Tag Archives: ecm records

Tord Gustavsen Quartet at Chicago’s Constellation

“Meditative” and “liturgical.” Those were pianist Tord Gustavsen‘s whispered descriptions of his impending set at Constellation on Saturday night. He and his quartet – Gustavsen, saxophonist Tore Brunborg, bassist Mats Eilertsen, drummer Jarle Vespestad – brought their intimate Nordic jazz to the small but attentive capacity crowd. The performance was part of a five city promotional tour of the US in support of the recently released Extended Circle, an album I highly recommend.

The band’s ~75-minute set featured material from the quartet’s two albums Extended Circle and The Well along with earlier Gustavsen selections from Restored, Returned and Being There. Gustavsen and his band have a very stark approach on record, and I was curious how that would translate to a live setting. I’m pleased to report that it did so perfectly. The small venue and low lighting complemented the band’s restraint. It took until the set’s final number (before the encore), “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg,” for them to reach a semblance of forte, and in doing so provided a welcome release – and relief! – after the long, simmering slow burn. The set was a series of peaks and valleys, with each peak slightly higher than the last until the zenith during “Eg Veit…” I very much appreciated the group’s restraint – not once did it feel forced. Subtle intensity, Gustavsen’s specialty, is often more difficult to achieve than via the usual “high-fast-loud” means, and the band successfully executed it.

Such subtlety was achieved not through dynamics and dissonance alone but also via texture. Brunborg began and ended the evening on soprano (“The Child Within” and “Vicar Street,” respectively), but otherwise played tenor saxophone throughout. However, the tenor/piano/bass/drums instrumentation was exploited to its full potential. Gustavsen tastefully played outside and inside of the piano with great ease, completely avoiding any sense of gimmickry. Eilertsen beautifully played pizzicato and arco, and seeing a jazz bassist use a bow well was a breath of fresh air. Perhaps the MVP in this arena was drummer Jarle Vespestad. His control of his instrument, be it with drumsticks, mallets, brushes, or his hands, was second to none, particularly his cymbal work. I saw it as him approaching his drumset from a percussionist’s perspective instead of a drummer’s. And floating above it all was Tore Brunborg’s golden tone. Wow – I’ve listened to him on a lot of different recordings and none of them prepared me for just how deeply resonant his tenor sound would be in person. The icing on this sonic cake was their touring sound engineer. The amplification was used not to necessarily increased the volume but rather to enhance the live mix and balance, and every sound was crisp and clear.

Each musician basked in the spotlight some throughout the evening, including a couple of unaccompanied piano solos and a bass cadenza. Overall, however, Gustavsen’s music is more conducive to featuring the ensemble as a whole rather than an individual member, as improvised and composed passages seamlessly blend together. The set featured a nice mix of tunes, including “The Child Within,” “Suite,” “The Embrace,” “Glow,” “Eg Veit…,” “Vicar Street,” and others. Similar to the emphasizing of the ensemble as a whole, the individual tunes were less important than the flow of the overall set, which culminated in “Eg Veit…” and then unwound with the encore “Vicar Street.”

I attended this performance with my partner in crime Matt Borghi. Our shared love of ECM aside, this concert was rather special for me personally, as I never thought I’d see Tore Brunborg perform in the US. (And it’s not yet worked out for me to him in Europe.) He’s received some attention on this blog, notably for his work with Manu Katché (in whose band I first heard him), but also a quick reference regarding saxophonists who’ve influenced me. He should get his own full post at some point, as I enjoy his work – both as leader and sideman – but suffice it to say that I’m quite a fan. Furthermore, visiting with the band after the show was a real treat, and it was great to learn that they’re wonderful people as well as top-flight musicians.

If you have the opportunity to see this group, you must certainly take it. 2014 tour details here.

For a taste, here’s the quartet performing “Vicar Street” in 2009:

MTH-V: Joe Lovano/Steve Kuhn Quartet

One of my desert island discs is 2009’s Mostly Coltrane by the Steve Kuhn trio with Joe Lovano. I got it at the end of 2010 and was instantly swept away. (Another ECM gem. I better start watching myself, or this will become an exclusively ECM-centric blog…not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

The album/band provides an compelling mix of in and out Trane-inspired material: “I Want to Talk About You,” “Crescent,” “Central Park West,” “Living Space,” and more. Pianist Steve Kuhn, who briefly performed with Coltrane in 1960, and bassist David Finck ground the ensemble in more accessible territory, while saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Joey Baron, whose playing I’ve since become quite taken with, aim for more exploratory realms. The album features beautiful balladry, aggressive late-Trane attitude, and everything in between – all wrapped up in ECM’s superb production quality.

The below clips come from the group’s performance at JazzBaltica 2008. Included are three tunes that, in my opinion, best represent the ensemble. Everyone gets some solo space, and the musicians cover a lot of musical and emotional ground. The first clip features the meditative “Jimmy’s Mode” and “Spiritual,” the latter of which is one of my favorite two tunes on the album. The second video is of a burning “Impressions.” (How could it not be played? Jazz festival + Coltrane tribute + saxophonist = “Impressions”) The rest of the concert is also available on YouTube if you’re so inclined.

“Jimmy’s Mode” -> “Spiritual”


MTH-V: JDJ Special Edition’s “Third World Anthem”

Last month I dove head deep into Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition, his solo project that released four solid albums on ECM: Special Edition (1980), Tin Can Alley (1981), Inflation Blues (1983), and Album Album (1984). They’ve recently been re-released in a great retrospective box set, which I bought from Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart last month. (Highly recommended.) Special Edition released later albums on other labels, and I’ll definitely be seeking those out now…

I’ve long been a fan of Jack’s playing, and have a quite a ton of his sideman recordings (especially considering my Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett collections). This has been my first foray into Jack’s material as a leader. And this will definitely be the beginning, because I am LOVING it thus far. Jack’s keyboard skills are often on display – on piano, melodica, organ, clavinet, and more – as well as some occasional vocals. The melodic is a particularly nice touch, as it really thickens the horn lines. As for the rest of the band, DeJohnette, like Duke, writes for the strengths of his musicians, giving each album its own unique stamp.

In brief, Special Edition is more of a collective than a singular band. The personnel changes to some degree with each record and tour, but the overall ethos is maintained. DeJohnette’s music is pretty horn-friendly, with the debut album including tunes dedicated to Eric DolphyJohn Coltrane, and Duke Ellington. Not surprisingly, the groove is always deep and intact. Though, depending on the tune and personnel, the music can get out pretty quickly, there’s often a pervasive joy throughout the music. Sometimes it’s energetic (e.g., “One for Eric,” “Zoot Suite,” “Festival,” “I Know”) and other times it’s relaxed (e.g., “Ebony,” “Pastel Rhapsody,” “Inflation Blues”), but it’s always joyous. Mingus‘s spirit definitely resides in Special Edition’s discography, with the eclectic instrumentation and persistent ebullience. 

I’ve come across quite a few solid clips, and decided to start with the final number of this 1988 performance at the Jazzfest Berlin. “Third World Anthem” covers a few of the aforementioned bases: groove, intensity, joy. (This video comes from a television broadcast, explaining the announcer that emerges halfway through to name the musicians.) This particular lineup features:

Jack DeJohnette – drums
Mick Goodrick – guitar
Vincent Herring – alto saxophone
Lonnie Plaxico – bass
Gary Thomas – tenor saxophone

“Third World Anthem” (1988)

New Listen: Chris Potter’s ‘The Sirens’


It’s only April, but I suspect that The Sirens will be one of my favorite albums of 2013.

As mentioned here, I’ve been excited for its release for a while. The Sirens includes many wonderful ingredients: Chris Potter‘s first album as a leader on ECM (with Manfred producing, of course), supported by a heavy backing band – Craig TabornDavid VirellesLarry Grenadier, and Eric Harland – of a younger generation more akin to Chris Potter than ECM’s old guard. This lineup collectively spans a wide range of ECM’s output, from Charles Lloyd to Dave Holland to Tomasz Stanko to Evan Parker.

Chris Potter – soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet
Craig Taborn – piano
David Virelles – prepared piano, celeste, harmonium
Larry Grenadier – bass
Eric Harland – drums

As one might guess from the album title, The Sirens is evocative of Odysseus’s journey in The Odyssey. In this New York Times interview, Potter clarifies that he wanted to capture moods and impressions rather than compose a programmatic suite à la Berlioz or Wagner. So, although the song titles make specific references, I don’t suggest scouring your copy of The Odyssey line by line with a red pen for each note’s meaning.

One of my favorite aspects of the album is how effectively the musicians paint the various moods and sonic landscapes. Integral to their success is the orchestration. Upon first glance, one could easily dismiss the inclusion of prepared piano, celeste, and harmonium as gimmicky. Virelles, however, couldn’t be more tasteful. He serves a primarily textural function throughout, appearing only when appropriate and rarely in the foreground. One piece in particular in which the orchestration stands out is the title track. Almost nine minutes long, “The Sirens” is without rhythmic pulse. Both beautiful and mournful – much as the Siren’s call and her victim’s fate – it begins with bass clarinet, piano, harmonium, cymbals, and bowed bass (played arco throughout this number). Tension builds in the middle as the bass solos over the ensemble (sans Potter), building in tension until the tenor sax emerges for the final, “Psalm”-esque calls, with Harland now incorporating his full kit. “The Sirens,” together with the following number “Penelope,” a beautiful ballad featuring Potter on soprano, are the centerpiece of the album (and my personal favorites).

All’s not slow and mellow, however. After a soulful full-group introduction, Grenadier then sets the groove for the band to plow ahead on the album’s moderate opener “Wine Dark Sea.” The rhythm section’s interplay, coupled with Potter’s funky, frenetic bursts help the album to set sail.”Wayfinder” continues to march along, featuring an engaging keyboard duet (with rhythm section) between Taborn on piano and Virelles on prepared piano and celeste. The first time I listened to this album, I knew I bought something special when I was halfway through this track. “Dawn (With Her Rosy Fingers)” is the first ballad, preparing the listener for “The Sirens” and “Penelope.” “Kalypso” is the most straight ahead tune on the album. (Though with this band, and Taborn especially, things are never that straight ahead, even in calypso-esque territory.) Back on tenor, Potter’s trademark calisthenics really shine here, as his unparalleled altissimo skills come out to play. Again, as with the rest of this release, taste governs. He’s not showing off; he’s being musical. “Nausikaa” is a lovely gem. A mostly sparse rhythm section supports soprano, piano, and celeste in evoking a starry night sky. The orchestration is dreamy. “The Stranger At The Gate” is the band’s farewell as the musicians plod along on their journey. While a standalone piece, the tempo and rhythms are reminiscent of “Wine Dark Sea,” perhaps signaling the traveler moving on to the next stage of his journey. Finally, “The Shades” – a contemplative improvisation by Taborn and Virelles only – serves as a calm yet haunting coda.

I can’t recommend this album enough. Nor can I listen to it enough! If you’re looking for some new and different jazz, then you simply must purchase this.

Album background by ECM

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MTH-V: Manu Katché Sneak Peek

Okay, so it’s been almost one year exactly since the maiden “MTH-V” voyage, debuting with this entry about the ever-infectious Manu Katché. (Unfortunately that video has since been removed…would love to find it again.) Furthermore, Katché’s Third Round was the first focus of the “New Listen” series. (It was my instant love of that album – of course an ECM release – that inspired me to attempt a sort of review.) Needless to say, I’m a fan.

This series has mostly centered around live performance. This week, however, I’d like to feature the preview for Katché’s upcoming fourth album Manu Katché, to be released October 30th in the US. Once again, he’s teaming up with the master: Manfred Eicher. It appears that this album picks up where 2010’s Third Round – my favorite of his albums – left off. Assuming “Slowing The Tides” is an indication of what the rest of the album may be like, I think it’s time to place my pre-order…

Katché is once again joined by saxophonist Tore Brunborg (THANK YOU!), and rounding out the band are trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær and keyboardist Jim Watson.