Django Bates’ Belovèd: The Study Of Touch (ECM 2534)

The Study of Touch

Django Bates’ Belovèd
The Study Of Touch

Django Bates piano
Petter Eldh double bass
Peter Bruun drums
Recorded June 2016 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
U.S. release date: November 3, 2017

British pianist Django Bates makes his ECM leader debut with The Study Of Touch, and by its release gives hope to fatalists who see the piano trio as a dying genre. Bates himself was only convinced of throwing his own hat into that congested ring upon hearing his future bandmates—bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun—in the halls of Copenhagen’s Rhythmic Music Conservatory, where he’d just begun teaching in 2005. First conceived as an improvisation outfit, his Belovèd trio grew to encompass the formative influence of Charlie Parker as a springboard for Bates’ own writing. Parker’s spirited “Passport” is, in fact, one of only two non-originals on the program. The other, “This World” by Iain Ballamy, harks to the saxophonist’s All Men Amen (B&W, 1995), on which Bates appeared. Significantly enough, on Ballamy’s album this tune’s title was followed by four ellipses, whereas here those ellipses are gone, implying expressive surety. This symbolic change speaks to something vital about Bates’ artistry, by which each gesture feels as inevitable as the mind-melded contributions of his rhythm section. It’s there in the topsy-turvy feel of “We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way” and underlying blues of “Senza Bitterness.” Such balance of slip and grip can only come from many hours of playing together without a roadmap.

Despite the many personal associations on which the tunes are founded, if not also because of them, listeners can’t help but merge at any given moment onto the band’s ever-changing fast lane of thought. Between the reflective “Little Petherick” and meatier “Slippage Street,” tessellated “Giorgiantics” and lushly colored “Peonies As Promised,” one encounters the clarity of anatomical drawing. The title track, along with the opener and closer, underscore this impression, sowing a sound defined by that which it refuses to define. Hence the prescience of touch as a theme for music rendered in that most asymptotic of contact zones between time and space, leaving us with one of the finest trio records of this millennium so far.

(This review originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Chick Corea: Trio Music, Live In Europe (ECM 1310)

Chick Corea
Trio Music, Live In Europe

Chick Corea piano
Miroslav Vitous bass
Roy Haynes drums
Recorded September 1984 in Willisau and Reutlingen
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

In 1983 the Keith Jarrett trio was just getting on its feet. That shadow would prove to be a difficult one to step out of in the coming decades. But if anyone could have thrown a light onto it, it was Chick Corea, who, along with bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes, emoted a live recording for the ages. Corea seems to have done much soul searching in the 70s, and on this set one hears his chrysalis crackle with uncontainable vivaciousness. After his warm intro, “The Loop” kicks off the band’s deep combinatory powers with fortitude. Vitous is a joy to experience, his rich, oblong sound surrounding us like a wooded glade, brought to the life by the rustlings of Haynes’s snare and the trickling sunlight of Corea’s keys. “I Hear A Rhapsody” cocks its ear toward rapture. Lost along the winding staircase of its motive, it is a while before we realize these musicians have been keeping us in sight all along. We are reminded of this with every shift, and in the way Corea draws Haynes into whimsical conversation. “Summer Night / Night And Day” gives us the album’s first double-header, Vitous fluttering his wings in ways few others can. From this upbeat wonder, the trio transitions seamlessly into its inverse, seeming to fill every gap in the former’s carving with glorious relief. The second double-header tears a page from the Scriabin playbook with “Prelude No. 2,” making for one of Corea’s most beautiful stretches of internal life ever committed to disc. This bleeds into the staggered breathing of “Mock Up.” Vitous solos us through “Transformation,” while “Hittin’ It” pours the light on Haynes. Eicher has done us a service in including these, for, as so often happens in jazz recordings, long solos are either cut or curtailed. Yet here they are fully fledged elements in the album’s molecular pathways. We end on “Mirovisions,” which writes an arco bass across soaring pianism before diving hawk-like into the Valley of the Groove. A colorful unraveling follows, marked by flashes of buoyancy against a thoughtful backdrop.

A perfect album from Alpha to Omega, this is one of ECM’s finest and a delightful new addition to my Top 10. Invigorating to the last.

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