. Both pieces employ a nonstandard tuning that inks the waters. From the Gershwin especially, it teases out a shade of blue hitherto absent.

With his usual solitary, tactile quality, Towner has created a real artifact in sound. Meticulously designed and played, its arching motifs and rhythms come across with photographic assurance, so that one may return to them time and again, knowing they will never change.