Arild Andersen w/Vassilis Tsabropoulos and John Marshall: The Triangle (ECM 1752)

The Triangle

The Triangle

Vassilis Tsabropoulos piano
Arild Andersen double-bass
John Marshall drums
Recorded January 2003 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Classical pianist and late jazz bloomer Vassilis Tsabropoulos turned heads with his ECM debut, Achirana, for which he redefined the piano trio under the leadership of bassist Arild Andersen and guidance of drummer John Marshall, both improvisers of proven stamina and invention. Whereas Tsabropoulos’s playing felt at times muddied and inattentive to negative space on that nevertheless enchanting record, this sophomore effort ushers us into a new and vibrant chapter with “Straight.” Immediately one can tell in this Tsabropoulos original that its composer has already tapped into the qualities of a fine improviser, treating his hands more like feet engaged in dance, leaping and bounding their way through turns of phrase. The transformation is obvious in the way he listens, in Andersen’s duly spirited soloing, in Marshall’s vintage sound. That feeling of metamorphosis is even more palpable in “Choral” and in “Simple Thoughts,” both rustling, leafy scenes, picturesque yet open to darkness. And in “Cinderella Song,” Tsabropoulos elicits gobs of soul from the rhythm section, carrying the night with all the resignation of one who is sure in life and in love. His development as a jazz artist manifests itself further in the album’s intertextual variety, evoking Bill Evans, Vince Guaraldi, and French impressionism in short chains of keystrokes. In the latter regard, his arrangement of Ravel’s “Pavane” proves that his architectural awareness has indeed bloomed in the four-year gap between trio albums. Here he balances guidance and recession, thinking out loud in real time before our ears and brushing away the leaves to reveal the ground in all its promises of life.

Although on paper Tsabropoulos headlined Achirana, which was irrefutably an Andersen showcase, this time the opposite holds true. Still, Andersen muscles his way through some soft territories without so much as a blemish in his wake. He contributes three tunes, rendering a puff of cloud for every patch of sky. “Saturday” invokes a proper and delicate swing and finds Tsabropoulos going for a more linear approach, which bodes well for everyone involved. There is a nostalgic, quasi-urban energy in this one that sits on the cusp of swimming and drowning, opting to jump before finding out which will prevail. “Prism” offers a velvety ballad—the album’s only in the truest sense—and sets us up for the groovier “Lines,” in which the trio hits its stride.

By far the most interesting portion of this album, however, comes in the form of “European Triangle,” an unusual group improvisation that hints at broader undercurrents begging for exploration.

This is simpatico done right.

Eberhard Weber: Colours (ECM 2133-35)

 

 

 

Eberhard Weber
Colours

Eberhard Weber bass
Charlie Mariano soprano saxophone, shenai, nagaswaram, flutes
Rainer Brüninghaus keyboards, piano, synthesizer
Jon Christensen drums
John Marshall drums, percussion

“I would not be you, El-ahrairah. For Frith has given the fox and the weasel cunning hearts and sharp teeth, and to the cat has given silent feet and eyes that see in the dark, and they are gone awry from Frith’s place to kill and devour all that belongs to El-ahrairah.”
–Richard Adams, Watership Down

For six years, Eberhard Weber’s Colours enthralled the European tour circuit. A unique entry into the growing number of fusion outfits of the seventies, Weber charted a distinctly introspective path into jazz’s most unanswerable questions. The ensemble’s inimitable blend of improvisational and chamber music aesthetics was a perfect fit for ECM, not so much filling a gap as defining one. By the time he had recorded for the label, Weber had already honed a most distinctive skill, brought to its worthiest fruition on his custom electrobass, and was even present in Wolfgang Dauner’s much-neglected Output. Without a doubt, Colours created some of the label’s most mellifluous music. The sound is unmistakable, coiling like a snake around some of the most gorgeous atmospheres to grace your ears.

Yellow Fields (ECM 1066)
Recorded September, 1975 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

With “Touch” we are immediately privy to a groove-oriented game between piano and bass. The lush, open sound is heightened by the presence of synth strings, prefiguring Weber’s later orchestral collaborations. Charlie Mariano’s soprano floats with positive energy and unbounded enthusiasm as the strings morph into trembling sirens. Jon Christensen adds backbone to otherwise invertebrate music. Weber is subdued in this first track, leaving Mariano to take the lead with a soulful stride toward a quick fadeout, leaving us wanting more of what could have been.

“Sand-Glass” begins with water droplets and the occasional artfully placed rim shot. High notes on bass provide a constellatory framework. Within these borders, seemingly drawn but only imagined, Mariano solos like a comet, his sentiment flaring against a limpid night. Mariano flaps his wings around the fuselage of Weber’s bass line before being rocked to sleep in an electric piano cradle. Inspirations grow more pronounced as Mariano picks up the shenai, a quadruple-reed North Indian oboe that tunnels into the brain like a shawm. We ride this wave until the drums pick us up and drop us back into a shattered world of aftershocks and quieting energy.

The title track is an auditory hermit. With the theme quickly dispensed with, improvisation turns joyful fancy into gorgeous abandon. All the while, discipline reigns as abstractions build into a more melodic whole in which the sound and the message are one and the same. Weber takes a more supportive tack, allowing Brüninghaus a cosmic solo on electric piano. Statements conveyed and time regained, the band wraps up with a fleeting thematic revival amid an interlacing of rhythms and supportive flourishes.

Lastly, we merge onto the “Left Lane,” which opens with a pensive bass, soon joined by electric piano. Christensen defibrillates, turning this slow drive into a cruise. The piano sings in its higher regions before trickling down like rain on a window. Weber returns to spark a new groove, moving from elegiac to jazzy in a flash. A seemingly tame sax solo quickly turns dramatic, opening our hearts to a visceral farewell.


Original cover

Silent Feet (ECM 1107)
Recorded November 1977 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“Seriously Deep” throws a light blanket of tender drones and electric piano, quilted with gorgeous solos on soprano sax and bass. Steady rhythms (hereon provided by ex-Soft Machine drummer John Marshall) turn something otherwise mournful into life-affirming joy. The title is not a pretentious statement of the music’s emotional cache, but rather a description of its physical path as it digs toward the center of the earth. The second, and title, track of the album’s modest three is an ironic one, requiring active hands to evoke silent feet. The helix that is Weber and Brüninghaus spirals in place as cymbals connect like base pairs within, thus leading to one of the latter’s most captivating pianistic passages. It is the kind of balanced exuberance that characterizes Pat Metheny at his most potent stretches of imagination. Stellar breath control from Mariano plays beautifully off Weber’s every move, making for one of the finest cuts in the collection. We end nocturnally, watching with “Eyes That Can See In The Dark.” A smattering of percussion sets off a wooden flute in a floating auditory reverie. While one might think that an electric bass would upset this delicate atmosphere, Weber is one of the few who can pull it off with such fluid precision. From this pool arises a specter of winds, blown like gusts of air from pursed lips across outstretched hands. Again, Mariano turns out some incredible soloing to finish.

Those who, like me, grew up reading Watership Down will doubly appreciate the occasional references Weber draws from the classic novel. “Silent Feet” and “Eyes That Can See In The Dark” both refer to a central creation myth among the story’s protagonists, a herd of rabbits fleeing in exodus from the warren they once called home. Storytelling becomes a central diversion in these hard times, and the origins narrative is a favorite: At a council of the animals, Frith the creator and sun god gives each its own ability to forever pursue the wily and celeritous rabbit. To the cat, he gives Weber’s cited traits, all the better to seek out its foe under cover of night. Respectfully, Weber takes a more romantic view of the hunt and allows us into the animal mind without malice.


Original cover

Little Movements (ECM 1186)
Recorded July 1980 at Studio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The vast drone of “The Last Stage Of A Long Journey” cuts a thick line below the Steve Kuhn-esque intro. Like the silent monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it mystifies as it enlightens. Saxophonic clusters punctuate a deep recurring thrum. Brüninghaus introduces a plaintive ostinato behind Weber’s crisp solo over brushed drums. Every gesture therein lifts us into cloudier airspace. “Bali” gives us more drone, until Marshall and Weber lock us into a solid trek to outlying territories. Like a train through the mountains that suddenly part to reveal a lively village, it shows passengers an idyllic vision of life on the margins. The piano keeps us moving forward, however, so that we only get a glimpse. Weber provides the coal, while Mariano lights a fire to feed it. A beautiful arpeggiator opens the door on a transcendent detour before bringing us back on track. The energy and motivic clarity remind one instantly of Steve Reich’s Tehillim. Next, Colours weaves “A Dark Spell” over us. Over a distant cascade of piano, bass and sax congregate in thematic clusters. Mariano outdoes himself, performing back flips in the sky as our speed increases in the last stretch. Engaging harmonies between bass and sax offer an incredible display of dynamic control that recedes like a classical riff. The title track begins with a repeated motif on piano as random sounds—accordion, gongs, and breaking glass—populate the background. From this, we get a thematic highlighting by Mariano against Weber’s delightful counterpart. The smooth and easy ending sweeps up any remaining debris with every repetition. “‘No Trees?’ He Said” is a straightforward track that appears smooth from every angle. From its tight rhythm to its reed doublings, this is simply stunning music. There is nothing little about these movements.


Original cover

Though palpable in every amplified note, Weber’s legacy is about more than just assembling a handful of incredibly talented beads and threading them with smooth production. “Telepathic” is hardly the word to describe the sound of Colours, but it steers us in the right direction. The music in this set remains untouched, a sign of its far-reaching clarity of purpose. It is chaos theory epitomized in sound: every note goes where it must, never to be repeated. Weber’s music not only soars, it transcends the atmosphere. I like to think that, somewhere, an extra-terrestrial is glowing with delight at these sounds, pulsing through space-time with the energy of all creation.