The festive period has allowed me some quiet time with a few ECM albums that had escaped my attention in the last few months of 2012. Here they are:
Eivind Aarset Dream Logic (ECM 371 3657): Jan Bang, master manipulator of sound, has done wonderful things with other musicians, including the trumpeter Arve Henriksen, with whom he performed live at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival a few years back. Here he joins Aarset to further enhance the guitarist’s already rich palette of string-driven sounds.
Of course, even within Aarset’s solo work the joins between guitar and electronic are invisible; here we get a quiet, spacious sonic landscape with washes and gentle riffs underlying a wide range of foreground textures and melodic fragments.
The titles give you hints of what lies within: Black Silence, The Whispering Forest, The Beauty of Decay. There is a remarkable consistency of mood throughout the album, and at no point does the volume or the pace rise. A piece like Active is little more than harmonics and string plucks with varying electronic auras about them, and yet it is absolutely compelling. Real “leaning-towards” music, in order to catch every nuance.
If you are a fan of Nils Petter Molvaer, Food and Bugge Wesseltoft, do try this disc. It’s particularly pleasurable as an accompaniment to dead-of-winter quiet reflection.
Bobo Stenson Trio Indicum (ECM 279 4575): The Swedish pianist again has Anders Jormin on bass and Jon Falt on drums, and, four years after their last release, Cantando, they are still developing their particular brand of group improvisation.
On a couple of tracks it’s fairly free, while on others the starting points range from jazz pianist Bill Evans and big band leader George Russell to Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s Tit Er Jeg Glad, via a traditional Norwegian Ave Maria and original pieces by Jormin.
One real stand-out is an exploration of the gorgeous melody La Peregrinacion by Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez, best known for his Missa Criola. The English title is The Pilgrimage and it’s an apt tune for this time of year. The lyrics, not heard here, translate as On the road, the road/Joseph and Mary/With a hidden god/No one knew.
The trio’s interpretation begins vaguely as all three wander around their instruments and around each other. Then Stenson states the tune and all take turns on melodic solos based on it.
It’s a song so strong it would be acceptable played on a recorder; interpreted by these master musicians it soars to great heights.
Eberhard Weber Resume (ECM 370 9457): This is a remarkably creative and rewarding example of recycling. The raw materials of this collection are the solo “interludes” the electric double bassist performed as an integral part of concerts given by the Jan Garbarek Group between 1990 and 2007.
Weber has taken these recordings, and reworked and reordered them to make a cohesive album. Garbarek makes an occasional appearance on saxophones or on the selje flute, and there is some drumming and percussion from Michael DiPasqua, but it’s still predominantly a solo effort, with Weber adding more double bass and keyboards to what were already multi-layered performances, thanks to the effects and loops the bassist uses.
How much it appeals to you will depend on how much you already like Weber’s distinctive bass sound. I’ve never been a huge fan, but this is very much a personal qualm. This is clearly a labour of love and of great musical subtlety.
Jan Garbarek/Egberto Gismonti/Charlie Haden Magico: Carta de Amor (ECM 278 9004): ECM has started releasing a few live performances from earlier in its recording artists’ careers. Following on from the exceptionally fine Sleeper by Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet comes a 1981 concert at Munich’s Amerika Haus performed by this Magico super-trio. (Other ECM releases recorded live in the Amerika Haus’s fine acoustic have been Ralph Towner’s Solo Concert and the Art Ensemble Of Chicago’s Urban Bushmen.)
Just the sound of Garbarek’s saxophone, Gismonti’s classical guitar and Haden’s double bass together is a cause for cheer in the ears, but from the start and Gismonti’s title piece, it is clear that this is rich stuff.
Other tracks on this two-disc set included Haden’s Spanish-inflected La Pasionaria and some of Garbarek’s plainly-titled Folk Songs, and, of course, Gismonti is as adept on piano as he is on guitar.
Cara da Amor means love letter, and Gismonti says of this recording: “think of it as a message in a bottle that has taken this long to reach the shore”. It’s a bit like finding buried treasure.
Jose Luis Monton Solo Guitarra (ECM 279 0949): And more classical guitar, this time from the guitarist I first heard in singer Amina Alaoui’s Arco Iris band. Monton is from Barcelona and his music is strongly based in flamenco, but he uses it as a springboard into other musics as well, from Bach to improvisational jazz to fado.
His interpretation of Bach’s Air from his Orchestral Suite No. 3, is especially revealing for the way he gives the well-known tune a complete reworking as a Spanish folksong, with gorgeous flourishes and flamenco decorations.
All the other tunes are original Monton compositions but the guitar language is very familiar, albeit with fresh twists.
It’s also a beautifully programmed album, moving from slow reflection to sprightlier-paced celebration and back again.
Monton says in the liner notes: “When I faced the challenge of doing this work, in which, as the title says, there is nothing but guitar, I wondered what it was that touched me most in an artist’s work and concluded that it was the quality of sincerity. In this music I have tried to translate all the sincerity and love of art that I appreciate so much when I encounter it.”
I’d say he has succeeded fully.