Mathias Eick: When we leave (ECM 2660)

Mathias Eick
When we leave

Mathias Eick trumpet, keyboard, voice
Håkon Aase violin, percussion
Andreas Ulvo piano
Audun Erlien bass
Torstein Lofthus drums
Helge Andreas Norbakken drums, percussion
Stian Carstensen pedal steel guitar
Recorded August 2020 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Martin Abrahamsen
Cover: Fidel Sclavo
Mastering: Christoph Stickel
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 24, 2021

If you’ve ever reunited with an old friend, picking up where you left off as if no years had kept you apart, then you’ll know what it feels like to immerse yourself in the sounds of When we leave. The appropriately titled “Loving,” the first of seven mononymous originals by bandleader Mathias Eick, is a door that is always open to us. Whether we come bearing gifts of joy or bearing burdens of sadness, here we find a place to warm our bodies and spirits without the pretensions of the world at our backs. The familiar shape of Eick’s trumpet leans into Håkon Aase’s violin, which takes its scissors to the paper-thin pianism of Andreas Ulvo with the care of an artist who woke up with an entire scene in mind. Bassist Audun Erlien, whose arcing gestures in the subsequent “Caring” grace the bellies of the clouds even as Stian Carstensen paints rivers of steel guitar below, blows out the lantern of dreams and replaces it with the wick of self-sufficiency. The blessings of life reveal themselves with resolute humanity, folding every piece of sonic clothing like a napkin after the most humbling meal. All the while, a brushed undercurrent signals the input of drummers Torstein Lofthus and Helge Andreas Norbakken, whose binary star is as melodic as it is rhythmic in frequency.

If any of these impulses can be said to have brothers and sisters, they can be found roaming the architecture of the album’s predecessor, Ravensburg, the autobiographical shades of which find brighter counterparts throughout this sequel in everything but name. Whether in the overlapping territories of “Turning” or the intimate weave of “Flying,” the itinerant listener is likely to lose interest in maps, borders, and divisions of speech. Indeed, as Eick sings in “Arvo,” a below-the-radar tribute to the triadic harmonies of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, the lack of words opens us to the possibility of a language with no other agenda than porous communication. From the opening tintinnabulation arises a band synergy that has a soul of its own and offers its worship without fear. The drumming is especially vibrant and warm to the touch, as are the contours of “Playing,” which is the living embodiment of equitable conversation. And if “Begging” can be said to be a farewell, its placement last in the sequence is as inevitable as its electricity is static. It relies on the contact of our listening to hold its charge, thus passing on timeless wisdom one electron at a time, for time itself may exist of nothing more than a spark drawn to the cadence of infinity.

Mathias Eick: Ravensburg (ECM 2584)


Mathias Eick

Mathias Eick trumpet, voice
Håkon Aase violin
Andreas Ulvo piano
Audun Erlien electric bass
Torstein Lofthus drums
Helge Andreas Norbakken drums, percussion
Recorded June 2017 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: March 2, 2018

Since stepping through The Door into ECM bandleader status, Mathias Eick has decorated every room of his new abode with its own character. Where Skala felt like a kitchen filled with organic ingredients and Midwest a study plastered with maps and well-read books, for Ravensburgthe Norwegian trumpeter and composer has built a welcoming family room, as blueprintedin the opening track. For Eick, however, it’s clear that family is more than a question of blood; it’s also the sum of parts greater than what we know from direct experience.

Recalling the puzzles famously produced in this album’s eponymous Southern German town, each tune contributes its own piece, uniquely shaped yet vital to the whole. “Children” is another anchoring corner and adds a new thread to Eick’s sonic tapestry: his singing voice, a natural development for one who always seems to have approached the trumpet as an extension of the throat. In addition to its melodic earworm and nostalgic overlay, this tune fits together the new band’s own seamless puzzle. In the resulting landscape, violinist Håkon Aase is the stream to Eick’s river. Where the latter carves deeper grooves into the earth, the former traces paths through thickly settled forests and other places where a finer trajectory is required. Pianist Andreas Ulvo rolls with the adaptive rhythms of hills and mountains, while drummer Torstein Lofthus and percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken render every rock and plant with sentient care. Last but not least is electric bassist Audun Erlien, providing the pliant tendons of the far-reaching “Friends” and “August.” The latter’s pianism is also noteworthy for translating the babble of cultural division into a musical language anyone can understand.

“Parents” continues the genetic conversation in fruitful directions, moving with the fortitude of a protector while curling inward in the shape of a lullaby. Eick and Aase trace a helix of improvisational bliss across this sky, further striating the rhythm section’s wonders in “Girlfriend” and “For My Grandmothers,” each a soft arrow shot into the future and the past. But nowhere is the story arc so clearly etched as in the title track, where pulses of dreams crack the egg of reality until its yolk becomes indistinguishable from the sun.

Eick is a rare soul, a musician whose themes are as perennial as they are personal. His politics flow beneath the skin’s surface where no violence may be inflicted by or upon them, thus allowing listeners to come as they are yet leave as they never thought to be.

Eggersman/Borger/Eick: Unifony


“Unifony” is a word invented to describe the audible tesseract forged by producer Minco Eggersman, engineer Theodoor Borger, and trumpeter Mathias Eick. Watering electroacoustic seeds, and from those nurturing an incidental crop, they drift between graspable melodies, ambient sound designs, and cinematic embryos. Indeed, each of their debut album’s 12 tracks is a film for which only the inner ear can serve as projector screen.

If asked to assign an overall shape to this project, one would be hard-pressed to come up with anything better than a sphere. Such is the coherence and three-dimensionality one encounters. From the first blush of “Glow,” we find each vibrational frequency churning within the confines of its own dreams as the only way of transcending them. Eick’s tone is wrapped in a human touch as only a singer’s might be, and by its gentle force of suggestion indicates the forward motion of seeking and finding something we didn’t even realize we were looking for. Here, as throughout, rhythms are never applied from without but instead emerge from within, each an unpredictable treasure, sacred and wrapped in shadow.

That same feeling of travel persists throughout “Found” and “Ghostly,” wherein narrative impulses of what’s discoverable through the body trade molecules with the spatial evocations of “Drive” and “Rock” as if the only promise worth keeping is that made by a receding horizon. “Ascend” balances the horizontal axis with a vertical one, threading an arpeggio of plucked strings through a braid of trumpet, piano, and circulations of the heart.

Yet nowhere do we understand the nature of things so clearly as in “Blur.” As individual as every soul that inhales it, this music renders space like an open-ended video game, charting maps in real time through ghost towns and ruins of lost civilizations in search of places where voices might still reside.

In that sense, Unifony is all about kindship—not only between the musicians and producers whose lives have intersected in these achingly beautiful nebulae, but also between listeners thousands of miles away, so that the mere push of a virtual PLAY button is all it takes to breathe the same air. As the name of the final track—“Tangible”—suggests, we are left with something transportable, a relic from the future through which we are given a choice: to continue wallowing in self-absorption or shed our egos in search of timeless unity. Let us all opt for the latter.

Unifony is available for purchase on Bandcamp here.

Mathias Eick: Midwest (ECM 2410)


Mathias Eick

Mathias Eick trumpet
Gjermund Larsen violin
Jon Balke piano
Mats Eilertsen double bass
Helge Norbakken percussion
Recorded May 2014 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

So many of ECM’s finest trumpeters also happen to be skilled travelers. Tomasz Stanko and Enrico Rava in particular have hopped the globe in search of inspiration, life experience, and musical expansion. Yet few, among the possible exceptions of Nils Petter Molvær and Per Jørgensen, have gone so deeply inward and emerged with such painstaking lyricism as Mathias Eick. Midwest was inspired by a North American tour, during which time Eick recalls feeling very homesick: “Then we reached the area called the Rural Midwest and I suddenly had the strange feeling that I was home. It occurred to me that some of the early settlers must have felt this way, when they looked at the rich soil of the plains and saw that this was wonderful land for farming. Parts of the Midwest remind me strongly of parts of Norway including the southeast of Norway where I grew up.” Even with this, and the migratory tunes that comprise this album, in mind, the journey on which we are led is far more psychic than geographic. Joining his caravan are violinist Gjermund Larsen (last heard on the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble’s Outstairs), pianist Jon Balke, bassist Mats Eilertsen, and percussionist Helge Norbakken: a continent unto themselves.


The word “lyrical” gets rehashed a lot to distinguish jazz that is “pretty” versus that which is “raw.” Yet no rule says that the two must be exclusive. In fact, Eick has forged just such an alloy on this album, and you can hear it in everything from his tone to his soulful interactions in and among the band. Eick has clearly worked hard to establish an identity on the trumpet, because we can hear it the moment he sounds his first note. In this vein the title track pans us into the emotional thick of things, blessing the land with the gentle rain of cymbals and the tilling of piano. Eick and Larsen set an album precedent by way of their give and take, threading the ether with a sound so lucid it’s almost dreamy. Larsen’s folk inflections do, in fact, make Midwest as much of what it is as its bandleader. Their harmonizing in “Hem” is just one example of this successful blend. The latter tune further epitomizes the sheer magnification of detail that has overlaid Eick’s playing and composing since his leader debut, The Door. More than ever, he is like the master photographer, who puts his eyeglass to every questionable grain and tinkers behind the scenes to get just the right emulsion before presenting the finished, developed image. That said, his pictures are often moving than still. Much of this movement can be found in either the emotional journeys at hand (cf. “March”) or in the contributions of individual musicians. Eilertsen pulses through “At Sea” like the power of recollection incarnate in one of two more straightforward thematic vehicles. The other, “Dakota,” also emphasizes the wonderment and space Balke brings to the palette, while Norbakken sends harmonic minnows into the periphery.

“Lost” is, along with the title tune, an emblematic one. Its evocation of slippage across space and time heightens Eick’s apparent dislocation even as it deepens his newfound connections to faraway soil. A lovely solo from Balke, nestled in a reed-bed of cymbals and bass, adds to the feeling. So, too, does “November,” by which we arrive at the bittersweet yet inevitable farewell, a taking stock of things learned and gained, those things long left behind and others soon to be, and still others waiting for return. It is the realization that the pleasure of going home is always darkened by the sadness of departure.

If Eick has so far crafted a distinct melodic solar system on ECM, Midwest is a galaxy unto itself. Fresh, spiraled, and classic to the core, it’s sure to be one of the label’s most enduring statements of all time.

(To hear samples of Midwest, click here.)

Mathias Eick: Skala (ECM 2187)


Mathias Eick

Mathias Eick trumpet
Andreas Ulvo piano
Audun Erlien electric bass
Torstein Lofthus drums
Gard Nilssen drums
Morten Qvenild keyboards
Tore Brunborg tenor saxophone
Sidsel Walstad harp
All compositions by Eick
Recorded December 2009 and January 2010 at Cabin Recorders, Bugges Room, and Pooka Studio, Oslo
Engineers: Even Enersen Ormestad and Audun Ofstad Borrmann
Mixed May 2010 at Rainbow Studio by Jan Erik Kongshaug, Manfred Eicher, and Mathias Eick
Produced by Mathias Eick and Manfred Eicher

Mathias Eick follows up his melodically charged leader debut, 2008’s The Door, with something delectable. This time he fronts an expanded, smoother band that includes saxophonist Tore Brunborg within a nest of Scandinavian talent. Ever at their center is Eick, whose threefold role as composer, performer, and arranger takes on fuller idiomatic body.

(Photo credit: Andreas Ulvo)

Skala shares key aspects with its predecessor. It is another set of eight originals, which too can be divided into three acts of two, three, and three scenes, respectively. Act I likewise opens with the title track and, like its earlier counterpart, only seems to grow more translucent as instruments are added. Yet the similarities end there, for the music is something else entirely. Here is a musician who not only has listened deeply to others on the path to enriching his compositional breadth, but has also listened to himself, taking into the account all the work done before so as to tattoo new shapes into the same skin. And so, while his trumpet draws more smooth, echoing rainbows, the sky it inhabits is groovier in color. Channeling the catch and release of the Jan Garbarek Group at its best, he activates a unified band sound. Brunborg’s tenor, burnished like a well-shined shoe, steps confidently into the optimistic expanse set before him and assures us that all the wrongs of the past will turn to gold in the morning sun. All along, the pliant bass work of Audun Erlien keeps things moving toward “Edinburgh,” in which Eick strays just enough to stretch his palette, the band expanding and contracting in anticipation of his gorgeous marginalia.

“June” begins Act II with a haunting plot twist, joining the pianism of Andreas Ulvo and Sidsel Walstad’s harping in peaceful communication: proof that even the album’s darkest hour keeps its finger on the pulse of luminescence. “Oslo” counters with majesty, throwing itself into a groove akin to those of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin. Concise and self-assured, its inner workings reveal Eick’s communal spirit, which felt distant behind The Door. “Joni” (as in Mitchell—one of Eick’s many popular touch-points) makes for a flowing companion. The Lyle Mays-like pianism drops a screen for Eick, who doubles on marimba in a display of cinematographic imagination.

Act III awakens with the stretch of urban reflection that is “Biermann” and ends with “Epilogue,” the latter a catalyst for escape. Between them is “Day After,” which looks at the world through rose-colored glasses and jumps from the peak of Brunborg’s solo into bliss. Building molecules from atoms, the reedman muscles its way between clouds, a lightening bolt in search of its originary spark.

It would be no exaggeration to say that on this album Eick has brought back the luscious aesthetics of those seminal ECM records from the 70s and 80s, when Solstice and the Pat Metheny Group were charting territory so new it could only seem familiar. Skala is proof that a silver lining needs no cloud to shine. A treasure, through and through.

(To hear samples of Skala, click here.)

Mathias Eick: The Door (ECM 2059)

The Door

Mathias Eick
The Door

Mathias Eick trumpet, guitar, vibraphone
Jon Balke piano, Fender Rhodes
Audun Erlien electric bass, guitar
Audun Kleive drums, percussion
Stian Carstensen pedal steel guitar
Recorded September 2007 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Peer Espen Ursfjord
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Mathias Eick

Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick makes his ECM debut with The Door. Label mainstays Jon Balke (piano) and Audun Kleive (drums), along with Nils Petter Molvær associate Audun Erlien (bass), forge a memorable session of lyrical crystal.

The Door can be divided into three parts. The first begins with the title tune and ends with its follow-up, “Stavanger.” Both mark their passage by way of Balke’s unmistakable threading. Strumming the inner strings like a giant zither, he welcomes the rhythm section’s appliqué as might a stained glass window welcome light. Over this, Eick draws his arcs into neighboring lands. Both tracks achieve a remarkable thing: sounding sparsest when the band volumizes its playing, and densest when it treads quietly. Such are the unexpected turns of the album’s flight path, which cleaves trumpet through Balke’s flurry of snowflakes, catching every nuance of the band’s thermal and disappearing in a pinpoint of light just above the horizon line.

For the central three songs, Stian Carstensen (last heard at the bellows on Trygve Seim’s Different Rivers) augments the band with pedal steel guitar. His fluid keening maps the backdrop with its feline prowl and adds a visceral, mournful edge. Of this portion, “October” is a thematic highlight, if not also a low shadow. Situated between “Cologne Blues” and “December,” it scans a city in blackout, working through painful memories in want of the positives that engendered them to begin with. Despite the frigid climate, there is also great movement, a rolling and crashing of waves that recalls The Sea.

The final act is comprised of three further scenes. “Williamsburg” is, like the album as a whole, a tessellation of form and content, which through the voice of Eick’s horn unravels clock parts and rearranges them as a holistic composition. The easygoing nature of this track settles into the album’s moral tinge. “Fly” reaches even higher, soaring into fadeout with the crackle of parchment. This leaves only “Porvoo” to make sense of the traces. Its trio of horn, piano, and brushed cymbals imagines a protracted spelunk into the depths of a solitary mind.

On that last point, what amazes about Eick’s music is the hermetic seal of its arranging. Regardless of how many instruments accompany him, he stands alone. His soulful soliloquizing embraces the listener with its performative strengths, patterning the world over with tree branch and sky. And while the overall narrative seems blanketed in snow, beneath that wintry crust its mementos are still dissolving from last year’s thaw. The effect is sure to please fans of Molvær and Manu Katché, both of whom lead without being lead, saying everything through contact of body and technology.