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May 24 , 2013

Reviews of the Week

Carolin Widmann's and the Radio Symphony Orchestra Frankfurt's recording of Violin and Orchestra by Morton Feldman is met with great acclaim in the UK

...the work is not a conventional concerto in any respect. There's no sense of confrontation between soloist and orchestra, or of the orchestra accompanying the violin. The solo part, with its mouse-like scrabblings and swooping glissandi, may be fiendishly difficult to play, but it's never deliberately showy or virtuosic; the violinist is directed to sit among the orchestra and is often given quiet, deliberately unobtrusive music. At just 50 minutes, it's a short work by the standards of late Feldman – the really extended works, like the six-hour Second String Quartet and the four-and-a-half-hour tribute to Philip Guston, were still to come. But it's a marvellous introduction to that compelling musical world in which, within its self-imposed constraints, the music proceeds like a freely associating frieze. The simplest ideas – a short rising scale, a lullaby-like rocking – can take on huge significance and a single fortissimo orchestral chord can seem cataclysmic. This performance is perfectly judged: Carolin Widmann is a fabulously assured and poetic soloist, taking minute care over the smallest, apparently most insignificant details, and Emilio Pomarico ensures that the orchestral playing is equally refined and scrupulous. It's a beautiful, haunting disc.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian

At 51 minutes, it is concision itself beside the six-hour Second String Quartet of 1983, but still probably the longest unbroken span for this combination. The solist isn’t really one at all, being asked to sit with the players, not virtuosically confront them. Their symbiosis produces a gloriously abstract tapestry of unprecedented sounds. A compelling journey every time.
Paul Driver, Sunday Times

Carolin Widmann’s performance here is exemplary in its eschewal of virtuosic gesture, instead quietly navigating the abstractly shifting sound-bed of the orchestra like a fish finding its place within a sea current.
Andy Gill, The Independent

UK classical music magazine Gramophone on String Paths, the first album fully devoted to the music of Dobrinka Tabakova

Bulgarian-born and resident in London for the past two decades, Dobrinka Tabakova (b 1980) brings together several of those facets that have pervaded Central and Eastern European music over the past quarter of a century. This first disc dedicated to her output [...] is judiciously balanced between chamber and concertante pieces, with the latter represented by works for cello and viola. [...] The performances are as formidably assured as the roster of musicians would suggest, while ECM’s spaciously atmospheric sound suits the music-making ideally
Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone

The Reinventions by the late composer Stefano Scodanibbio, recorded by the Quartetto Prometeo, are reviewed on The ArtsDesk.com

...a beguiling sequence of sophisticated, highly imaginative arrangements for string quartet. Three Contrapuncti from Bach’s The Art of Fugue punctuate beautifully quirky transcriptions of Spanish guitar music and Mexican popular song. The Bach realisations are extraordinary. They’re played at glacial tempi, full of eerie harmonics and startling string textures. [...] The transcriptions of more popular material are cut from the same cloth, with slow speeds casting dark shadows and adding Mahlerian gravitas. In the Quattro Pezzi Spagnoli, Scodanibbio makes predictably idiomatic use of pizzicati to mimic guitar sounds. The results are almost painfully bittersweet. The five Canzoniere Messicano feel still more personal – the composer considered the popular song Bésame mucho to be the most beautiful ever written and handles it with a tenderness that’s heartbreaking. You need to listen to the whole disc in sequence. Magnificently played by the Quartetto Prometeo, and richly recorded too.
Graham Rickson, TheArtsDesk.com

American jazz magazine Jazz Times on Somewhere by Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette

Keith Jarrett’s trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette [...] has been with us so long some people take it for granted. You may think you have all you need from this trio. Then you hear how Jarrett touches a melody with bare hesitations that make ‘Stars Fell In Alabama’ unique in its poignancy, and you know you need more. The new album is valuable for how it blends Jarrett’s two formats, which are normally separate: fully improvised solo concerts and trio interpretations of standards. ‘Somewhere’ opens with a solo improvisation called ‘Deep Space’, clusters of fragments that hover and slowly turn, chiming and catching the light. Then Peacock’s bass comes in under Jarrett and sets the piece into motion, and soon you realize that the fragments have begun to coalesce and suggest form. By 5:41 the form is clearly Miles Davis’ ‘Solar’, and for almost 10 more minutes Jarrett pursues a vast unfolding in which ‘Solar’ is a distant referential mantra. [...] the closing ‘I Thought About You’ was composed by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Mercer. In jazz it belongs to Miles Davis, and therefore the album returns to where it began. Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette play it for five minutes only but discover and interweave thoughts from three lifetimes.
Thomas Conrad, Jazz Times

The Financial Times on Chants by the Craig Taborn Trio

The close-knit counterpoint and controlled inner dialogue that mark the Craig Taborn Trio’s impressive ECM debut rest on the rapport of strong personalities collaborating in a long-term working relationship. Pianist Taborn first worked with drummer Gerald Cleaver 25 years ago, and this unit, with Thomas Morgan on bass, has been together for eight years. This all-original set opens with an optimistic counterpoint, moves throgh rumbustious pedals and snaky lines and dabbles in ECM’s trademark swish and swirl. Exuberant trio music with an exceptional group dynamic.
Mike Hobart, Financial Times

Acclaim in the UK for In Full View by the freshly formed Julia Hülsmann Quartet

The new addition is the former BBC Radio 3 New Generation artist, now Berlin-based English trumpeter and flugelhornist Tom Arthurs. Although still only in his early thirties, Arthurs looks to have blossomed into a more poised, discerning version of the fresh-faced mercurial, contemporary classical-jazz experimenter that emerged in London about a decade ago. His Kenny Wheeler-like vocalisations and leaps in register are more playful than brooding and work very well against the finely tuned understatements of the imaginative yet economical Hülsmann and her established rhythm section of bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling. [...] Although the recording belongs essentially to the enigmatic, contemplative school of European jazz linked to Manfred Eicher’s label, there are episodes of sharp rhythmic intensity too especially from the restlessly lyrical Arthurs, and the warm chemistry of the ensemble play is one of its most engaging characteristics.
Selwyn Harris, Jazzwise

For this her third album for the label, the pianist has expanded the group to a quartet, adding Berlin resident Tom Arthurs on trumpet and flugelhorn to her established core line up with bassist Marc Muellbauer and Heinrich Köbberling on drums, and by doing so has not just added an additional, and entirely sympathetic and compatible voice, but also brought a new and fresh concept to her compositions. Arthur’s quiet yet voluptuous tone on both trumpet and flugel add not just a new melody instrument but also bring a whole array of new colours to both the ensemble sound and in the way the pianist will voice her accompaniment. With the ability to now double up melody lines or open up chordal voicings with wider intervals. [...] The result of this shift and adaption to change has produced a calm and contemplative set that revels in the new colours, and light and shade that are now part of their sonic palette. Hülsmann’s touch at the piano is firm yet allows her voicings to breathe and be heard with clarity, whilst Arthurs’ tone is breathy yet surprisingly full on open trumpet. [...] Another intelligent and intelligently programmed set from ECM, that shows Hülsmann to be a major contributor to the label’s roster.
Nick Lea, Jazz Views

Susanne Abbuehl's The Gift is greeted with great praise in France

‘The Gift’ est le troisième disque de Susanne Abbuehl pour ECM, après ‘April’ et ‘Compass’, et, autant que ceux-ci et peut-être plus encore, il est en effet un cadeau. La voix de cette jeune femme semble avoir été créée pour la poésie, et la poésie, pour cette voix. En tout cas, celle, intime, lyrique, d'Emily Dickinson, à laquelle Susanne Abbuehl joint ici celles de Sara Teasdale, Wallace Stevens, et même Emily Brontë. Que l'on se rassure, il n'est pas indispensable de comprendre l'anglais pour jouir de cette poésie vocale. Le chant, doux, charnel et immatériel à la fois (c'est son paradoxe), s'élève comme une fleur à laquelle la trompette de Matthieu Michel sert de tuteur, de même que ces deux voix, la féminine et l'instrumentale, s'enroulent autour du silence qu'elles courtisent ensemble. Le piano de Wolfert Brederode, qui avait déjà splendidement serti la joaillerie nocturne d'Abbuehl dans ses disques précédents, et les percussions d'Olavi Louhivuori nappent souterrainement les épousailles de ce timbre si pur, si sororal, et de cette trompette d'or liquide.
Michel Contat, Telerama

An American reaction on Lucian Ban and Mat Maneri's Transylvanian Concert

Recorded in the region where composer Béla Bartók collected many of the folk songs that underscored so much of his writing, the duo delivers a set largely comprised of Ban's original compositions, along with one free improv that sounds preconceived despite being drawn from the ether; one Maneri composition (the obliquely beautiful "Retina"); and one American traditional ("Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen"), an a cappella viola performance demonstrating Maneri's breadth and purposeful virtuosity.
Ban's four compositions cover significant territory while speaking clearly with a voice that, like Maneri, has absorbed the language of jazz into something that transcends even its most distant borders. The appropriately titled "Not That Kind of Blues," twists and turns its conventional form, respected but stretched harmonically by Ban and Maneri to places few blues ever go. "Harlem Bliss" is darker still, Maneri's control of space and silence similarly matched by Ban, whose intrinsic classicism is, nevertheless, equally imbued by an underlying blues affinity. The more fervent "Monastery" builds gradually to the album's fieriest moments, while the closing "Two Hymns" turns to the precise opposite, with Maneri occasionally soaring but elsewhere turning to gentler landscapes, even as Ban's ambiguities create moments of unanticipated beauty.
Throughout, the pair demonstrates surprising empathy, dynamically swelling to mini-climaxes only to turn, just as quickly, to recondite terrain where little more than silence reigns, all based upon canted melodies and dark-hued harmonies. Transylvanian Concert may be the first, but is hopefully not the last time these two simpatico musicians come together in such a vulnerable but ultimately revelatory context.
John Kelman, AllAboutJazz