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March 29 , 2013

Reviews of the Week

International acclaim for Quercus, the trio project of June Tabor, Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren

The folk singer June Tabor has been a marvel of English music since the 1960s, and her long-term pianist Huw Warren and saxophonist Iain Ballamy only enhance her clarity, stillness and deep but fragile sound. The three previously combined on the the 2005 album At the Wood’s Heart, and this broodingly beautiful music was recorded on their tour as Quercus the following year, though the sound is so clean it could be a studio set. [...] Nobody plays a note too many or expresses a false emotion. It’s a unique tribute to the power of song.
John Fordham, The Guardian

Drei Briten beschwören die Magie der leisen Töne. Es herrscht eine Atmosphäre wie in einer halbverfallenen Kirche. Wenn June Tabor mit ihrem dunklen Timbre von Liebe und Tod singt, heult dazu leise der Nordwind aus dem magischen Saxofon des Schotten Iain Ballamy. Mit dem Pianisten Huw Warren aus Wales nahmen die beiden das atmosphärische Album ‚Quercus’ (ECM) auf. […] Die Hymnen auf die Natur und die Vergänglichkeit, die Tapferkeit des Herzens und das Glück der wahren Liebe wirken wie Medizin für verletzte Seelen. Unaufgeregt verzaubernde Musik ist auf diesem Album. Es ist ein Meisterwerk.
Karl Lippegaus, Süddeutsche Zeitung

This trio may seem like a disparate proposition: June Tabor is the dark-voiced queen of English folk, who was honoured as Singer of the Year and for her work with the Oysterband at the 2012 BBC Folk Awards. Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren are known as adventurous jazz improvisers on, respectively, saxophone and piano. But the fusion is magical here as the pair’s subtle embellishments accentuate the force of Tabor’s austere yet soulful delivery on tunes that range from ancient folk to their own, via settings of A.E. Housman and Shakespeare.
John Bungey, The Times

An unlikely trio, you might think, but the combination proves quite magical. Together they create a subtle new idiom in which lyrics by Shakespeare, Burns and Hosuman, a 1940s song by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, English folk songs and a melody by John Dowland can emerge in a new and delicate light. Recorded live (before a remarkably restrained audience, in which nobody coughs), this is one of the most surprising and beautiful pieces of work I have heard in a long time.
Dave Gelly, The Observer


British website Marlbank reviews the ECM debut for Iva Bittová as a leader

There’s minimalism and there’s minimalism. Cast a glance in the direction of the blotchy almost opaque seascape of the artwork to Iva Bittová above, an album incidentally succinct enough to be self titled. The composition titles complete the effect: there’s just one word ‘Fragments’, and then a dozen roman numerals tacked on although they’re not so much variations as chapters in a continuing and engrossing tale. The Czech vocalist and violinist isn’t a minimalist in the Terry Riley sense at all but hovers at the pared-down end of improv with occasional bird-like forays and the incantatory power of a prophetess at other times. [...] Bittová manages to sound as if she’s from a desperately remote place, the instrument of a song emerging from the earth itself, yet the improvisations are never alienating. These ‘fragments’ would have been inconsequential in a lesser artist’s hands, but with Bittová enlarge before your very eyes. It’s a quality that makes this album, where less is more is paramount, so appealing.
Stephen Graham, Marlbank


More international acclaim for Wislawa, the first recording of the freshly formed Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet

The quartet’s sound reflects Mr. Stanko’s trumpet tone: clean, slow, blobby, vulnerable. [...] Tehere’s generally a free improvising stretch, minus the trumpet, where the action among the rhythm section runs deep and wild, breaking loose from the song’s guiding mood. At some point during the song and again the end, the theme and the mood returns, with Mr. Stanko as its proprietor. The songs wrap up nicely, and so does the album, with a variation on the beautiful first track, ‘Wislawa’, at the end. [...] But it’s in the intuitive, unprogrammed middles of the songs – the places where Mr. Stanko falls silent – where the music loses its security and doubles its risk. There are two different records here – one of themes and one of collective improvisation, one of ends and one of middles, one of sorrow and something much less nameable.
Ben Ratliff, The New York Times

Konzentriert und konsequent speist der inzwischen siebzigjährige Trompeter Tomasz Stanko seinen markanten Trompetenton in die moderne Jazzgeschichte. Rau, grell und von spröder Melodik ist seine Musik, die zum Niederknien schön ist, wenn sie in weise sich entwickelnde Balladen mündet. […] Stanko hat erneut ein junges Trio gefunden, dessen Mitglieder allesamt zum inneren Kreis des aktuellen Jazz vor Ort gehören. Ihr Zusammenspiel ergibt eine traumverlorene Musik, die auch in den Uptempo-Stücken ihre Relevanz behält und der polnischen Lyrikerin und Nobelpreisträgerin Wislawa Szymborska (1923 – 2012) gewidmet ist.
Ulrich Steinmetzger, Berner Zeitung

Im Sog von Miles Davis: Das dunkle Brüten, das der polnische Trompeter Tomasz Stanko für seine fragilen Balladen ersonnen hat, ist längst legendär. Nun breitet es sich dank eines späten, verdienten Wohlstands – Stanko hat seit fünf Jahren neben seinem Hauptwohnsitz Warschau ein Apartment in New York City – auch auf dem amerikanischen Kontinent aus. Mit seinem formidablen New York Quartet erforscht er auf ‚Wislawa’ ganz behutsam die Topgrafie der menschlichen Seele, wie sie ihm die Lektüre der Gedichte der Lyrikerin Wislawa Szymborska nahegebracht hat. Bald aufwühlend, bald sedativ lotet dieses Werk mutig die Extreme aus.
Samir Köck, Die Presse


Hagar's Song, the duo album by Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran, enchants the reviewer from Jazz Views

A wonderful album that for all its sometime dark undercurrents straddles musical genres and eras, with a light hearted moment in a delightful version of Earl Hines’ ‘Rosetta’, and brings together two musicians from different generations who play with an empathy and understanding of great magnitude.
Nick Lea, Jazz Views


Chris Potter's The Sirens is reviewed on AllAboutJazz.com

Familiarity with Homer isn't necessary to appreciate Potter's compositions. These mood poems, like the episodes that inspired them, contain an endlessly engaging lyrical narrative, and emotional poignancy that speaks to the universal soul. [...]Homer wrote: "Each man delights in the work that suits him best"—a truism that resonates throughout this inspired and inspiring music. The Sirens will go down as one of Potter's best, but this is assuredly a collective triumph.
Ian Patterson, All About Jazz


American magazine Stereophile on Keith Jarrett's Hymns Spheres

From May through September 1976, Keith Jarrett made three of his finest, most dauntingly uncompromised solo recordings: Staircase, Sun Bear Concerts, and the least well known, Hymns Spheres, not released in full on CD until now: two discs’ worth of improvisations on an 18th-century baroque pipe organ, recorded in a German abbey. This is not jazz or gospel or romantic or solo-piano music that happens to be performed on a big organ. Jarrett works from the sound out, or in, the music’s shape and substance determined by the organ’s sonorities, dynamic range, and virtually infinite capacity to sustain – and by the hall itself, a vast basilica with a reverberation time of six seconds. You can hear Jarrett listening to the yawning silences as they slowly fill with and empty of sound. And by pulling out some stops only halfway, he even bends notes. [...] the pace, when there is one, is slow, almost static, sometimes reminiscent of the electronic ambiences of Eno and Roach. But these are ambiences that refuse to yield the foreground of the listener’s attention, and the sound is rich and full, ECM’s trademark sense of spaciousness for once not electronic at all. It’s wonderful to finally have some of the loneliest, most haunting music I know all in print again on these beautifully remastered CDs.
Richard Lehnert, Stereophile


The Quartetto Prometeo's recording of Reinventions by Stefano Scodanibbio enchants reviewers in Germany and the UK

Ein ‘Traumprojekt’ hatte sich der Italiener Stefano Scodanibbio da ausgedacht, ein radikales Arrangement unter dem Titel ‘Reinventions’. Der begnadete, 2012 gestorbene Kontrabassist war ein Pionier Neuer Musik, der eng mit Nono, Cage, Riley und Xenakis zusammengearbeitet hat. Als Komponist nahm er drei Stücke aus Bachs Fugenkosmos und brachte sie mit Liedtranskriptionen aus Mexiko und Spanien in eine Abfolge: Die Stimmen sind in entfernte Lagen versetzt, das sensible Quartetto Prometeo erzeugt so Streicherklänge, die wie von der Glasharmonika tönen – auf das Zerbrechlichste eine Geisterbeschwörung.
Wolfgang Schreiber, Süddeutsche Zeitung

This is a very special unique disc, achieving a late ambition of this famous double bass virtuoso and composer, who died in 2012 of motor neurone disease. With Spanish and Mexican transcriptions, framed by three of Bach’s Contrapuncti from the Art of Fugue, these arrangements or re-compositions for string quartet begin by reminding you of the ethereal sounds of Mozart’s glass harmonica. They concentrate on special effects, harmonics, sul ponticello and sul tasto, tempi generally slow so that they can be fully savoured. Something unique and a marvellous memorial [...] Beautifully played here with great sensitivity the disc makes for wonderful late night listening; [...] Recommended unreservedly.
Peter Grahame Woolf, Musical Pointers