Tag Archives: ecm records

New Listen: Jack DeJohnette’s ‘In Movement’

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Jack DeJohnette’s In Movement is a powerful addition to an already consequential discography as a bandleader. Among other ventures, the bands and recordings under DeJohnette’s Special Edition moniker are formidable. Unfortunately, this still seems to be a surprise for some, as the drummer, composer, and pianist is often considered “just a sideman.” (Which is laughable — even if he’d never functioned as a bandleader, the fact that he’s played with just about everybody since the 1960s, while remaining one of music’s best drummers at 73, nearly negates the connotation of “sideman.”)

In Movement features:
Jack DeJohnette — drums, piano, electronic percussion
Ravi Coltrane — tenor, soprano, and sopranino saxophones
Matthew Garrison — electric bass, electronics

Much has been made of the historical nature of In Movement‘s lineup. (Coltrane and Garrison’s fathers, John Coltrane and Jimmy Garrison, formed half of arguably the greatest quartet in jazz history. Furthermore, DeJohnette sat in with the elder Coltrane in the early 60s, years before joining Miles Davis — also Trane’s former employer — later that decade.) However, don’t be fooled by any sense of nostalgia: the playing and sounds are fresh. It’s an album of today, informed by yesterday, and looking to tomorrow.

One of DeJohnette’s main strengths as a bandleader and composers is his command of orchestration in small ensembles. His Special Edition bands, for example, sound like groups of Mingus-y proportions instead of the quartets and quintets they are. Similarly, In Movement often sounds much bigger than a trio. That’s not to say that it’s busy and cluttered. There’s a lot of space on this record. But, between the three of them, they bring the forces and possible textures of a quintet. Garrison’s electronic work often provides a sonic bed or wash to envelop the group, with DeJohnette’s piano providing a nice acoustic counterpoint to the electric sounds. And it’s worth noting Coltrane’s strong presence, not only on his standard-issue tenor and soprano, but also on sopranino. I believe this album is his recording debut on the instrument, and what a strong one it is. Sopranino is a difficult horn to manage, even (unfortunately) for those who play it regularly, but Coltrane doesn’t falter here. I’ll be honest: when I first read that he played it on this album, I rolled my eyes, and my ears waited for it to stick out like a sore thumb. However, I instead realized partway through “Rashied” that I was hearing masterful sopranino work.

In Movement includes three covers which emphasize the album’s lineage: a weighty, solemn rendition of John Coltrane’s “Alabama” (with the composer’s son on tenor, channeling his father) opens the album; a sparse, soprano- and piano-driven rendition of Miles Davis and Bill Evans’s “Blue in Green”; and a plodding, deeply grooving account of “Serpentine Fire” by Earth, Wind & Fire that sounds wholly different from the original. Other allusions appear elsewhere, with “Rashied” (for drummer Rashied Ali) featuring a fiery sax and drum duet reminiscent of Interstellar Space, and “Two Jimmys” (for Jimmy Garrison and Jimi Hendrix) allowing Garrison plenty of room to paint an abstract sonic canvas rife with effects, distortion, and wandering lines.

It’s better to almost ignore the titles, though, as the other originals blend right in. “Lydia” is a mid-tempo stroll which tastefully blends Coltrane’s melodic soprano playing with DeJohnette’s trademark (at least to me) cymbal work and Garrison’s pocket bass lines and electronic textures. “In Movement” is a fitting title track, capturing not only the highlight talents from “Lydia,” but also exploring quicker, more intertwined lines and grooves. It’s also an apt title — while DeJohnette and Coltrane forge ahead, Garrison both follows on bass and stretches time with his electronic textures. And though “Alabama” served as a somber opening, “Soulful Ballad” is more optimistic, with DeJohnette and Coltrane trading drums and tenor for piano and soprano, respectively.

This is an encouraging sign of where DeJohnette’s bandleader duties may be headed in this stage of his career, particularly on ECM. I’m already waiting for the follow-up.

In Movement was released on May 6 by ECM Records and is available now.

Album links:
Amazon
iTunes

New Listen: Mette Henriette

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Artist: Mette Henriette
Album: Mette Henriette (2015, ECM Records)

ECM has done it again: introduced me to a new artist and new sounds. Saxophonist and composer Mette Henriette Martedatter Rølvåg’s double-album ECM debut Mette Henriette is a triumph, presenting a fresh sound from an original voice. I’ve been listening to this album for several weeks now, and one thing remains constant: this is a soundworld in which I want to inhabit and further explore. It’s enchanting.

Mette Henriette includes 35 pieces that flow seamlessly over 100+ minutes. The two discs, while complementary, each showcase a different ensemble: a trio on the first and a 13-piece “sinfonietta” on the second. Although Mette is the leader, she doesn’t often place the saxophone front and center, opting instead to blend into the overall texture. Similarly, while Mette subtly demonstrates that she’s a virtuoso tenor saxophonist, she doesn’t make her technique an end itself — it’s always a tasteful means and used appropriately. The album is billed as jazz, but that’s selling it a little short. It’s as much chamber music as it is jazz. The Nordic- and free-jazz elements may serve as a foundation, but this album transcends many singular stylistic labels. In fact, the first time I listened to it — straight through and without regard for track names and numbers — it wasn’t until about an hour in when I thought that it sounded like a “jazz record” (“wildheart,” specifically). Also, the quantity of tracks can be some misleading, as I find it best to just listen to the album straight through — either a disc at a time or all together. It flows nicely, and the only real noticeable change is the transition from the trio to the larger ensemble, which itself is gradual.

The first disc features the trio of Mette, pianist Johan Lindvall (who composed three of the pieces: “.oOo.,” “3 – 4 – 5,” and “O”), and cellist Katrine Schiøtt. The three perform a quiet, intimate series of 15 pieces that together sonically paint a stark landscape upon which they wander. While the album isn’t explicitly constructed as a suite or other similar large work, there are motifs that recur throughout in different permutations, be they short melodic phrases or textures (e.g., the low piano ostinato in “all ears” and “beneath you”). A number of the pieces are melancholic and mournful though not without hope. In fact, light breaks through towards the end with “I Do” and “O.”

This trio of tenor sax, cello, and piano is wonderfully flexible, showcasing an uncanny knack for orchestration. The tasteful use of extended techniques — such as the sax and cello’s parallel lines both in standard ranges and in altissimo/harmonics in “the taboo” — help to break up the texture, and you rarely get the aural impression that it’s a static ensemble. Also, regarding the aforementioned stylistic transcendence, it’s rarely clear if the music is composed or improvised. I know that both are occurring, but I don’t always hear the delineation, which is a compliment to the composer and the performers. In fact, the first time one hears a semblance of a “jazz lick” is in the first disc’s penultimate track, “I do,” and even then it’s fleeting.

The second disc features a large ensemble of the aforementioned trio plus trombonist Henrik Nørstebø, trumpeter Eivind Lønnig, violinists Sara Övinge, Karin Hellqvist, and Odd Hannisdal violist Bendik Bjørnstad Foss, cellist Ingvild Nesdal Sandnes, bandoneonist Andreas Rokseth, bassist Per Zanussi, and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen (also on saw). It’s not an abrupt change of ensemble, however, and rarely does the full group play in concert. The immediate use of bandoneon on “passé” is of course obvious, but much of the ensemble gradually enters over the next several tracks (including the strings-only “pearl rafter” and winds-only “unfold”), culminating in “wildheart,” the whole album’s first raucous romp and the first time in which Mette’s free jazz roots enter the spotlight, with her guttural cries on tenor rising from the band’s primordial bed. Given that, the second disc isn’t as uniformly quiet as the first. While the more cacophonous moments can break up the pieces more than on the first disc, everything is still rather seamless.

As evidenced by “wildheart,” the second disc, though often complementary to the first (e.g., “behold” sounds like something originally for the initial trio but re-orchestrated for a different instrumentation), explores different sonic terrain. Another example is “late à la carte,” which drunkenly plods along like some Lynchian (and Badalamentian) burlesque. Several pieces later, “I” begs the question of what is improvised and what’s composed, only in a far more aggressive context. There appear to be motifs and structure, yet it also sounds rather free. Perhaps it’s both? I can’t know without the score, and that’s an asset. The music simply flows — composed and improvised, quiet and loud, dissonant and consonant, free jazz and chamber music, trio and sinfonietta.

I know it’s a word thrown around too often, but Mette Henriette is a unique album, particularly as an ECM debut. The only other ECM albums I sort of immediately liken it to are the Evan Parker and Roscoe Mitchell pairing of Boustrophedon and Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2, & 3, but only really because of the structure — a large mixed ensemble of classical and jazz musicians performing notated and improvised music. As for sound, though, Mette is an original voice, and one I’m anxious to hear a lot more from going forward.

Mette Henriette is available in the US this Friday, November 20.

Pre-order via:
Amazon
iTunes

New Listen: Manu Katché’s ‘Touchstone for Manu’

[NOTE: I also talk a bit about this album and review on today’s episode of Matt Borghi’s The Sound Traveler Podcast, which you can find here. Also, as expected, I gush over Tore Brunborg‘s playing.]

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Artist: Manu Katché
Album: Touchstone for Manu (2015, US; 2014, EU)

This is a bit of a different review, as it’s technically not a new listen for me, though it is a new release. Touchstone for Manu is part of ECM’s retrospective series the label has initiated for its more notable, frequent, and/or core artists. The retrospectives have included various forms: the :rarum series (Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek), box sets (e.g., Jack DeJohnette, Eberhard Weber), or non-:rarum compilations (e.g., Manu Katché, Anouar Brahem). Katché’s addition — along with Brahem’s — to that lineup helps to usher in a younger generation.

It shouldn’t surprise longtime readers of this blog that I’m a fan of Manu Katché. 2010’s Third Round not only led to my writing this site’s first album review, but it also quickly led me into the Katché catalogue. It was also through Third Round that I came to know the playing and library of Tore Brunborg, who I now consider one of my favorite living saxophonists.

Touchstone for Manu draws pretty equally from Katché’s four albums as a leader on ECM: 2005’s Neighbourhood, 2007’s Playground, 2010’s Third Round, and 2012’s Manu Katché. (1992’s It’s About Time [on BMG] and 2014’s Live in Concert [on ACT] aren’t included.) Chronologically, these albums go from an acoustic aesthetic rooted in more straight-ahead jazz to involving some electric and electronic elements as well as more pop grooves and/or devices. You can certainly hear this in the compilation’s selections. And this should be no surprise, as Katché has one foot each firmly planted in jazz and pop. Aside from the aforementioned Jan Garbarek, he’s also extensively played behind the likes of Peter Gabriel, Sting, and Joni Mitchell. His upcoming studio debut on ACT looks to get funky with a full horn section, which I can’t wait to hear.

As a composer, one thing I appreciate most about Katché work is the way he structures a piece. It’s a constant throughout his oeuvre. Instead of heavily relying on the typical head-solo-head[-outro] format that permeates so many jazz albums, Katché often includes segues, countermelodies, and other devices to maintain interest. (Of course, he’ll sometimes use the head-solo-head format as well, but it’s great that it’s not a crutch for him.) Sometimes it’s not clear if the lead line is improvising or playing a defined part — if it’s the melody or a solo.

Briefly, the lineup for each album (as represented on Touchstone, as some personnel don’t make it) is:
Neighbourhood includes the rhythm section of Katché (drums, percussion), Marcin Wasilewski (piano), and Sławomir Kurkiewicz (double bass) with the frontline of elder heavies Jan Garbarek (sax) and Tomasz Stańko (trumpet).
Playground keeps the same rhythm section but features a younger frontline of Mathias Eick (trumpet) and Trygve Seim (sax). Another acoustic quintet.
Third Round has the rhythm section of Katché, Pino Palladino (electric bass), Jason Rebello (piano), and Jacob Young (guitar), with Tore Brunborg (sax) as the solo horn.
Manu Katché is a pared-down quartet of Katché, Jim Watson (piano, Hammond B-3), Brunborg (sax), and Nils Petter Molvær (trumpet & effects).

Touchstone includes some nice variety. The first half features the acoustic bands with the electric ones in the latter half, allowing the listener to hear the stylistic evolution over his first decade as a leader on ECM. Another thing worth noting is that, for a drummer to be leading an instrumental band, it’s remarkable how restrained Katché’s playing is in the studio. While there are some active and/or funky tunes (e.g., “So Groovy,” “Keep on Tripping,” “Running After Years”), the drums never really let loose. Katché’s happy to lay down a groove and to let the band play with and off each other as opposed to bathe in the spotlight. Over the course of the album’s eleven tracks, you hear Katché’s sound (through his band and compositions) really come into its own. From the straight-ahead numbers (“Take Offs and Land,” “Song For Her”) to the more pop-oriented (“Swing Piece”) and a synthesis of both (“Running After Years,” “Slowing the Tides”).

Touchstone for Manu is a great place to start for the uninitiated. With an even mix of albums and styles, it’s a nice primer and reference point for his output as a leader on ECM. Highly recommended.

ECM link here
Amazon link here
iTunes link here

[If you’d like to see a more fiery performance, I can’t recommend this video enough. The lineup is largely a transition band between Playground and Third Round, featuring some personnel from both albums. Similar gusto is also present on Live in Concert.]

New Listen: David Torn’s ‘only sky’

[NOTE: I also talk a bit about this album and review on today’s episode of Matt Borghi’s The Sound Traveler Podcast, which you can find here.]

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Artist: David Torn
Album: only sky (2015)

David Torn’s only sky is a wonderful addition to, and a unique artifact within, the ECM Records catalogue. While I don’t necessarily agree with the “New Age” genre classification that automatically appeared in my iTunes window when loading it to my library, Torn’s music certainly and quickly transcends jazz and classical labels and notions – however broad – within the album’s first few minutes.

only sky is my first foray into David Torn’s work, at least as a solo artist. Aside from being peripherally aware of his past ECM releases, I was keen on this release because of the cross-promotion he’d been doing with saxophonist Tim Berne, a longtime associate of his and someone whose own playing I’ve come to know and admire these last couple years. (Berne also released a new album on ECM this year – You’ve Been Watching Me, produced by Torn, which is quite good. Relatedly, Berne is credited with some of the photography in the Torn liner notes.) And, to put an oddly selfish point on it, before purchasing the album I was struck to learn that Torn performed at Baltimore’s The Windup Space on only sky‘s release tour, which is a small, hip arts venue where Matt Borghi and I performed during last year’s east coast tour. As much as I love ECM and not-so-secretly aspire (in vain, admittedly) to one day join its ranks myself, part of me just wanted to know why such an artist would play a venue suitable for the likes of me (i.e., someone of much lower status). However, having absorbed Torn’s solo work on only sky, I can say that his intimate approach must’ve been a perfect fit for that room in Baltimore.

only sky is a solo album, featuring Torn on guitar and electric oud along with myriad real-time effects and processing. So, even though it’s just one performer and his instrument, Torn creates a sonically expansive universe riddled with nine unique, engaging soundworlds. Improvisation is key, with each piece being heavily if not fully realized on the spot. The first track, “at least there was nothing,” is perfectly emblematic of this. The desolate, calm beginning includes multiple layers of sound. Without the liner notes, one wouldn’t even immediately know that a guitar is the source. This textural – almost ambient – approach continues for a while, with an electric oud eventually entering with the album’s first monodic statements after over five minutes.

Lest you think the whole album is one meditatively ambient work, each tune explores different sonic territory. “spoke with folks,” the next track, changes course and heads in an almost Americana direction. Beginning with a diatonic, folk-like melody, Torn speaks through various iterations that gradually add distortion and head into psychedelic territory, which opens the door for the more rock-based explorations in “ok, shorty.”

“was a cave, there…” returns to the ambient-friendly aesthetic of the album’s opening. But where “at least there was nothing” is like sinking into a warm bath, “was a cave, there…” is like exploring the cold, unpredictable realms of space, featuring dissonance, processing, and effects. Torn then turns your attention from cosmic considerations to those of the Delta blues in “reaching barely, sparely fraught.” Over the rhythmic ostinato of open harmonies, Torn plays a blues that often borders on the swampy. Just as with the previous selections, he’s venturing into new sonic and stylistic grounds. The near devolution into distortion and processing at the very end of the track foreshadows what’s to come in “i could almost see the room.” Here, Torn uses what I’ll call aggressive “harmonic processing” that sound more akin saxophone multiphonics than solo guitar. (I’m not a guitarist, so that’s all I’ve got. Sorry, gunslingers.) This piece features a rough ABA’ form, with with some soloing over self-accompaniment falling in between the multiphonic-like sections.

The title track is a contemplative ballad of sorts, cleansing the palette of the more dissonant and tense playing immediately before. In fact, one could consider this the beginning of the album’s descent, as only sky‘s golden section occurs within the aggressive “i could almost see the room,” suggesting a gradual coming down through the rest of the selections.

The peaceful “so much what” features a lot of washy, strummed chords that eventually give way to almost whale-like calls. This fades into an angelic sound bed, which decrescendos to make room for one of the few instances of “pure” (in tone) guitar soloing to close out the track. It’s a rare glimpse into what Torn may sound like before being fully plugged in. Finally, “a goddamned specific unbalance” picks up where its predecessor left off, with some more soloing, though this time with a more affected tone and starting out in a monodic fashion. This is one of the few instances of arguably jazzy riffing throughout the album. Almost as an inverse of the first track, the soloing eventually transitions to more robust textures after several minutes, eventually moving along and fading into the ether as skies often do.

As I mentioned at the outset, Torn transcends stylistic labels here. Furthermore, there are only a couple instances in which his playing reminds me of others, be it explicitly (though I doubt intentionally) or otherwise. For example, there are a couple brief seconds in the jazz-like soloing of the final track in which I hear shades of John Abercromie (specifically when playing with Charles Lloyd, though his work with Gateway could also be considered sonically related), and a couple of the quasi-ambient passages remind me of Matt Borghi‘s guitar work. No doubt allusions are made to Robert Fripp in various reviews, but, to me, Borghi’s more “orchestral” and arguably un-guitar-like approach to the instrument sticks out as more sonically related. Matt often refers to parts of his guitar work as “contemplative microsymphonies,” a term that, along with an extra dash or two of rock, safely applies to much of only sky.

If you’re looking for something different, thought-provoking, and intimate, I highly recommend this album. I’m glad I took the plunge; you will be, too.

ECM link here
Amazon link here
iTunes link here

[Hear me discuss the album on today’s episode of The Sound Traveler Podcast here.]

Pat Metheny’s ‘Hommage à Eberhard Weber’ Live at Detroit Jazz Festival

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Pat Metheny‘s Hommage à Eberhard Weber received its North American debut Monday evening in the Motor City. The new work, a mixed-media tribute to the German bassist featuring big band and sampled video, closed out the 2015 Detroit Jazz Festival on the main stage. Hommage was premiered in Stuttgart, Germany in January 2015 at a concert honoring Weber, which he attended, and also serves as the title track of the upcoming ECM release due out this Friday 09.11.15.

Pat Metheny, particularly over the last decade or so, has been treating listeners to new sonic adventures, be it with his symphony-length The Way Up for the Pat Metheny Group, his orchestrion project (both solo or incorporated into the Unity Group), and now this inventive big band composition. Weber, who’s been unable to perform since a 2007 stroke, sounds and feels musically alive and well in this new work.

On a selfish note, I was happy to have Metheny bring the name, image, and sounds of Weber to the Detroit Jazz Festival, which is often North American-centric (understandably so, to a degree) and doesn’t often feature the Northern European jazz aesthetic. I made the trek with friend, collaborator, and fellow ECM fan Matt Borghi. (We recorded some pre- and post-show comments and discussion for a forthcoming episode of his Sound Traveler Podcast due out this week. Link here.)

The piece is unique and its performance was unlike anything I’ve seen in a jazz setting. Analogous attempts have been made in other styles, particularly in Zappa Plays Zappa, which has featured Dweezil Zappa playing transcriptions of his father’s guitar solos visually accompanied by projections of his father executing the original. But that’s in more of a reproductive, canonical context. In Hommage, Metheny uses samples of Weber’s unaccompanied improvised solos as launching pads for both composition and improvisation, resulting in an entirely new work. (Rather than an orchestration of Weber’s ideas or something else similarly derivative.) Metheny writes in the album’s liner notes:

It came to me that it would be interesting to take the idea of sampling one step further; to find video elements of Eberhard improvising and then reorganize, chop, mix and orchestrate elements of those performances together into a new composition with a large projection of the Eberhard moments that I chose filling a screen behind us as we performed. It seemed like a new way to compose for me that would almost take the form of visual sampling.

Reading about it and seeing footage – my photograph above or the official video trailer below – don’t quite do it justice, as this is a composition that is meant to be seen as well as heard. Reading the descriptions, I was intrigued going into the performance, but what I saw was much greater than the sum of its already impressive parts. Metheny was backed by the Detroit Jazz Festival Big Band (featuring regional heavies) and shared the spotlight with vibraphonist Gary Burton, drummer Danny Gottlieb, bassist Scott Colley, conductor Alan Broadbent, and of course the footage, spirit, and sound of bassist Eberhard Weber.

The work is largely in four sections:
I. Emerging from silence, winds, cymbals, guitar, and Weber build thick sonic textures and dense harmonies, giving way to Weber’s plucked solo ostinato. The big band is then off at a healthy moderato, with guitar and vibes taking the melodic and soloistic reins. Even when quicker and rhythmic, the winds offer more textural than melodic support here.
II. Some building arco passages then transition to a more burning section, led again by a plucked ostinato from Weber. Here Metheny takes us into more “big band-friendly” territory, offering ample room for Metheny to shred with his trademark affected tone — it’s almost Pat Metheny Group Big Band featuring Eberhard Weber. The band transitions out of this part with the instrumental sections rhythmically punctuating against one another, eventually blending into the more textural elements from the beginning.
III. Weber & co. then lead us into a folk-like romp, with Metheny quickly strumming on the hollow body a la 80/81‘s “Two Folk Songs.” Here, Scott Colley shines in the spotlight dueling in call-and-response fashion with a digital Weber. And, amazingly, like the rest of this piece, it works. It doesn’t feel forced or like the band is “playing to a track.” It all melds together into one cohesive unit. A frenetic drum solo by Gottlieb then leads us to the final chapter.
IV. Much like the beginning, the big band is more textural here, while Weber melodically solos atop. The digital Weber has acted more as musical director and bassist until this point, but he’s the featured soloist to close, which makes this Hommage a very fitting and tasteful tribute.

Metheny mentions in the liner notes that he hadn’t scored for big band in decades. Well, could’ve fooled me. It’s a very well-written work. Furthermore, I can’t express enough just how well all the parts come together. Seeing and hearing Weber within the piece really made him feel like a genuine part of the performance. Bravo to Pat Metheny on a job well done.

The soloists and ensemble gave a commanding and cohesive performance. I could be wrong, but it appeared as if there was a quick skip/glitch in the video feed near the transition from the first to the second sections, but everyone quickly adjusted and got back on the same page. Perhaps it wasn’t a glitch and there was just a natural hiccup to overcome in the Weber track; hard to tell. (Speaking from my own experiences performing the music of Jakob ter Veldhuis, I can attest to the difficulty of performing composed works with tape, particularly when the samples aren’t always “exact” in certain sections.) The mix itself was mediocre at best, but that had nothing to do with the performers nor the composition.*

I’m very glad I saw this piece live, the performance of which I’m sure will be a rarity going forward. I really hope ECM considers releasing a video of the Eberhard Weber tribute concert from Stuttgart in January so that more people will have an opportunity to see this work as well as hear it. But until then, check out the audio, and the rest of the concert (featuring a host of other musicians including Jan Garbarek) when it hits the shelves this Friday.

*Having seen many DJF concerts on that same stage, I’m surprised that the mix wasn’t MUCH better. Quest, a quartet, was much louder than this full ensemble, for instance.

[Photo by yours truly]