“And If” is the second ECM album from Anat Fort. Six years ago, the Israeli pianist set up a New York recording session with Perry Robinson, Ed Schuller and Paul Motian. Touched by the musical outcome, Motian recommended the project to Manfred Eicher and the recording was mixed and issued as the wryly-titled “A Long Story” on ECM in 2007. The album made a lot of new friends for Fort, was a modest ‘hit’ in jazz terms, and caught the attention of the world’s press. Nat Hentoff, in JazzTimes, praised Fort’s unmistakable personal voice and a music that reflected both Jewish roots and the pianist’s strong identification with jazz. In the Jewish Times, Geoffrey Himes wrote that “Anat Fort is not the first person to discover that you can understand your homeland from a distance in ways you never could while living there. But she has translated those insights into compositions and arrangements marking her as one of the most promising pianists in jazz.” There was a general consensus that here was a jazz composer-pianist with a fresh vantage point from which to view the traditions. At times the listener might catch an echo, too, of Russian music or gypsy music in the lyrical sway of things - also part of Fort’s heritage – ,not that there is anything schematic about her blend of influences. She is an intuitive musician firstly: ”Whatever is different in my approach is not something that I planned to put there.”
“And If” carries the Fort tale forward. Where “A Long Story” was essentially a production project, the new disc puts the focus on Anat’s regular trio with Gary Wang and Roland Schneider, a group which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary as a working band. They have hundreds of concerts behind them, yet “And If” is the first recorded documentation of their trio playing.
Leader Anat Fort was born near Tel Aviv and studied classical piano as a child. Also improvising and writing her own tunes from an early age she naturally gravitated toward jazz, although her pieces were also steeped, from the outset, in the colours and atmospheres of the Middle East.
Formative influences included Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and “very much of the music on ECM” which she heard first as a teenager in the late 1980s. In the mid-1990s she came to the USA to study jazz, wanting to balance a natural tendency towards freer playing with a proper understanding of the tradition. Her teachers have included jazz greats Rufus Reid and Harold Mabern.. She also studied briefly with Paul Bley . In the last several years she has become an influential figure on NYC’s alternative jazz scene, but is also a highly regarded player in her homeland. She now splits her time between Israel and the US.
Bassist Gary Wang grew up in Boston and San Francisco, moving to New York in the late 1990s. As well as being Anat’s bassist for a decade, he has played in the bands of T.S. Monk, Stanley Turrentine, Matt Wilson and many others.
Heidelberg-born drummer Roland Schneider moved from Germany to New York in 1991 to study with Billy Hart and Bill Stewart, amongst others. Now a much in-demand player on the international scene he has worked across the whole range of modern jazz, with musicians including Maynard Fergusson, Muhal Richard Abrams and Kenny Wheeler.
The new Anat Fort Trio album was recorded at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio in February 2009. On “And If”, themes and solos, written sections and improvisations flow seamlessly together in elegant and seemingly egoless jazz. Of her trio partners Wang and Schneider, Fort has said “They’re both very naturally musical, very sensitive. They know how to leave space, which is very important for me.”
A sense of space defines the collective improvising on “And If”. While making a case for the trio as an autonomous force, with a programme of material all penned by Fort, the album also has some strong connections to its predecessor. Centrepiece of the new disc is “Something ’Bout Camels”, a ten-minute reworking of one of the pieces from “A Long Story”, now extended and with its theme emerging out of a patiently-developed, glistening web of interaction.
There are also two variations of a piece entitled “Paul Motian”, saluting the drummer who made “A Long Story” possible: the piece’s melody has some of the folk-like simplicity of Motian’s tunes, and Schneider’s freely-paddling brushes flesh out the portrait.
International tours for the trio are currently being set up. North American concerts confirmed include dates in Edmonton, Canada (October 2), Washington DC (October 5), New York (October 7), Baltimore (October 9). Concerts in Israel begin at the end of October: Bar-Ilan University (October 26), Hakochav Hashmini, Hertzlia (October 28). An official release concert will take place ion Tel Aviv on November 1.
Press reactions to “A Long Story”
“Fort is a real discovery, a pianist who has absorbed her influences (Paul Bley and Cecil Taylor along with Jarrett)” Francis Davis, Village Voice
“Although Fort is by nature a free improviser, she’s also a distinctively melodic ‘inside’ player and composer, whose folk-like music reflects her Israeli and Middle-Eastern roots.”
Ray Comiskey, Irish Times
“There are those who dream of the perfect group, but it’s rare for an artist to get it so right the first time."
John Kelman, All About Jazz
“Fort allies spirit-filled melodicism with evidence of an ongoing search for simplicity. Her pacing is exquisite. She seems to invest the silences with nearly as much meaning as the notes.”
Siddhartha Miller, Boston Globe
"Neu sind nicht die Bestandteile von Forts Musik, da gibt es Anklänge an romantische Pianoliteratur, an mittelöstliche Volksmusiken, Erinnerungen an die Hausgötter Bill Evans – Keith Jarrett – Paul Bley. Neu ist die Mischung dieser unvergleichlich vielfarbigen, betörend melodiösen Heimkehrmusik. Sie ist immer überraschend und immer scheinbar nahe liegend.
Forts vierter Hausgott sitzt hier am Schlagzeug: Paul Motian (ehemaliger Drummer bei den drei anderen). Motian schafft weniger einen Rhythmus als einen flirrenden, ambivalenten perkussiven Klangraum, ein Pulsieren und Atmen. Er ist ein Medium. Was Fort an unzweideutiger volksmusikalisch-romantischer Harmonik setzt, transzendiert er ins Vieldeutige. Jeder Akzent ein Fragezeichen."
Peter Rüedi, Weltwoche
"Forts Musik bezaubert zunächst durch die schlichte Schönheit nahöstlich und mediterran gefärbter Melodien, zeigt aber, je mehr man hört, unter der Oberfläche sprödere Reize, die von den drei Koryphäen nicht erst hervorgekitzelt werden müssen, sondern schon in den Kompositionen stecken. Denn die sind mitunter vertrackter als man meint und lassen immer auch freiere Auslegungen zu, was die gestandenen Improvisatoren souverän nutzen."
Berthold Klostermann, Fono Forum