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May 3 , 2013

Reviews of the Week

British music critic Richard Williams on Reinventions by the late Stefano Scodanibbio, recorded by the Quartetto Prometeo

Scodanibbio died last December of motor neurone disease, aged 55; he was previously known to me for his work with Terry Riley, but his other collaborators included Luigi Nono, Iannis Xenakis, Brian Ferneyhough, Markus Stockhausen and Vinko Globokar. His work is founded on extended instrumental techniques making powerful use of string harmonics [...] In the compositions selected for Reinventions, which was recorded two years before his death, three items from Bach’s ‘The Art of Fugue’ are juxtaposed with sequences of guitar pieces from Spain and songs from Mexico, and in all cases the results are striking. The combination of the harmonics and the sounds produced by ‘normal’ bowing and pizzicato techniques produces marvellous textures, at once ethereal and earthy, ancient and modern. Inevitably, I suppose, it’s the seven-minute arrangement of ‘Besame Mucho’ that keeps drawing me back to the record. There’s something magical about the way Scodanibbio seems to refract the theme, slowly and gently dismantling and reassembling it in a more complex form, like an image seen in mirrors set at different angles, new shades of emotion overlapping as you feel the the tectonic plates of its harmonies shift beneath you. Each freshly revealed facet is tested for weight, light and meaning. It’s something new, and unforgettable. Scodanibbio clearly had a strong feeling for Mexico. He chose to die (like Charles Mingus, another great bassist and composer) in Cuernavaca, and he apparently believed ‘Besame Mucho’ to be the most beautiful song ever written. I wouldn’t argue over that. With this recording he and his players took a lovely thing and made it even lovelier.
Richard Williams, TheBlueMoment.com


The New York Times on Chants by the Craig Taborn Trio

‘Chants’ [...] is the extraordinary new record by Craig Taborn, a pianist of cryptic insights and galactic interests. It’s an acoustic piano trio album with Thomas Morgan on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums, and at times it can evoke other abstract rhapsodists in that format, like Paul Bley. But ‘Chants’ is also a product of alert indeterminacy: it lands on a recognizable style the way a dragonfly alights on a reed. You might hear the shadow influence of second-wave Detroit techno on ‘Speak The Name’ and ‘Beat The Ground’ in their assymetrical pulse patterns – but you don’t notice any insistence behind the allusion. Likewise with flickers of Duke Ellington (‘Silver Days or Love’) and Herbie Nichols (‘Hot Blood’). Mr. Taborn, 43, has worked far more extensively in other people’s bands than with his own: he isn’t in a hurry. But the album, recorded a couple of months after his trio’s Village Vanguard debut last year, confirms his standing as an inspired bandleader-composer, one of the smartest and slipperiest in his peer group.
Nate Chinen, The New York Times


The Guardian on In Full View by the freshly formed Julia Hülsmann Quartet

The predominantly brief pieces here are mainly low-lit ruminations by Hulsmann and bassist Marc Muellbauer: there's the Wayne Shorteresque Quicksilver, with its deployment of Arthurs' lustrous sound at either end of the register; Hulsmann's slowly pulsing Dunkel (on which the Englishman is at his most Kenny Wheeler-like); plus a group of very slow pieces and then the more postboppishly intricate Meander. A spellbinding trio account of singer/songwriter Feist's The Water and an imploring muted-trumpet interpretation of Manuel de Falla's Nana are the only covers. Julia Hulsmann's work often unveils its secrets slowly – Tord Gustavsen admirers might be natural recruits to her fan club – but Arthurs quickens the process here.
John Fordham, The Guardian


More international reactions to Quercus, the trio project of June Tabor, Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren

Quercus means ‘oak’ in Latin, and the oak is steeped in folklore from root to crown. So is the music on this superlative set, recorded live at The Anvil in Basingstoke in 2006, and featuring June Tabor with her longtime accompanist, the pianist Huw Warren, and British jazz saxophonist Iain Ballamy. There’s a lyrical, airborne romanticism in Ballamy’s improvisations, and his interplay with Warren and Tabor is as various as the patterns in fallen leaves. [...] Tabor’s voice is as stunning as ever – the unaccompanied ‘Brigg Fair’ is mesmerising – and Quercus is a project that demands an immediate follow-up.
Tim Cumming, Songlines

There won’t be many records released this year that draw from as deep a well as Quercus. Folk songs survive for generations because their meanings are profound and chime perfectly with their melodies. And few singers can reveal those meanings as magically as English folk legend June Tabor. The sincerity of her delivery is borne of a deep respect for words. She makes old songs live again and new songs sound like they’ve been around for years. The piano is still an unusual instrument in folk music, but Tabor’s dark tones find the perfect foil in the delicate precision of Welsh pianist Huw Warren’s accompaniments. The two have enjoyed a fruitful relationship for more than two decades. Joining them on this live recording, captured in crystalline silence on a UK tour in March 2006, is saxophonist Iain Ballamy [...] For Quercus, he strips back his harmonic pallet, responding to Tabor’s singing with austerely elegiac solos that respect the material even as they strectch it out into new territory. [...] The emotional and political directness of the songs, and the affecting candour with which Tabor delivers them, offer a rebuke to the emptiness of so much of contemporary popular music.
Cormac Larkin, The Irish Times

Ein großer Reichtum des europäischen Jazz liegt in seinen Möglichkeiten, mit den Musiktraditionen des alten Kontinents in Beziehung zu treten. Kaum jemand weiß das besser als die Engländerin June Tabor. Seit Jahrzehnten ist sie eine der Gallionsfiguren der britischen Folkwelt. Eine Künstlerin, die mit viel Verstand und Gefühl die Balladen aus der britischen Tradition mit modernem Songwriting, mit Tango und manchmal auch mit dem amerikanischen Jazzrepertoire zusammenbringt. Dass die intensive Tabor für diesen Ansatz gern wandlungsfähige Jazzmusiker als Begleiter wählt, liegt nahe. So auch hier – mit Pianist Huw Warren und Saxophonist Iain Ballamy spielen zwei renommierte Vertreter der Jazzszene des UK neben June Tabor – das Ergebnis ist herausragend. […] Es ist sicherlich ein Klischee, in der Musikwelt von ‚kongenialer Zusammenarbeit' zu sprechen – hier trifft es wirklich zu. Tabors Stimme und Warrens Piano erklingen mit der Sicherheit eines jahrzehntelang erarbeiteten gemeinsamen Tonfalls, das Saxophon Ballamys bringt eine zusätzliche Stimme und Klangfarbe ins Gespräch – mal lyrisch, mal tänzelnd, mit höchster Sensibilität für die Aura des konzentrierten Vortrags. Genau das ist die Kunst von June Tabor: jede Silbe und jede Zeile wird erfüllt mit Bedeutung, mit einer gewissen Strenge wacht die britische Perfektionistin über jede Nuance. Wer ihr folgt, wird fortgetragen aus dem Hier und Jetzt, in eine besondere Welt. Eine Welt voller Bedeutung und Schönheit.
Harald Mönkedieck, Radio Bremen

Often admired outside the world of folk music for her darkly penetrating hypnotic vocal, June Tabor is also a gripping interpreter and storyteller whose tastes can broaden to anything from jazz standards to contemporary rock songs. Tabor is in fact genre-blind; it’s always, and only, the words that count. [...] The selection of songs here has Tabor’s signature range. From Warren/Gordon’s standard ‘This is Always’, a love song written by a Benedictine Monk through to Ballamy’s resetting of Shakespeare’s ‘Come Away Death’. [...] ECM boss and producer Manfred Eicher was so impressed with the quality of this ‘live’ set, a studio date to re-record the album was subsequently cancelled. That’s a high accolade coming from him of all people. Just listen and be mesmerised.
Selwyn Harris, Jazzwise

Das ist Musik von besonderer Wärme und Schönheit. Eine tiefgründige und entsprechend dunkle Gesangsstimme aus der englischen Folkmusik, ein Jazz-Saxophon von besonders schillernder Wendigkeit und ein Klavier, das hinreißend innig darüber und darunter improvisiert, die Basis legend und den Horizont weitend: Diese drei Elemente wirken hier zusammen. Und schaffen unter dem Namen „Quercus“ (lateinisch für Eiche) eine Verbindung von Jazz und Folkmusik, die so organisch klingt, als hätten Jazzmusiker schon immer in ihrer Freizeit am liebsten alte englische Folksongs gespielt und Folk-Stimmen schon seit jeher den freien Atem von Jazzmusikern besonders geschätzt. Nicht Folk, nicht Jazz ist denn auch das Ergebnis, sondern zeitlose, ganz eigene Kammermusik. Wie ein sanfter Sog erfasst diese Musik den Hörer und erzählt ihm, vor allem mit traditionellen Liedern, in ruhigem Ton Geschichten von enormer Kraft. […] Diese drei Musiker reagieren mit großer Sensibilität aufeinander, biegsam, fein, mit viel Gefühl für den Raum, den die jeweils anderen brauchen. Und die den Zuhörern genug Luft für die Phantasie lässt.
Roland Spiegel, BR Klassik


British reactions to the ECM debut of Swiss-Italian trio Third Reel

There’s fire and ice in the improvised music of Third Reel, making their ECM debut with this new disc. The trio of reeds, guitar and drums create soundscapes ranging from the ethereal to the explosive, but with an overall sense of musical unity. [...] It is Pianca’s guitar which sets the tone for each piece – on some tracks he is in full, rip-snorting Hendrix mode and on others he plays more melodically with a straightforward sound. Strong musical imaginations are at work here, and it’s a very promising debut.
John Watson, JazzCamera.co.uk

Thoughout this impressive disc there is no sense of any one of the members stepping forward as nominal leader, but instead they treat the group and their role within as working as a single entity to bring each piece to its satisfactory conclusion. [...] Two apparently conflicting methods, free improvisation and composed pieces, are artfully packaged in an album that combines a unity of purpose and a distinct group and direction in this dynamically charged release.
Nick Lea, Jazz Views


American website ClassicalModernMusic on Iva Bittová's solo album Iva Bittová

On the surface it is a simple matter. Iva sings, accompanied or unaccompanied by her violin and kalimba playing. The pieces have folk purity yet come across as contemporary music. Partly that has to do with how the vocals and violin interact and what is going on with them musically, of course. It is the sort of spatially resonant music that ECM and Manfred Eicher love to place in a sound stage, and indeed the music glows in that classic ECM manner. The strains of her native Moravia and the Slovak folk tradition in general most definitely have an important place as foundations for Iva's music. Yet her own sense of concertizing gives it a different life. The "Fragments I-XII" title is modest. In a way this is a concerted piece for Iva alone. An interrelated twelve-part soliloquy from Iva to you. Lovely, very personal, and very direct.
Grego Applegate Edwards, ClassicalModernMusic


German jazz magazine Jazzthetik on City Of Broken Dreams by the Giovanni Guidi Trio

Mit welch blindem Verständnis man da wundersame Klangblütenträume nicht einfach wahr werden lässt, sondern sie luftig und komplex zugleich ins Dreidimensionale hochzieht, kommt schon einem kleinen Paukenschlag gleich. Vor der kompletten Route durch diese magischen Jazzlandschaften muss man sich aber erst einmal orientieren. Pianist Giovanni Guidi gehört zu den Lieblingspianisten von Enrico Rava. Bassist Thomas Morgan hat schon manche Duftmarken bei John Abercrombie gesetzt. Lediglich Schlagzeuger Joao Lobo ist bisher eher den absoluten Jazz-Insidern ein Begriff geblieben. […] Nun hat dieses Meisterwerk das Licht der Öffentlichkeit erblickt. Und zunächst ist man über das kompositorische Potenzial Guidis verblüfft, da er etwa Einflüsse von Thelonious Monk und Paul Bley durchweg in einen zarten und doch nie berechenbaren Strom verwandelt. Wie Guidi schließlich mit Morgan und Lobo diese modernen Jazz-Elegien ständig hinterfragt – mal mit der Leichtigkeit von Keith Jarretts skandinavischem Quartett, mal mit dem reduzierten Zauber Charlie Hadens – lässt einen fasziniert und atemlos zurück.
Guido Fischer, Jazzthetik