Jan Garbarek and Hilliard Ensemble (CD Review)

Remember Me, My Dear (ECM, 2019).

Remember Me, My Dear

Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble

ECM New Series 2625

The Hilliard Ensemble disbanded five years ago. Happily, they made a few recordings for ECM that have allowed listeners to continue to enjoy new music from them. Remember Me, My Dear was recorded on their last tour in 2014 at the Collegiate Church in Bellinzona, Switzerland. It celebrates a quarter century of collaboration, beginning with the Officium album, released in 1994 to wide acclaim.

As with their previous collaborations, Remember Me, My Dear features both early music by composers such as Hildegard von Bingen, Pérotin, and the ever ubiquitous Anonymous, as well as twentieth/twenty-first century pieces by Arvo Pärt, Komitas, and Russian liturgical composer Nikolay Kedrov. Often the blending of resources is impressive. Garbarek creates imitative lines that further elaborate Kedrov’s “Litany” and revels in the modal scales found in “Procedentem Sponsum.” The saxophonist solos over the Hilliard Ensemble singing suavely arranged jazz chords on his original “Allting Finns.”

Elsewhere, there is a juxtaposition of disparate elements. On an Agnus Dei by the Renaissance composer Antoine Brumel, the counterpoint from the voices serves as a backdrop for cascading runs by Garbarek. In the title track, which originally appeared on the studio album Mnemosyne, a homophonic chanson is elaborated with saxophone filigrees between phrases.

Garbarek’s original “We are the Stars” is a rapturous piece, with soprano saxophone contributing altissimo register climaxes that are shadowed by countertenor David James in his own upper register. Guilliame Le Rouge’s fifteenth century chanson Se je fayz deuil ideally presents the autumnal warmth of the quartet’s sound in the Collegiate Church’s generous acoustic. Pérotin’s Alleluia Navitas provides a joyous colloquy between Garbarek and the singers. Who knew that medieval organum could so successfully afford rollicking, bluesy rejoinders?

Remember, My Dear amply demonstrates that, until the end of their work together, the Hilliard Ensemble remained in fine voice.  It is always difficult to say goodbye to a group that has played such a pivotal role in one’s study and enjoyment of music. The post-disbandment releases shared on ECM have been a generous surplus. The Hilliard Ensemble, and their collaboration with Garbarek, will be dearly remembered for a long time to come.

-Christian Carey

10/16 at the Jazz Standard – Ethan Iverson with Tom Harrell

Photo: Monica Frisell/ECM Records

In recent years, pianist Ethan Iverson has been collaborating with a number of artists, particularly elder statesmen of the jazz tradition. In 2017, he appeared at the Village Vanguard with trumpeter Tom Harrell. The performances were document on Common Practice, Iverson’s most recent ECM recording. In addition to Harrell, the CD’s personnel includes bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric McPherson, longtime associates of the pianist.

The common practice to which the title refers are jazz standards, mostly from the Great American Songbook but also bebop originals. The group investigates a range of styles, from ardent balladry on “The Man I Love” to smoky lyricism on “I Can’t Get Started” to puckish wit on “Sentimental Journey.” Harrell and Iverson display imaginative recasting of harmonic changes throughout, but especially on vigorous versions of “All the Things You Are” and “Wee.” Iverson contributes two tunes, “Philadelphia Creamer” and “Jed from Teaneck,” both blues with twists and turns of the form.

Photo: Monica Frisell/ECM Records

On Wednesday, October 16th, the quartet reunites for two sets at Jazz Standard (details below). Their take on jazz’s common practice is not to be missed.

Photo: Monica Frisell/ECM Records.

Event Details

Ethan Iverson Quartet featuring Tom Harrell

Wednesday, October 16 - shows at 7:30 and 9:30 PM
Jazz Standard
116 E. 27th Street, NYC
Tickets here
Ethan Iverson – piano
Tom Harrell – trumpet, flugelhorn
Ben Street – bass
Eric McPherson – drums

10/13: Tonight at Nublu – Sun of Goldfinger

Sun of Goldfinger

On Sun of Goldfinger, his latest recording for ECM Records, saxophonist Tim Berne partners with guitarist David Torn and percussionist Ches Smith. The outing incorporates the avant-jazz palette usually adopted by Berne and Smith along with amplified sonics and effects incorporated by Torn.

There are three long-form pieces on Sun of Goldfinger. “Eye Meddle” builds from a fragmentary welter of ostinatos, each at first seeming to go their own direction, into a tightly interwoven and densely populated texture with wailing upper register saxophone accompanied by an insistent guitar melody and double time rhythms from Smith. Torn’s guitar then soars to match Berne, overdubs allowing for him to add a feisty rhythm guitar part to the mix. A filigreed, polyrhythmic denouement follows.

“Spartan, Before it Hit” opens with sustained upper register guitar answered by a mournful saxophone melody. A unison melody is offset by altissimo saxophone harmonics in imitation of the earlier high-lying guitars; Smith takes on a motoric beat while Torn contributes thunderous rock riffs and Berne corresponding squalls. The climax involves a huge crescendo from Smith, Torn’s laser beam guitar lines, and angular soloing from Berne. A subdued interlude, quite gentle in context, follows. Alternating with more forceful passages, an extended reflective demeanor explores fascinating musical pathways. At the conclusion, altissimo register saxophone alongside loping guitar is reasserted to make for a neat moment identifying the piece’s larger form.

The album’s closer, “Soften the Blow,” begins with oscillating dyads and bits of scalar passages. Sonorous guitar chords interrupt these fragments, followed by sci-fi effects, overblowing, and reverberating sounds from Smith. The drums finally enter, punctuating the music’s surface with short, muscular gestures. Berne then takes a solo that combines the fragments of the opening into piquant, post-tonal lines. While Torn reaches deep into the spacey side of his effects kit, the saxophone solo kicks into high octane, as do the drums. Smith creates a fascinating panoply of cymbal sounds and Torn’s solo matches Berne’s intensity, even bringing out the whammy bar for bent note emphasis. Behind all this is a doom-rock ostinato that propels the proceedings. The structure devolves, yielding a more ruminative passage where each member of the trio goes their own way. Wailing guitar and emphatic drums provide the link to another long crescendo in which Berne bides his time, allowing the spotlight to rest on his colleagues’ interaction for a time before rejoining the proceedings to lead it into fervent free jazz territory. A brief coda brings the boil back to simmer, leaving the listener with much to ponder.

Photo: Robert Lewis/ECM Records

On October 13th in New York City at Nublu 151 (151 Avenue C in the East Village), the trio will appear in a show at 9 PM; doors open at 8 (Tickets here).

Kit Downes – Obsidian (CD Review)

Kit Downes - Obsidian

Obsidian
Kit Downes, organ and composer; Tom Challenger, tenor saxophone
ECM Records

Prior to this recording, Kit Downes was primarily known as a pianist in jazz settings, notably leading his own trio and quintet. Obsidian is his debut CD as a leader for ECM Records; he previously appeared on the label as part of the Time is a Blind Guide release in 2015. However, Downes has a substantial background as an organist as well. The program on this recording consists primarily of his own works for organ, but there is also a noteworthy folk arrangement and engaging duet with tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger.

The organs employed on Obsidian are all in England, two in Suffolk at the Snape Church of John the Baptist and Bromeswell St Edmund Church, and Union Chapel Church in Islington, London. Instruments from different eras and in very different spaces, they inspire Downes to explore a host of imaginative timbres and approaches. Over an undulating ostinato, skittering solo passages impart a buoyant character to the album opener “Kings.” An evocative arrangement of the folk song “Black is the Colour” pits piccolo piping against ancient sounding harmonies in the flutes and bagpipe-flavored mixtures. “Rings of Saturn” is perhaps the most unorthodox of Downes’s pieces, filled with altissimo sustained notes and rife with airblown glissandos, an effect that is not found in conventional organ repertoire. The piece is well-titled, as it has an otherworldly ambience. Pitch bends populate “The Bone Gambler” as well, while vibrato and frolicsome filigrees animate “Flying Foxes.” “Seeing Things” is a joyous effusion of burbling arpeggios and the more usual fingered glissandos, demonstrating an almost bebop sensibility. Suitably titled, on “The Last Leviathan” Downes brings to bear considerable sonic power – with hints of whale song in some of the textures – and fluent musical grandeur.

Although some of the release seems inimitable, closely linked to Downes’s improvisatory and textural explorations, other pieces cry out for transcription; one could see other organists giving them a wider currency. “Modern Gods” is an exercise in modally tinged dissonant counterpoint, while “Ruth’s Song for the Sea” and the folk-inflected “The Gift” possess the stately quality of preludes.

The duet with Challenger is a tour de force, in which each adroitly anticipates and responds to the other’s gestures and even notes, as the fantastic simultaneities that occur at structural points in the piece attest. Once again, there is a supple jazz influence at work. While Downes provides room for Challenger’s solos, he also challenges him with formidable passages of his own. Obsidian contains much textural subtlety and fleet-footed music, but it is also gratifying to hear Downes and Challenger celebrating the power of their respective instruments. Heartily recommended.

Thomas Strønen’s Time is a Blind Guide – Lucus (CD Review)

Thomas Strønen – Time is a Blind Guide

Lucus

ECM Records 2576

 

Ayumi Tanaka, piano; Håkon Aase: violin; Lucy Railton, violoncello; Ole Morten Vågan, double bass; Thomas Strønen: drums, percussion

 

Composer/percussionist Thomas Strønen’s Time is a Blind Guide has shifted membership since its debut recording. Distilled to a quintet line-up on Lucus, its latest outing for the ECM label, it retains a cohesive way of interacting that highlights a fluent interplay of textures. The Mediterranean-inflected album opener “La Bella,” the sole composition on which Strønen shares credit with Aase and Vågan, is a case in point. Fills from Strønen’s kit activate repeated notes in the strings and piano in a subtle build that gradually includes ever widening whorls of melodic snippets.

 

Often Strønen wisely deploys the quintet as an interlocking set of two trios – string trio and jazz piano trio. This is done quite effectively on “Wednesday;” the jazz side of the ensemble plays in a smoky swinging groove while Aase and Railton perform a gentle rainstorm of pizzicatos. Vågan is an interloper, moving from walking lines to sultry arco playing. On the title track, also undergirded by a propulsive string ostinato, Tanaka supplies limpid impressionist cascades. The strings build up successive layers, creating countermelodies that arc around the piano and accentuate the undergirding material of the rhythm section. The double trio idea also prevails in the standout composition “Truth Grows Gradually,” in which the players revel in a complex yet catchy groove.

 

Elsewhere, the ensemble activities vary. On “Baka,” the percussionist crosses over into the world of orchestral instruments, bringing out regular bass drum punctuations. “Friday” juxtaposes pizzicato solos with high string harmonics in a polyrhythmic duet enlivened by its textural contrasts. After an extended double bass introduction, “Tension” presents folk-tinged violin melodies and attenuated post-bop piano lines against a variety of jazz kit punctuations by Strønen. Gradually, Tanaka fills out the texture with rapid fire repeated notes against an expansive collection of string glissandos and harmonic minor pirouettes. The Eastern-tinged “Release” leads with a sweeping piano melody that alternates with oscillating strings and thrumming low register pedals. Oddly enough, “Release” is placed earlier on the disc than “Tension,” which would seem to be a corresponding antecedent. That said, the sequencing of these compositions flows organically with ample variety along the way. Whether performing again as a larger group or in the quintet that appears on Lucus, one hopes that Time is a Blind Guide are just getting started.  

 

-Christian Carey

Danish String Quartet – Last Leaf

Danish String Quartet - Last Leaf

Last Leaf

Danish String Quartet

ECM Records CD

 

The Danish String Quartet is best known for their insightful interpretations of classical and contemporary repertoire. For instance, a 2016 CD for ECM Records presented early works by Ades, Norgard, and Abrahamsen to widespread acclaim. However, back in 2014, the quartet had a best seller on Da Capo, Wood Works, that consisted of arrangements by its members of Scandinavian folk tunes. In 2017 they released Last Leaf, another album of these arrangements and original compositions for ECM.

 

Last Leaf is in many ways even more successful than Wood Works. The arrangements by the Danish String Quartet’s various members are more sure-footed and varied in ensemble deployments. ECM’s sonics are, as usual, top notch, and the space chosen for the recording, a Danish museum, provides exemplary chamber acoustics. In addition, the group has combined classical and folk dances in adroit ways in several places. One of the most fetching and memorable of these is “Nadja’s Waltz” by cellist  Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin. Another is “Shine No More,” a reel-like tune by violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen. “Polska from Dorotea,” an arrangement by the full quartet is a wonderful blend of contrapuntal writing and boisterous dance music. Sumptuous sonorities populate the ballad-like “Now Found is the Forest of Roses,” a poignant album closer.

 

Often, string quartets rely on their creativity to provide impetus for interpretation. It is gratifying hear a group that is as interested in the acts of creating arrangements and compositions as it is in providing stalwart renditions of preexisting music. Recommended.

 

-Christian Carey

Alexei Lubimov Records C.P.E. Bach

Tangere

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Tangere

Alexei Lubimov, tangent piano

ECM 2112

Sort of a hybrid in sound between harpsichord and fortepiano, the tangent piano had its heyday in the second half of the Eighteenth century; they are relatively few of them left in existence. While they are no match for the volume and intensity possible with a fortepiano or modern piano, the tangent piano often had a number of different devices with which to create dynamic nuance. Alexei Lubimov decided for his latest ECM recording to employ a modern replica of a tangent piano built by Belgian craftsman Chris Maene. He felt that it had the ideal variety of shadings and tone colors with which to interpret the work of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a composer whose works Lubimov has in recent years championed.

C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788), one of J.S. Bach’s sons, was one of the most famous composers of the latter half of the Eighteenth century. Eclipsed by his father’s revival in the Nineteenth century, C.P.E. Bach is currently experiencing something of a revival of his own. A recent issue of Gramophone was devoted to his music. The piano concertos and solo piano works are being programmed again with greater frequency (dare one hope that his vocal and chamber music are next?). With Lubimov’s Tangere, listeners are afforded the double delight of hearing a fine cross section of the composer’s work played on a beguiling and multifaceted instrument.

C.P.E. composed keyboard music in a plethora of  styles and idioms. His most formidable pieces, two Fantasies in D#-minor and C-minor respectively, bookend the collection, replete with fluid tempo changes and florid runs. There are also a pair of sonatas, in three-movement versions of the form: fast-slow-fast, omitting the dance movement. The D-minor has a brilliant first movement that propels that the work forward, while the G major sonata relies on a three-chord pattern that Lubimov shapes with considerable delicacy. Pieces for left and right hand alone likewise are treated with sensitivity. Two rondos supply tunes of an angularity and variety that sometimes approaches C.P.E.’s father’s keyboard works. The disc is capped off by a number of shorter compositions, some less than half a minute long, titled Fantasies. One could see these wonderful miniatures serving as introductions to lengthier excursions or prompts for improvisation (Czerny’s book on improvisation is a commendable introduction to this method of learning impromptu playing).

Throughout, Lubimov makes the tangent piano the star, employing all of its various methods of expression to stirring effect. As such, it is one of my “Best Recordings of 2017” in the “solo instrument” category. One hopes that there will be additional outings in which he shares his art with us on this rare and fascinating instrument.

-Christian Carey