Theo Bleckmann: vocals; Ben Monder: guitar; Shai Maestro: piano; Chris Tordini: bass; John Hollenbeck: drums.
Theo Bleckmann, a resourceful vocalist/composer whose work frequently slips into avant-garde genre, convokes a great quartet for his ECM leader debut, Elegy, a career highlight.
Innovative guitarist Ben Monder and resilient drummer John Hollenbeck are two longtime associates who easily pour out the tones and textures envisioned by the singer.
Joining for the first time, but incredibly adapted to their bandmates’ ways, are the pianist Shai Maestro and the bassist Chris Tordini. Together, they bringing in the lyrical, dramatic, and nearly theatrical fluxes that suit Bleckmann’s unique style and transparent vocal essence. All the songs here are related to death and transcendence.
“Semblance”, driven by Maestro’s piano, functions as a short introduction to Stephen Sondheim's “Comedy Tonight”, a pensive aria where Bleckmann’s sublime voice and technique become evident while uttering the words ‘tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight’.
He stands firm in his conceptual dreamy soundscapes throughout “Fields”, where sweet falsettos and other melodious vocal strolls are matched by Maestro’s movements and then uplifted through Monder’s feverish glissando.
Pianist and guitarist invert roles in “The Mission”, a plaintive tune producing slightly more tension due to the buzz-like sounds that keep escaping from Monder’s instrument.
Maestro and Hollenbeck’s interaction is superb in the voiceless and concise “Littlefields”, kind of an interlude that invites us to the mournful vigil the title track prepares us. Loops and distorted guitar are part of this half-sinister half-airy experience.
As a gently percussive chant of transcendent Zen tranquility, “To Be Shown to Monks at a Certain Temple” contrasts with the radiant abandonment of “Take My Life” whose melodic contours move closer to a progressive pop-rock style, bringing into mind the Yes vocalist Jon Anderson. Impelled by untamed impulses, Monder shakes things up with an invigorating solo, forcing his likes to become involved in a vibrant, soulful communion.
Bleckmann’s outstanding work soars with intimacy and perplexity. The beauty of his voice architectures an unconventional style that makes him unparalleled among contemporary jazz vocalists.
Elegy is a treat to be slowly absorbed and ultimately fully embraced. Just follow the easiness of its breath and you’ll agree with me.
04 – The Mission ► 06 – Elegy ► 10 – Take My Life