ECM celebrates the occasion of pianist Keith Jarrett's 70th birthday with two simultaneous releases. One is a classical date for its New Series on which he performs piano concertos by Béla Bartók and Samuel Barber with two different orchestras. The other is Creation, a solo piano offering. While Jarrett has made dozens of solo records, this is unlike any in his catalog. Rather than document the unfolding of his in-the-moment ideas through a single performance, this set features nine sections compiled from half-a-dozen performances in four cities and five venues (all notated in the sleeve) during 2014.
Book One of the Well-Tempered Clavier is performed on the piano while Book Two is performed on the harpsichord. His tempos are very fast, and he has a certain sense of humor that comes through in all his performances, making what might seem academic, warm and accessible. Highly recommended - and check out Jarrett's other classical recordings for other delights just as great.
"Aquarela do Brasil," an unofficial anthem of Brazil, may have received literally thousands of different version and interpretations, but even then, Egberto and Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos (his sole accompanist here) were able to devise an extremely original version, which opens with an unassuming stylized samba introduction, slowly bringing elements which conduce the listener to the piece's identification. Egberto is very fond of percussive attacks and ethereal configurations, both acquiring superior importance in his music, not being necessarily attached to or supportive for a musical theme or melody.
With saxophonist Jan Garbarek and bassist Charlie Haden along for the ride, Keith Jarrett indulges in three slow, rambling, meditative, vaguely neo-classical concertos for piano and string orchestra. While a few of Jarrett's and Garbarek's passages here and there have a syncopated jazz feeling, this is mostly contemporary classical music, perhaps even somewhat ahead of its time (it might fit in with the neo-Romantic and minimalist camps today). However, although this music can be attractive in small doses, the lack of tempo or texture contrasts over long stretches of time – particularly the nearly 28-minute "Mirrors" – can be annoying if you're not in the right blissful mood. Mladen Gutesha and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra perform the string parts with what can only be described as commendable patience.
While purists might claim that the jazz pianist Keith Jarrett’s disc of Handel’s keyboard suites is an example of the wrong performer on the wrong instrument, his straightforward conception and contrapuntal clarity underscore the solid foundation on which Handel’s most flamboyant fantasies were built. This one of Keith's finest classical performances, and essential listening for baroque enthusiasts.
Luys i Luso – “Light from Light” – is Tigran Hamasyan’s first ECM album, a spellbinding exploration of Armenian sacred music, featuring the prodigiously gifted pianist with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir. Repertoire includes Armenian hymns, sharakans and cantos from the 5th to the 20th century, all newly arranged for voices and improvising pianist by Hamasyan himself. The album was recorded in Yerevan last October, and produced by Manfred Eicher.
Since 2001, ECM has enthusiastically championed the art of Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov with recordings of his orchestral, chamber and vocal works – creations that stand as some of the most arresting and moving in contemporary music. This continues in Silvestrov’s 75th birthday year with “Sacred Songs”, the seventh album ECM has devoted wholly to the composer’s music; it collects sets of songs, refrains, psalms and prayers composed from 2006 to 2008 that reflect the composer’s late-blooming interest in writing for a cappella voices, which led previously to the ECM releases “Requiem for Larissa” and “Sacred Works”.
Levon Eskenian and the musicians of The Gurdjieff Ensemble feature the music of Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935), composer, ethnomusicologist, arranger, singer and priest, and popularly held to be the founder of contemporary music in Armenia.
After critically-lauded projects with trumpeter Paolo Fresu (Chiaroscuro) and with fellow guitarists Wolfgang Muthspiel and Slava Grigoryan (Travel Guide), Ralph Towner returns to solo guitar for My Foolish Heart. Whether on classical guitar or 12-string guitar Towner’s touch is immediately identifiable. Solo music is an important thread through his rich discography and this new album – recorded at Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI in February 2016 and produced by Manfred Eicher – follows in the great tradition of Diary, Solo Concert, Ana, Anthem, and Time Line. It features finely-honed new compositions as well as a pair of tunes (“Shard” and “Rewind”) from the songbook of Oregon, a dedication to the late Paul Bley (“Blue As In Bley”) and a single standard – Victor Young’s “My Foolish Heart” which Towner first came to love in Bill Evans’s interpretation.
William Byrd (1543-1623) has been called the greatest English composer, an arbiter of the sublime and master of his craft. And while discerning early music listeners have a fair number of recordings to choose from in order to put any stake into this claim, this offering from ECM is as sensitive an introduction as any into all things Byrd.