Piggybacking on 1992’s Invisible Storm, ECM maverick Edward Vesala returned with his organic collective, Sound & Fury, as our guide for Nordic Gallery. Vesala draws a thinner circle around his ensemble this time around, weaving inside it a dreamcatcher for communal freedom, as exemplified in the 11-minute “Bird In The High Room,” a menagerie of cymbals, muted horns, drums, and birdsong.
This six-CD set, with recordings from 1972 to 1984, includes the albums Conception Vessel, Tribute, Dance, Le Voyage, Psalm and It Should’ve Happened A Long Time Ago. Paul Motian’s innovative drumming with the great trios of Bill Evans and Paul Bley had already assured him of a place in jazz’s history books, but Motian had not considered life as a bandleader until ECM proposed a recording session under his own name. “Conception Vessel” opened floodgates of creativity. Through these recordings we hear not only the evolution of several outstanding Motian ensembles and the birth of the enduring Motian/Frisell/Lovano trio, but also the growth of confidence of a unique jazz composer. In Paul’s music, memories of Turkish and Armenian melodies he had heard as a child were filtered through a love of jazz.
On this second album by the unorthodox quartet comprised of Norwegians Grydeland, Wallumrød and Zach, and Frenchman Charles, the music continues to unfold with poetic logic and unhurried pace. To paraphrase La Monte Young, Dans les arbres draws a straight line and follows it. Their music moves gently but steadily ahead on broad planes of sound, the textural scenery changing as DLA harnesses its wealth of unorthodox extended techniques. Including but not limited to: Charles’ extraordinary control of harmonics, the prepared piano of Wallumrød perfectly matched by the prepared banjo of Grydeland and by Zach’s unprecedented use of the gran cassa, the horizontal orchestral bass drum, augmented here by metal percussion and ceramic bells. Small movements precipitate gradual sonic transformations. Sounds are carefully nurtured and encouraged to glow. Responsibilities are very equally shared as textures are blended.
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.
Splitting his time between the electric and acoustic pianos and a bit of organ, Jarrett teams up with drummer/percussionist Jack DeJohnette in a series of experimental duets, his only electric session for ECM. The all-acoustic title number ranges all over the lot, from tootling on a bamboo (?) flute to the energizing barrelhouse gospel riffs that would bloom in the solo concerts.
Keith Jarrett's numerous volumes of improvised solo piano recordings are all treasure troves of spontaneous music making. Documented since the 1970s, they reveal the opening of his music as it readily embraces classical and sacred music influences, filters out what is unnecessary in his technique, and encounters the depth and breadth of the jazz tradition and his own unique abilities as a composer. The four discs in A Multitude of Angels were recorded in as many Italian cities during the last week of October 1996 – some 20 months after the concert captured on La Scala.
Elegy is the ECM leader debut by vocalist and composer Theo Bleckmann. A prolific recording artist, his association with the label dates back to Meredith Monk's 2002 date Mercy and its follow-up, Impermanence, in 2008 (Bleckmann was a member of her ensemble for 15 years). His voice was also a focal point of Julia Hulsmann's quartet on 2015's Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill & America. For a singer who draws attention to himself almost as much for what he doesn't do as what he does, Elegy is a quiet yet startling offering.