Stephan Micus - White Night

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Stephan Micus: kalimba, fourteen-string guitar, steel string guitar, duduk, bass duduk, Tibetan cymbals, sinding, dondon, nay, Indian cane whistles, vocals.

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Stephan Micus is a key reference in the world music scene. His thematic albums allow us to discover new places and sounds and White Night, the 23rd solo work for ECM, takes us into another journey full of musical idiosyncrasies. Operating several quirky instruments with deep focus, Micus starts this excursion in the East with the primitive, ancient, and eternal contemplation “The Eastern Gate”, which proposes atonality and deep hollow textures, and ends in the West with the well-delineated movements and robust rhythmic cadence of “The Western Gate”. Both tunes feature five 14-string guitars (a Micus trademark), one bass duduk (Armenian drone instrument taken to another level by Micus), and Tibetan cymbals, but while the former incorporates a more conventional steel string guitar, the latter employs one sinding (West African harp with five strings made of cotton).

The ten-stage route encompasses “The Bridge”, where vocalized chants echo on top of the vibes produced by four bronze kalimbas (they come from four different African countries) and sinding, “The River”, crossed with timely percussive rattles and lovely duduk melancholy, and a “Black Hill”, whose exotic groove feels like a song of praise for mother Earth. The latter number piles up eight Indian cane whistles and a nay (ancient Egyptian hollow reed flute) and make them dance harmoniously over the raw pulse established by a couple of dondon, the ‘talking-drum’ from Ghana.

This recording was inspired by the moonlight and its special magic. Hence, the sight of “Fireflies” and the presence of the “Moon” itself are intrinsic parts of the scenario, authentic anticlimactic balms for this busy, technological world we’re immersed in. The former composition emanates a warm African breeze created by 22 layers of sound that include pitch-clear vocals, kalimba, sinding, and Indian cane whistles. In contrast, “Moon” is told in only one voice with the lonely sounds of duduk arching over the silence. This piece, together with “All The Way”, a kalimba solo, was recorded in just one take.

Micus continues his spiritual celebration of cultural diversity through imaginative, humble music.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Eastern Gate ► 03 - The River ► 10 - The Western Gate


David Torn / Tim Berne / Ches Smith - Sun of Goldfinger

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel – David Torn: guitar, live-looping, electronics; Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Ches Smith: drum set, percussion, tanbou.

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Sun of Goldfinger is an outstanding, explorative trio composed of David Torn on guitar, live-looping, and electronics; Tim Berne on alto saxophone; and Ches Smith on drums, electronics, and tanbou. The group first played together in 2010 when Torn accepted Berne’s invitation to play a trio gig in Brooklyn, an event that got the guitarist very well impressed with the inventiveness of Smith.

Let me just start by telling you that the three-song album presented here is a must-have for fans of new music, allowing elements of jazz, rock, and avant-garde to blend under scrupulously burning arrangements and engrossing impromptu creations.

Torn’s “Spartan Before Hit It” is the central piece on the record, a modern symphonic marvel in every aspect that thrives with the addition of guitarists Ryan Ferreira and Mike Bagetta, super keyboardist Craig Taborn, and the strings of Scorchio Quartet, which contributes with two violins, a cello, and a viola. The song, tranquilly cinematic in its first minutes, has a rich piano underlying it and is ignited through a solid compound of saxophone-guitar exclamations, later turned into red-hot masses of sound, and a fancy rhythm that lies in-between the primitive African and the ecstatic Brazilian. The electronic effects are tastefully integrated and never feel as outsider elements. Surrounding, organic sounds penetrate deeply into our heads, extending emotions through a bright light before entering into a chilly, drone-dominant phase that paralyzes and bewilders. The autumnal landscapes are then reintegrated, with Torn’s folk gestures warming it up.

It’s phenomenal to see how the structural discipline and adventurous freedom work so well together, also prevailing on the two other spontaneous tracks. You’ll find three creative individuals speaking in their own languages and fusing different elements to conjure a unique collective atmosphere that unveils all their musical intelligence. They are master colorists working from different angles of time and space.

Eye Meddle” combines guitar chords seasoned with beautifully atonal flavors, loops of several frequencies, odd percussion, and resilient grid-like sax lines that can sound furious and elastic. Halfway, look for the intoxicating psych-rock scenario mounted with a groovy hip-hop flavor running underneath. Hallucinating, this trip still offers a distorted guitar solo over a vibe-infused funky rhythm and cyclic buzzing drones emitted by guitar and saxophone. Nothing is out of place and the sound is fascinating.

Concluding the album, “Soften The Blow” starts off like poetry in motion, serenading us with passive dark tones. Wavy chordal twang and measured electronic fluxes are part of the game. The conversion to chaos happens when Torn inflames his guitar with a mix of distortion and delay in a rock-centric obsession, Berne dives into extravagant in-and-out work, and Smith uses nimble syncopation to produce a snarly pulsation.

Sun of Goldfinger is pure teamwork and nothing short of remarkable. Their unmissable debut album is powerful, it grabs you hard and you rise with it.

Grade  A+

Grade A+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Spartan Before Hit It ► 03 - Soften The Blow


Ralph Alessi - Imaginary Friends

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Ravi Coltrane: tenor, sopranino; Andy Milne: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.

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Trumpeter supreme Ralph Alessi reconvenes his longtime quintet, known as This Against That, for its third ECM album. Imaginary Friends comprises nine mature originals fully developed while touring in Europe. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Andy Milne, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Mark Ferber are the remaining members of the group.

They make a wonderful first impression on the soulful opening track, “Iram Issela”, whose strange title consists of the name of Alessi’s eight-year-old daughter spelt backwards. Piano and trumpet set up reserved moments of pure beauty, after which Alessi flies in a solo full of brightness and expression. At a certain point, already with bass and brushed drums as accompaniment, he gets Coltrane’s voice leading running in parallel with his melodies. The saxophonist then departs for a glorious improvisation full of art and spirituality. By the end, unison lines and circular harmonic progressions raise the intensity, a propitious time for Ferber to expand drumming chops.

Fun Room” and “Improper Authorities” are formidable cuts presented with insatiable imagination and controlled friction. Whereas the former boasts an odd way of swinging and reaches a peak with Alessi’s fluttering soloistic impulses, the latter wields an ostinato that whether works as an electronic dance pattern or a funk rock-based motif. Colorful unisons and virtuosic solos by Coltrane and Milne come into existence, with the pianist excelling on this one by competently outlining melodic symmetries and rhythmic figures.

Oxide” merges improvisatory discipline with oneiric melodicism. While Milne devises chromatic descents with purpose, Gress’ round notes are responsible for letting the music breathe. The horns switch from parallel movements to dialogue, and Milne concludes with cadenced intervals that resemble raindrops falling from a tree. Divergent in nature, this song doesn’t have the grooving quality of “Melee”, whose light-footed propulsion rules in most of its passages. The spotlight shifts from the trumpet to the piano to the expansive sopranino, which dances over the fidgety drumming without reservation. An instant avant-garde dish is served with some funk on the side.

Pittance” reveals as much introspection as the rubato trumpet/piano duet “Good Boy” or the title track, which amasses cymbal legato, bowed bass, and unclouded reflective polyphony. However, there’s a slight tension throughout, even with the prepared piano conferring it a distinct lyrical erudition.

The methodical, unfolding narrative arc of Imaginary Friends makes it an exceptional collection of impassioned, free-shimmering tone poems where the musical personality of Alessi shines through.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Iram Issela ► 03 - Improper Authorities ► 08 - Melee


Mats Eilertsen - And Then Comes The Night

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Harmen Fraanje: piano; Mats Eilertsen: acoustic bass; Thomas Stronen: drums.

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Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen had a triumphant ECM debut in 2016 with Rubicon, an album featuring seven talented musicians. And Then Comes The Night, his new outing on the cited label, he reunited a trio formed a decade ago with fellow countrymen pianist Harmen Fraanje and drummer Thomas Stronen. Their music had already been captured on record twice, in 2010 and 2013, with releases on the Norwegian label Hubro. Each member got compositionally involved in the project, with the bandleader contributing five tunes, two of them in association with Fraanje, who brings a couple more of his own. The remaining two are credited to the collective.

Eilertsen’s “22” was written in response to the terrorist massacre on the island of Utoya on July 22, 2011. It opens the recording session with elegiac tones, projecting serene classical-like melody against spacious yet rich bass/drums activity. A variation of this same composition closes out the album, bookending the remaining eight quietly acoustic pieces culled from the musicians’ lyrical depth. Fraanje’s “Albatross”, for instance, transpires a crystalline introspection, just as the trio’s “Perpetum”, which brings Eilertsen to the spotlight in the course of an elegant consonance between steadfast pizzicato and spiritual bowed bass. With introductory percussion creating suspended moments by means of silence and nuance, this ambiguous peregrination may be evocative of the vastness of the desert or the infiniteness of the universe.

By the same token, the crisply executed “The Void” invites the listeners to the mysticism of unconfined, unknown spaces. The trio rambles during the first minutes before finding a demarcated path where agreeable contours of melody connect to lush chordal fluxes. It is all sustained by the strong presence of the bass and a snare drum precipitating unflappable eruptions. This is an old Eilertsen composition that happens to be one of his strongest.

With one piece flowing into another with a calm reserve, the album feels like a suite. There’s temperance at every turn, and the title track, named after the novel of the same name by Icelandic Jon Kalman Stefansson, emulsifies repeated melodic figures into the static framework. This disposition is ultimately diverted through the installation of a primitive groove that stirs the pianist’s improvisatory creativity.

If you’re looking for depth of sound and some relaxing aural experiences, then this is an album you should get.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Perpetum ► 05 - The Void ► 08 - Then Comes the Night


Joe Lovano - Trio Tapestry

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel: Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone; Marilyn Crispell: piano; Carmen Castaldi: drums.

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Grammy-award winning composer/saxophonist Joe Lovano makes his debut on the ECM Records with Trio Tapestry, a new project that integrates the highly expressive pianism of Marilyn Crispell and the inspiring drumming of Carmen Castaldi. Adopting a democratic posture, the group has the pianist and the drummer contributing in an intense way to shape Lovano’s compositions into something uniquely intimate and beautiful.

The opener, “One Time In”, a one-on-one conversation between saxophone and percussion, bristles with deliberately prayerful melodies, unpredictable percussive trajectories, and bright gongs. It leads to the most enchanting piece on the record, “Seeds of Change”, which, gravitating with lamenting intonations, illuminates the world with the warm spiritual light it needs at the present time. Don’t be surprised if you get this positive, energetic current going down your spine as this song firstly caresses your ears and then touches your heart, transporting you to a heavenly dimension.

Crispell introduces “Razzle Dazzle” with pianistic reverie and a generous dash of abstraction. The feel is corroborated by the Motian-esque spaciousness of Castaldi’s brushwork along with the plaintive lines of Lovano.

Sparkle Light” and “Rare And Beauty” exhibit sax and piano in close collaboration, whether in the form of unisons or complementing each other with intensely deep movements, frequent emitters of peacefulness. On the latter piece, the unison statements are a bit more energetic, but there’s still a propensity toward tranquility. Leisurely rhythmic flexibility often welcomes passionate individual statements. However, this is music with commitment and Castaldi’s unobtrusive drumming asserts that there is no space for egos here, only solidarity and integrity. He showcases his gong percussion on “Gong Episode” as well as on “Mystic”, a piece he occasionally agitates with mallets, yet prevailing the general state of musing.

By displaying contemplative virtues, the trio doesn’t resort to showing you everything they can do. What they do here is harder than showing off all their technique and musical prowess at once. These tunes fly and soar before penetrating into our minds. However, compositions like “Spirit Lake” - aesthetically assembled with arpeggiated tension, restless drumming, and emotionally blazing saxophone - and “The Smiling Dog” - the biting closing piece whose intensity expands via crafted rhythmic accents and the strong communicative presence of the artists - bring in many other colors, conjuring up avant-garde jazz routines that never cease to spiritualize and amaze.

The creativity and adaptability of Lovano and his peers stimulate Trio Tapestry to endlessly pique our interest with a lucent musicality from which we don’t want to be apart.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Seeds of Change ► 08 - Rare Beauty ► 11 - The Smiling Dog


Florian Weber - Lucent Waters

Label: ECM Records, 2018

Personnel – Florian Weber: piano; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Linda May Han Oh: double bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

The classically trained German pianist Florian Weber is equally proficient within low-key ambient styles and more agitated jazz atmospheres. However, his second ECM work, Lucent Waters, reveals a steeper inclination to haunting, if occasionally stirring, contemplation. Weber, who is accompanied by a stellar trio of musicians with Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Linda May Han Oh on double bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums, procures to have his eight originals purely layered, describing mostly serene landscapes with transparency and sharp focus.

On the short opener, “Brilliant Waters”, the quartet sails pacifically and continues doing it on “Melody of a Waterfall”, whose percussive introduction prepares us for a classical-influenced water channel where Rachmaninoff’s swift nimbleness comes to mind. Ms. Han Oh dexterously moves her fingers on the fretless bass, articulating an intricate dissertation before Weber takes over.

Ralph Alessi displays his unique, quietly crisp tone on “From Cousteau’s Point of View”, which unfolds with a crystalline beauty without ever stirring the waters. This composition was inspired by recent diving experiences.

A bit of agitation arrives with “Time Horizon” where the delicate virtuosic shimmering of the piano operates over the hearty rhythmic net weaved by Oh’s palpitating bass pedal and Waits’ revolutionary whirls. Weber finishes it with strong, appealing chords.

If “Schimmelreiter” brings a bit of Satie’s classical melancholy, then “Butterfly Effect” is a mesmerizing voyage to a melodic universe that reminds me of Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava. You will feel surrounded by smooth sonic surfaces while enjoying deep moments of breathiness. This predominant tranquility also dominates during the first minutes of “Fragile Cocoon”, however, the intensity is increased during another creative solo by Alessi, who finds harmonic backing in Weber’s tense movements.

Melding disparate influences - from Lennie Tristano’s ideas about lines and counterpoint to Karlheinz Stockhausen’s polyphony-inspired drawings - Weber dedicates “Honestlee” to mentor Lee Konitz, with whom he always learns something new whenever they meet.

The concept is democratic on Lucent Waters, allowing everyone to shine at some point, and a steady balance is achieved through an effective application of control and freedom. Even if not always emotionally warm, the tunes are delivered with heart.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
03 - From Cousteau’s Point of View ► 05 - Butterfly Effect ► 07 - Fragile Cocoon


Andrew Cyrille - Lebroba

Label: ECM Records, 2018

Personnel – Andrew Cyrille: drums; Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Bill Frisell: guitar.

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Andrew Cyrille, 78, is a veteran jazz drummer that doesn’t need any kind of pyrotechnics to stand out. Instead, he instinctively hits the different parts of the drum kit with disentangled discernment, almost in a search of the perfect minimalism to rhythmically drive a tune.

On this new outing, Lebroba, he is joined by two other giants of the modern jazz scene: trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and guitarist Bill Frisell. All three explorers contribute with compositions and there’s also an improvised number, “TGD”, signed by the collective. This piece unfolds in a crossing of spontaneous trumpet gusts, communicative distorted guitar, and refined percussive enchantment, all disturbed by electronic manipulation. Exhibiting an analogous posture in terms of abstraction of sound and unprompted communication is Wadada’s 17-minute “Turiya: Alice Coltrane/Meditations and Dreams: Love”. It’s definitely a ‘free’, changeable, and unpredictable journey. Whether with melancholy or frisson, the trumpeter is constantly seeking new avenues to explore; conversely, Frisell’s incredible harmonic work sometimes melds with folk and blues melodies; whereas Cyrille's thoughtful tom-tom figures encompass a mix of wet and dry sounds. He’s definitely not a timekeeper but rather a time breaker and rhythm explorer.

The remaining trio of compositions is utterly melodic. Frisell’s “Worried Woman” is a charmer, displaying trumpet phrases echoed by guitar in a spiritual communion, while the drummer sounds magnificently offbeat as only the masters can do. It’s stunning how everything comes effortlessly into focus both rhythmically and melodically.

Cyrille’s 8-bar blues “Lebroba” has some melodic connotations with Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and suggests a march, which the drummer never validates overtly. The luminescent muted trumpet of Wadada, who offers plenty of long notes, combines with Frisell’s witty comping to design poetic sketches. Following the same parameters, the closing piece, "Pretty Beauty", also a product of the drummer's mind, is a sheer delight - a rubato ballad infused by plaintive chords and poignant melodicism, almost channeling John Lennon’s “Imagine” in slow-mo and having Cyrille coloring it beautifully with brushes.

Cyrille already made history in jazz, but keeps enriching his discography with great recordings and marking the scene with his grandiose presence and availability. His collaborators here are equally outstanding.

Grade  A+

Grade A+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Worried Woman ► 03 - Lebroba ► 05 - Pretty Beauty


Wolfgang Muthspiel - Where The River Goes

Label: ECM Records, 2018

Personnel - Wolfgang Muthspiel: guitar; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Eric Harland: drums.

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In order to address a new set of never-recorded compositions, Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel reenlists the same American musicians who had brought Rising Grace, his previous album, to life. The guitarist builds up Where The River Goes as a natural follow-up to its predecessor but offering new experiences with each tune, a fruit of his deep musical sensibility.

Pensive guitar expressions introduce the title track right before they are turned into systematic chordal fluxes accompanied with gentle single-note delineations from pianist Brad Mehldau. The lyric vein inspires the soloists - fabulous trumpet player Ambrose Akinmusire sounds sharp and candid; Muthspiel brings some folk influence into the jazz linguistic domain; and Mehldau, invariably conveying interesting ideas, outlines precise phrases articulated with gusto.

The title “For Django” (supposedly penned for guitarist Django Reinhardt) should make us think about some sort of swinging treatment, which doesn’t happen. Instead, the piece feels more thoughtful than precipitous, becoming immersed in a dignified solemnity that never darkens. This lightness in mood is effectively corroborated by bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland, who restrain from pushing too far, and reinforced through a passage that promotes end-to-end communication between piano and guitar. Akinmusire justifies the constant calls from his fellow musicians, pulling off soaring solos that nobody else can match. Afterward, he lays down the melody of “Descendants” with lingering notes and fine focus. Although the piece starts nostalgically crystalline, seeking a certain amount of ambiguity and actually getting it with the contribution of slightly dissonant bends from the bandleader, it ends up being shaken by an intense rhythmic passage.

After “Clearing”, a complete spontaneous creation that touches modern classical and cyclical minimalism, it's time for the acoustic glow of “Buenos Aires”, a solo guitar portrait of the Argentinean capital.

The initially ruminative “One Day My Prince Was Gone” enjoys the exploratory freedom for a while, before exhibiting unison lines over a swinging rhythm. This ultimate thrill anticipates Mehldau’s “Blueshead”, which stands up for bop-derived melodies and solos containing abundant call-response interaction.

Muthspiel returns to the acoustic guitar introspection on the closing piece, “Panorama”, decompressing through amiable chromatic shifts within the arpeggiated movements.

The quintet, united by a strong rapport, adopts this uniform, exquisite approach to Muthspiel’s writing, creating a catchy narrative that incorporates both warm and glacial developments.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Where The River Goes ► 04 - Clearing ► 07 - Blueshead


Shai Maestro - The Dream Thief

Label: ECM Records, 2018

Personnel – Shai Maestro: piano; Jorge Roeder: acoustic bass; Ofri Nehemya: drums.

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Comprising six originals and two solo piano covers, The Dream Thief marks a strong ECM debut as a leader from the Israeli pianist Shai Maestro, whose trio includes longtime associate Jorge Roeder on bass and a new partner, the drummer Ofri Nehemya (replacing Ziv Ravitz). The band’s state of mind airs a candid sophistication that also feels gentle and literate, expressing carefully practiced mechanisms and spontaneity alike. However, Maestro decides to open solo with a rendition of Matti Caspi’s “My Second Childhood”, a rubato reflection eked out by yearning tenderness and profound beauty. The choice to include a song from Caspi is not fortuitous since Maestro is a confessed admirer of his work and even took some lessons from him in the past.

The Forgotten Village” is sculpted with a rich lyricism, adheres to a quintuple meter, and counts on subtle irregular beats to pave an irregular ground. The Peruvian bassist is eloquent in his solo, drawing vivid emotions with virtuosic deliberation.

Gently lit by the glow of legato/staccato cymbal moves in Nehemya’s brushwork, the title track also soars well above, feeling more spherical than polygonal in its reserved posture. This inclination is gradually dismantled as texture and rhythm step up in intensity. It culminates in a scintillating improvisation by the bandleader.

Tidal rubato waters wash “A Moon’s Tale”, whose deep sonority comes from the mallet drumming, whereas “Lifeline” shines through with an aching fascination for the impressive melody. According to the pianist, this piece was originally conceived as a 4/4 burner, but was conveniently slowed down here to fit the album’s introspective mood.

Instigating fondness through gracious developments and inspired interplay, “New River, New Waters” is a fulfilling experience that also proves the trio as high flyers. Even when there's a loud call for freedom, they never eschew melodic and motivic clarity in its statements nor ingenious rhythmic nuance.

A confluence of classical and jazz streams give a magical touch to “These Foolish Things”, another solo effort, before the poignant “What Else Needs To Happen” raises awareness of the gun problem with the assistance of a couple Obama speeches.

Emotionally charged atmospheres surround The Dream Thief, a definitive statement of maturity from Maestro, a refined world-class pianist.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - The Forgotten Village ► 05 - Lifeline ► 07 - New River New Waters


Mark Turner / Ethan Iverson - Temporary Kings

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel - Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Ethan Iverson: piano.

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Tenorist Mark Turner and pianist Ethan Iverson, two resplendent titans of the current jazz scene, join forces for an intimate outing. Temporary Kings aggregates nine compositions - six by Iverson, two by Turner and one by Warne Marsh - that, besides bristling with competence, allow for space, reflection, and expansion. Ten years after meeting for the first time in New York, the two distinguished players and members of the Billy Hart Quartet release their first duo album on the ECM label, opening with the introspective wistfulness of Iverson’s “Lugano”, whose melodic traits recall “Autumn in New York”. Turner’s ethereal contribution tints everything with a celestial blue, while Iverson, a marvelous accompanist, creates intriguing textures, contributing for the permeation of yellow sun rays through the scattered soft clouds. The title refers to the Swiss city where the album was recorded.

The title track offers great contrapuntal sections with folk-like melodies running on top of stunning chords colored with contrasting tonalities. Iverson’s initially spacious solitary incursion is transformed in patterns of pointillistic notes as soon as Turner starts to explore unanticipated melodic trajectories, which continue in a brisker way on the luminous “Turner’s Chamber of Unlikely Delights”. Composed by Iverson, this chamber piece doesn’t hide jazz, classical, and even pop influences, evoking at times the successful aesthetic of Marsh/Tristano. However, a bona fide tribute to these two musicians arrives with a strong swinging feel on Marsh’s “Dixie’s Dilemma”, a bop-derived study with the same harmonic progression of “All The Things You Are”, frank bluesy lines, and propelled by Iverson’s nimble bass conduction on the left side.

The game of timbres becomes particularly noticeable on the final section of “Unclaimed Freight”, a blues with a scent of third stream, whose theme blossoms through repetitive phrases expressed in unison. 

Delivered with a cool, quiet precision, “Yesterday’s Bouquet” is a lyrical ballad that sounds more ambiguous than Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”, despite some similarities between them. Iverson digs it alone, finding rich sonic palettes within an interesting arrangement.

Turner’s “Myron’s World” kicks off with a radiating saxophone introduction that shines further with the emergence of the pianist’s intuitive steps. Here, the mood comes closer to the snug post-bop of Kenny Wheeler/John Taylor, in a mix of charm and complexity.

The 3/4 melancholy of “Seven Points” is another product of Turner’s mind, closing out the record with a dreamy ambiance, equally graceful and intriguing.

Temporary Kings is a guileless jazz session whose bi-directional moves converge and diverge with an astounding conviction.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Lugano ► 06 - Unclaimed Freight ► 09 - Seven Points


Marc Sinan / Oguz Buyukberber - White

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel - Marc Sinan: guitar, electronics; Oguz Buyukberber: bass clarinet, clarinet, electronics.

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White is a compelling duo record co-orchestrated by German-Turkish-Armenian guitarist Marc Sinan and Turkish clarinetist Oguz Buyukberber. Trading in the modern creative and electronic music, the artists create often spacious, occasionally knotty musical textures in their symbiotic emotional expressions.

The 5-part “Upon Nothingness” was written by Sinan with the exception of the ‘White’ module, an ominously depressive piece, heavy on electronics and probing loose string pluck effects, that was penned conjointly with Oguz. Based on field recordings of Armenian prisoners of war sent to detention camps in Germany during the WWI, the suite also comprises: ‘Yellow’, in which clarinet trills get involved with guitar arpeggios in an atypical intervallic allure, having cloud-covered electronics around; ‘Blue’, an odd dance whose electronic drones seek for a denser texture, some of them deeply noir; ‘Green’, an atmospheric exercise where distorted guitar strokes trigger some rock jolt along with some calculated string scraping and volume manipulation; and the closing ‘Red’, in which the partners, motivating each other, set up another experimental scenario filled with the recurrent vocal samples of Armenian chants in the background and a bit of white noise.

Also comprising five parts, There is credited to Oguz, who skillfully squeezes written material and improvisation over the same dish to improve taste. If “There I” thrives with guitar dissonances and rapid pointillism in response to the clarinetist’s sinuous lines before the unison final phrase, then “There II” is a bold exercise exhibiting parallelisms, staccatos, and counterpoint as part of an animated conversation.

Emitting a stable effulgence, “There III” and “There V” are free roams for solo clarinet and solo guitar, respectively. They fly in the face of “There IV”, which advances calmly with an air of blissful sorrow, later turned into rapid mutual staccatos to conclude.

With an underlying feeling of abandonment allied to a solid improvisational compatibility, the pair, besides technically strong, is also very capable when it comes to electronic choices. The result is a bountiful creative freedom.

       Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Upon Nothingness, Yellow ► 04 - There II ► 05 - Upon Nothingness, Green


Nik Bartsch's Ronin - Awase

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel - Nik Bartsch: piano; Sha: bass clarinet, alto saxophone; Thomy Jordi: bass; Kaspar Rast: drums.

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Swiss pianist-composer Nik Bartsch has been tracing a unique musical path with a persistent hybridization and idiosyncrasy of projects such as Mobile and Ronin. His new ECM album, Awase, features the latter band, a fascinating quartet formed in 2001, whose current members include Sha on bass clarinet and alto saxophone, Thomy Jordi on bass, and Kaspar Rast on drums. Each musician captures the essence of the composer’s gift for texture, which is usually bolstered by juxtaposing exquisite lines in the form of ostinatos. 

The opening tune, “Modul 60”, follows the minimalist concept of layering simple melodic ideas by subjecting them to a broader dimension of interplay. Treading on the heels of a surreptitious piano introduction, where a half-step descendant interval prevails and recycles itself, Sha’s saxophone dreams and floats with sheer beauty. He reiterates the dose on his own composition “A”, which consists of a friendly lullaby-ish melody turned into an additive (3+4) tempo ostinato. With an impressive simplicity in the processes, the band incurs into a variation whose recalcitrant piano notes make us think of electronic music as an inspirational source.

Bartsch’s cerebral moods are all about form and texture and that is well patented on compositions such as “Modul 36”, where arpeggiated piano with sporadic pointillism work together with the mobility of the electric bass to create beautiful moments. Jordi then rebels and sets up a funk-inflected manifesto armed with piano’s sinuous melodic exclamations and extended techniques. “Modul 34” also boasts a cool funky pose launched after a serene preparatory passage. Whenever Rast exhibits his dry drum fills, he announces nuanced mutations in the intensity of the groove delivered in six.

The 18-minute “Modul 58” can be seen as a sum of all the other pieces. It starts with slowly built piano layers enlivened by occasional bass harmonics and pumps, delicate cymbal splashes, and non-intrusive sax embellishments. Obstinate high-pitched notes on the piano drive us into a hypnotic rhythm that feels half-rock, half-electronic. Afterward, the quartet goes through a percussive phase enriched by saxophone pop sounds and air notes, muted pianism, and hi-hat delineations. It all ends up in a danceable acid jazz-funk hooked up in the fine rhythmic counterpoint between sax and piano.

Terminating the session, the four slow down on the atmospheric, picturesque “Modul 59”, but only until a titillating groove is installed, quickly becoming impregnated with repetitive figures.

Bartsch’s Awase might feel easy on the ear, but, taking into account its level of musical thoroughness, is certainly an arduous work to execute. Don’t expect improvised moments in the way they are commonly associated with jazz. This is a totally different approach, where the bandleader distills contemporary musical luster with sure-footed ritualistic grooves.

       Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Modul 58 ► 04 - Modul 36 ► 05 – Modul 34


Arild Andersen - In House Science

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel – Arild Andersen: acoustic bass; Tommy Smith: tenor saxophonist; Paolo Vinaccia: drums.

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A new trio album by the Norwegian bass virtuoso Arild Andersen is out on the ECM label, promising to stun whoever takes a mindful listen to the marvelous music that inhabits here. The bassist played in amazing trios in the past, teaming up with Sam Rivers and Barry Altschul (albums) as well as with Jan Garbarek and Edward Vesala (albums), but the musical quality was not taken down when he was joined by Scottish tenorist Tommy Smith and Italian-born, Norway-based drummer Paolo Vinaccia on In-House Science. Recorded live in Austria, the album includes six original compositions by the bassist, whose durations are comprehended between 8 and 11 minutes, approximately.

With a remarkable ability to play several idioms, the sharp-witted trio creates music that is honest, vast in dimension, and raw in tone. One has immediate access to Andersen’s colossal gutsiness and technique on the opening tune, “Mira”. The bassist starts alone, guaranteeing harmonic definition and rhythmic heft from below. The soothing triple-meter cadence is intensified when the saxophonist comes to the forefront, taking folk and jazz trajectories, or when the drummer adapts his whispering cymbal strokes to the mood.

On “Science”, the rhythm section explores with vision, pointing the direction with a push-forward attitude while having extended saxophone runs molded by a variety of timbres. At some point, the piece shifts to a rhythm where hi-hat and walking bass command, anticipating swinging epiphanies occasionally interrupted by bass pedals, puffed up funky blazes, and visceral free jazz blowouts. It’s great to hear Smith releasing fiery multiphonics and dazzling chromatisms that ring in the air.

This fiery posture, which leans on free jazz to a degree, is also what makes “In-House” burn and gaining ground with a nervy spin and full-steamed propulsion. If the rhythm section does the heavy lifting here, they considerably low the tone for “North of the Northwind”, a reflective if resolute adventure where bowed bass, samplers, and prolonged saxophone notes are layered to produce a static effect. 

If one can sense a folk tactility coming out of the saxophone on “Venice”, an empathetically groovy piece in six, it’s pretty clear that “Blussy” is a blues-based post-bop incursion saturated in jubilation and gracious manners. 

Andersen is a fabulous and inveterate soloist whose terrific language, full of groove and rhythmic contortions, will blow your mind. Both the musical resources and imagination of his simmering trio are limitless and can easily assault your senses. With no time for ironies or playful games, they work brilliantly together, coloring their captivating soundscapes with a cutting-edge vibrancy.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Science ► 03 - Venice ► 06 – In-House 


Jakob Bro - Returnings

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel – Jakob Bro: guitar; Palle Mikkelborg: trumpet; Thomas Morgan: double bass; Jon Christensen: drums.

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Danish guitarist Jakob Bro might not be a heavyweight like Rosenwinkel, Frisell, or Metheny, but is a legitimate owner of a sui generis sound whose rich tones usually translates into intimate musical settings.

On Returnings, his third release on ECM, the guitarist plays alongside the sought-after American bassist Thomas Morgan, a regular in his bands, and a pair of veteran musicians: Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen. The latter returns after a one-year hiatus, retrieving the drum chair that, two years ago, was occupied by Joey Baron on the previous recording, Streams. 

The album starts with “Oktober”, a compassionate, stagnant song previously recorded in the album Gefion, and rearranged at this point with a combination of idyllic, cordial, and intensely emotional manners. The balmy trumpet-led melodies tell a story, conveying a comforting tonality and reinforcing what Bro had delivered in the original version.

On the following tune” Strands”, the quartet presses on with the contagious languor that characterizes their routines. Sticking to light textures, Bro fingerpicks beautiful voicings while Morgan’s touches show how wide can the possibilities be when he’s around. The percussion, simultaneously unobtrusive and unflashy, really makes the difference in the creation of an ultrapolished fascination that gains further emphasis throughout the melodious routes of “Lyskaster”, another original from Gefion. The piece, strongly influenced by folk and pop idioms, have all the four instrumentalists taking part in a circular congruity.

Although composed for the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, we can picture icy landscapes while listening to “Hamsun”. This guitar/bass duet, partly inspired by Paul Motian, has the bassist nodding to the lyric suggestions of the bandleader.

Standing out from the remaining tunes due to a more experimental sonority, the title track features Bro’s curious electronic effects, Christensen’s unflappable drumming, Morgan's unremittingly spot-on bass notes, and the precise trumpet lines uttered by Mikkelborg, often mirroring or matching the guitarist’s melodic suggestions. Mikkelborg co-wrote this song with Bro, but also supplies a couple more compositions of his own: “View” and “Youth”. The former defies form as it operates outside the conventional, having drums and bass pairing down to create moments of orbital suspension. The latter, solely outlined by guitar and trumpet, sheds tears as it evokes nostalgia, wistfulness, and abandonment.

With mood transcending any language or tempo, Returnings draws emotional vulnerabilities from the prevailing, slow-moving instrumental streams. This is a great record to have at hand whenever you need to disconnect from the ‘outside’ world.

       Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Oktober ►05 - Lyskaster ►07 - Returnings 


Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette - After The Fall

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel - Keith Jarrett: piano; Gary Peacock: double bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.

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The Standards Trio consists of the incredibly talented Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette, on piano, bass, and drums, respectively. Together, they show off an insuperable communication on stage, playing almost with their eyes closed and letting their creativity to be guided by pure instinct. These respected bandleaders play together for 40 years, and still evince the same gusto for exploration, rendering tunes from The Great American Songbook, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane, among others.

After The Fall, a double-disc album, was recorded live in a special concert that signaled the return of the pianist from a forced two-year interruption in his brilliant career due to chronic fatigue syndrome. The gig took place in 1998 at the NJPAC in Newark and the pianist himself expressed surprise when heard how well the music worked.

Possessing an incalculable knowledge of the jazz history and being savvy enough to embrace freedom and play these songs backward or in 50 different ways, the trio opens the 4-track disc one with a nearly 16-minute version of “The Masquerade Is Over”. Taking the plunge with a sensational piano overture, the song is a lesson on melody, harmony, expression, emotion, and technique. What could we expect more from music? When the bass and drums are incorporated, paces and moods are re-defined and the colors become even brighter and intense.

Dazzling rhythmic ideas flow from Jarrett’s nimble fingers on Parker’s “Scrapple From The Apple”, an explicit reawaken of bebop carrying that refined swinging affinity that leaves nobody indifferent. Peacock delivers a prodigious, woody solo while DeJohnette trades eights with his associates, drawing mainly elegance from his stunning chops.

The remaining tunes on the first CD are “Old Folks”, a ballad that breathes serenity with heart-rending melodies, on-spot bass lines, and shimmering brushwork, and the fully-explored “Autumn Leaves”, which gains a fresh perspective as it is designed with atmospheric passages and seasoned with the savor of Latin by the end. 

Disc two comprises eight diversified tracks. There's another bebop incursion with “Bouncing With Bud”, a nice and bluesy swing ride with Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy” (DeJohnette’s drumming is a true delight) and Pete La Roca's “One For Majid”, affectionate ballads such as “I’ll See You Again”, “When I Fall in Love”, and Paul Desmond’s “Late Lament”, in which Jarrett grants his solo a laid-back heave, and a steamy rendition of Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice”, here packed with kinetic sequences of notes.

Although “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” can be seen out of context at this time, there’s plenty of groove attached, with the pianist exhibiting his impressive and effortless capacity to create well-conjugated melodies and rhythms.

With a trio that has nothing more to prove and plays totally from the heart, we can only expect wonders. After The Fall is a record of unhesitating steps that renew our appetite for jazz standards and other known songs.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 (CD1) - The Masquerade Is Over ► 02 (CD2) - Doxy ► 07 (CD2) – Moment’s Notice


Mathias Eick - Ravensburg

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel – Mathias Eick: trumpet; Hakon Aase: violin; Andreas Ulvo: piano; Audun Erlien: electric bass; Thorstein Lofthus: drums; Helge Andreas Norbakken: drums, percussion.

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Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick owns a very characteristic sound that has been applauded not only in his personal projects but also in works of other respected authors such as Jacob Young, Iro Haarla, and Manu Katché. From 1998 to 2014, he was a legitimate member of the peculiar big band Jaga Jazzist, artisans of an adventurous electronic jazz.

On Ravensburg, his fourth release on the ECM label, Eick delves into his original compositions with the habitual discipline and composure he has developed throughout the years. The eight tunes were shaped with the grandiose support of a musical crew that includes violinist Hakon Aase, pianist Andreas Ulvo, electric bassist Audun Erlien, and a pair of competent rhythm stylists such as Thorstein Lofthus and Helge Andreas Norbakken, who play together for the very first time.

The program begins with “Family”, a sedate and monochromatic song whose harmonic alignment brings more pensiveness than enthusiasm. Completely antagonistic in the mood, “Children” adds a lot more elements to an uplifted rhythmic dance that, still unaggressive and picturesque, brings in a sort of jazz-house feel. The bandleader uses his clear voice alongside the violin before embarking on unisons with the trumpet. He follows exactly the same procedures on “August” and “Parents”, two pieces that stick to a similar line of action. The former, a soothing ballad, features Ulvo’s acute statements and the drummers’ gorgeous effects with snare drags and cymbal slashes; the latter shows us the band generating a simple backbone with the drummers deserving all our attention for the valuable nuances induced in the pulse. If there’s any predictability in Eick’s musical moves, it's definitely not extended to the inventive rhythmic patterns.
 
One of the most interesting tracks is “Friends”, where we can spot calm, beautiful, and easy melodies delivered in unison within passages that flow naturally.  Some of those passages thrive with curious samba-like pulsations and bass lines that jump from scattered groovy plucks to asymmetric heart poundings. It stands between the undisturbed and the excitable, like the tortuous water of a river when meeting the immense tranquility of the sea.
Girlfriend” has a natural splendor, feeling like a crisp, ethereal acid jazz tune with smooth funk allusions and world percussion in the mix. The trance-like groove hails from bass and piano, whose work on the lower register is flawlessly coordinated, while Aase’s violin sounds in perspective with the flow.

Settling predominantly over the 4/4 time signature and avoiding knotty exchanges, Mathias Eick highlights the power of the collective instead of any individual proclamation. With dynamics that are as natural as they are low-key, Ravensburg brings his unique perspective and idiosyncratic personality into another engaging album.

        Grade  A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks: 
03 - Friends ► 04 - August ► 06 – Girlfriend


Nicolas Masson - Travelers

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel - Nicolas Masson: tenor and soprano saxophone; Collin Vallon: piano; Patrice Moret: double bass; Lionel Friedli: drums.

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Swiss reedman Nicolas Masson teams up with three associates who have accompanied him for more than a decade under the name of Nicolas Masson’s Parallels. They are Collin Vallon on piano, Patrice Moret on double bass, and Lionel Friedli on drums. Comprehending quiescent and slumbering soundscapes, the album Travelers was released on the ECM Records, label whose catalog includes a couple of works by the Third Reel, a modern creative trio co-led by the saxophonist.

The CD’s opener, “Gagarine” is a monochromatic exercise that doesn’t take us to the moon but displays a dangly rhythmic flow that oozes energy uninterruptedly.

Painted lightly with chiaroscuro, “Fuchsia” incorporates some nostalgia and a wide sense of loneliness that sometimes is turned into anguish, in its melodic and harmonic canvas. This reflective mood persists in other tunes like “Almost Forty”, which falls into an attractive final vamp over which the bandleader improvises, also in “Travelers”, whose crystalline complexion is reinforced by the interpolation of entrancing melodies, and “Wood”, which still feels contemplative despite the tenuous tension infused by relentless piano notes, cadenced bass lines, and weeping sax phrases.

The initial moments of “Philae” promise a change in direction as the group’s dynamic is slightly intensified. One can enjoy an addictive bass groove with occasional exclamative licks, and the all-embracing percussive initiatives by Friedli, which gain further dimension on “The Deep” with the exertion of multiple metal clangs, gongs, and forceful tom-tom activity. This particular piece, paradoxically reflective and vastly percussive, called my attention through the well-oiled collective mechanisms that incorporate sensitive piano arpeggios and bright clarinet moves conveying a sensation of immensity.

The real strength of the recording resides in the musicians’ convergence, reciprocity, and team spirit. They denote a clear understanding of one another’s moves.

More reserved than effusive, Masson’s music dawns slowly, subverting unnecessary stunts while describing through lightly smoky soundscapes the magical realism of a hermetic, personal world. Regardless if their storytelling is deep or shallow, the quartet engages in the commitment of wringing every emotion from a song.

        Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Almost Forty ► 04 - The Deep ► 06 - Philae


Andy Sheppard Quartet - Romaria

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel – Andy Sheppard: tenor and soprano saxophones; Eivind Aarset: guitar; Michel Benita: double bass; Sebastian Rochford: drums.

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With a penchant for the intimacy and the subtlety, British saxophonist Andy Sheppard, earned international reputation while playing with Gil Evans, George Russell, and Carla Bley. His new ECM album, Romaria, features experienced bandmates from early recordings: Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset, Algerian-born French bassist Michel Benita, and Scottish drummer Sebastian Rochford. 

The resplendent tones of the opening tune, “And a Day…”, a lyric ballad with sparse bass lines, non-intrusive yet weighty percussion, and sustained effect-drenched guitar chords, is one of those gifts from above. The mood gets pretty close to Mark Guiliana Quartet and his pop-jazz balladry. Sheppard’s command of the saxophone enables statements whose richness of language and sentiment are truly beautiful. Benita also excels on this one with an expressive solo and iterates his meditative sayings on the closing piece, “Forever…”, another dusky ballad with low-pitched airy notes.

Even infusing a bit more tension on “Thirteen”, the quartet creates an unfussy urban scenario. The groundwork consists of a nuanced bass pedal settled on top of sparkling cymbal rides and innocuous snare drum snarls, establishing the best conditions for Sheppard to express himself on the soprano, having Aarset’s atmospheric moves below.

The title track is a well-known Brazilian folk tune popularized by Elis Regina in 1977 and penned by Renato Teixeira. The intro shows the bassist and the saxophonist pairing up euphoniously while the understated textural work of guitar and drums is added later to assure that creamy consistency.

My favorite composition happens to be “Pop”, perhaps the simplest yet the most illuminated and forthright. Sheppard brings up a dazzling melody that finds its placement over the excellent accompaniment provided by the rhythm section.

They Came From the North” and “With Every Flower That Falls” take divergent directions since each counterpoint in the former hinges mystery, driving the drummer to meddle and respond effusively to the sax-guitar interplay, while the latter embarks on a sensuous romanticism.

Sheppard’s compositions and leadership reflect his experience as a musician. The pure, full-bodied timbre of his sax, diffusing favorable energy in an effortless way, fortifies the luxury of his impeccably layered compositions.

       Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - And a Day… ► 04 – Pop ► 05 – They Came From the North


John Surman - Invisible Threads

Label: ECM, 2018

Lineup - John Surman: soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet; Nelson Ayres: piano; Rob Waring: vibraphone and marimba.

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British multi-reedist John Surman continues to touch hearts, sounding miraculously good on his new ECM outing, Invisible Threads. His intercontinental new trio features Brazilian pianist Nelson Ayres and American vibraphonist Rob Waring, who occasionally switches to marimba on a few tracks. The pair often provides the underpinnings for stellar improvised lines developed by the saxophonist, who shows great presence. However, they are not limited to that function, also soloing within the reflective spirit that this music requires and providing extra flexibility through texture.

The shimmering contemplation of “At First Sight”, the opening track, conveys a sublime pleasure that stems from listening to radiant soprano sounds floating on top of melancholic harmonic fluxes. Despite unhurried, the chord progressions are naturally less lingering when compared with the minimal synth changes in the form of loops made by Surman on his previous solo records. That sense of flowing motion is reinforced on “Autumn Nocturne”, an amiable classical tune fueled by crystalline folk delineations and where the threesome finds space to create spontaneously.

Within the Clouds” starts with penetrating phrases emanated from the bass clarinet, which quickly takes me out of the solid ground to a sky freckled with stars. The beautiful buzzing sounds created by Surman over an enchanting aura of piano and vibraphone help us reach that ecstatic momentum that precipitates us into the fluffy, misty textures of a cloud. The trio describes this concentration of suspended particles with perplexing infatuation and admiration. The peaceful folk dance “Byndweed” passes that strange sensation it could also be turned into a pop song, differing from “The Admiral” and “Pitanga Pitomba”, which I imagine describing a coastal landscape, from South America to Africa, with the marimba conferring them an exotic taste. The former incorporates a rubato introductory section with interlaced bass clarinet and marimba, before acquiring a soft ternary flow. The latter brings exciting variations in intensity, mood, and tempo.

The flair for ternary cadences continues with Ayres' “Summer Song”, an amusingly playful waltz with a classic Brazilian touch, reminiscing some of Chico Buarque’s compositions. Also the final track, “Invisible Threads”, is a jazz waltz with characteristics of an American jazz standard. It displays a precise melodic theme plus the delicate branching patterns of Surman’s baritone. The immense sounds of this instrument got me into another trance on “Concentric Circles”, where the placidness becomes slightly moody without ever entirely abandoning that initial state. It’s a great work by the lower vertices of the triangle, gracefully spreading crepuscular radiances of energy from below.

Expect rich, velvety textures with timbral abundance in an album that sometimes feels balmy and spacious, and other times, active and kindled.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Track:
01 – At First Sight ► 03 – Within The Clouds ► 10 – Concentric Circles 


Maciej Obara Quartet - Unloved

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup - Maciej Obara: saxophone; Dominik Wania: piano; Ole Morten Vagan: bass; Gard Nilssen: drums.

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With eager expectation but also unflinching confidence, Polish alto saxophonist Maciej Obara leads his inspired quartet, established in 2012, with a solid sense of unity, hoping for a great debut on the ECM label.
In fact, Unloved, the group’s first studio album doesn’t disappoint, thriving in a crescendo and maturing in our ears after repetitive listenings.

The six original compositions plus one cover were brought forth with the talents of his country fellowman pianist Dominik Wania, who met the saxophonist during a fruitful stint with the Tomasz Stanko group, and the Norwegian Ole Morten Vagan and Gard Nilssen on double bass and drums, respectively.

Obara and his peers set up varied musical settings that range from duskily contemplative to controllably busy to powerfully abrasive.

Both “Ula”, the opening track, and “Joli Bord”, a crepuscular portrait of a desolate landscape, belong to the first kind mentioned above, the sort of composition that Eberhard Weber would write. The former piece comes enfolded in this wintry, almost elegiac coating that derives from minor harmonies and the concise chamber movements provoked by Vagan, whenever he employs the arco. Whether a lament or a prayer, it appends a strong, gray-hued lyricism.

Conversely, the nearly pop atmosphere of “One For” lets the light in as an ear-catching bass groove adheres to the understated drumming and nice piano accompaniment. On top, Obara’s brushstrokes color the canvas with leveled timbres and surgical precision. Yet, it’s Wania who steals the show here, taking off on a tactful solo that brings up his advanced jazz language.

Symbol of astounding interplay and communication, “Sleepwalker” exposes folk charisma in the theme’s statement and, at last, presents Obara as a dashing improviser, capable of stimulating listeners and the rhythm section itself, which responds with prompt counteractions and triggers further incitement to exploration.

The only non-original selected for this album was the title track, a plainspoken ballad composed by Krzysztof Komeda and arranged with subtle arpeggiated harmonies as well as melodic parallelism and counterpoint.
  
After a solo piano preliminary section shrouded in alluring intrigue (a stern, slashing bowed bass joins for the final minutes), the stirring “Echoes”, an uptempo yet static tune, makes the bandleader return to the spotlight. Always alert to Obara’s fervent attacks, Wania responds and also shines in his improvisation as he fearlessly incurs in labyrinthine alleys with extraordinary agility.

The unobstructed sounds of Maciej Obara Quartet, a group with a strong talent to transform and adapt, oscillate extravagantly in mood, according to the emotional fragility or exhilarating imperiousness that might prevail. It is, indeed, a wonderful ECM debut.

       Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - One For ► 05 - Sleepwalker ► 06 - Echoes