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September 13 , 2013

Reviews of the Week

Leading American and British media welcome Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow’s first common ECM abum Trios

‘Trios’ is the definitive document of a chamberlike trio she has led on the road for the last 20 years, with her longtime partner Steve Swallow on bass, and Andy Sheppard on tenor and soprano saxophones. It’s also a good distillation of her language, an argument for its unforced insight and plainspoken grace.
All the music on ‘Trios’ has been recorded elsewhere over the years, which accounts for the album’s air of retrospection. Because most previous versions featured larger ensembles, there’s also a sense of reduction, as if the album were an exhibition of preparatory sketches. But the album isn’t a side note, because Ms. Bley and her band mates bring so much life to their interactions, with one another and with the material. [...] Ms. Bley’s calmly interrogatory pianism is matched to Mr. Swallow’s springy electric bass sound, and they have a straight man in Mr. Sheppard: his dry melancholy in ‘Utviklingssang’, a Nordic-inspired ballad, would be hard to top.
Remarkably this is the first album Ms. Bley has ever made with a producer: Manfred Eicher, the founder of ECM, which has been her distributor but never her label home. And it’s no slight to suggest that Mr. Eicher serves as a fourth artistic presence on ‘Trios’, because the end result presents Ms. Bley’s vision so clearly.
Nate Chinen, The New York Times

As the almost 20-year-old partnership between composer/pianist Carly Bley, bass guitarist Steve Swallow and British saxist Andy Sheppard has evolved, Bley the reluctant pianist has grown more assured, and the tonally subtle Sheppard more minimal, while Swallow holds the music in shape with his flawlessly purring lines. Bley has always self-produced, so this session under ECM boss Manfred Eicher’s direction is a first – he chose her themes, from classics such as ‘Utviklingssang’ or the 50-year-old ‘Vashkar’ to reworkings of later pieces inclding the suites ‘Les Trois Lagons’ and ‘Wildlife’.
John Fordham, The Guardian

While ‘Trios’ does not represent any great departure from her usual strategies, there’s a purity of purpose here that, coupled with Manfred Eicher’s uncluttered production, results in a cool, clear aesthetic statement that is very effective [...] while Bley’s spare, Monk-ish pianism and Steve Swallow’s guitar-like bass-playing are outstanding, the real star is saxophonist Andy Sheppard, who excels on both slow, impeccably controlled melody lines and fill-on passion.
Phil Johnson, Independent on Sunday


England’s Financial Times on Kayhan Kalhor and Erdal Erzincan's Kula Kulluk Yakisir Mi

A crystalline recording of a 2011 concert by the Iranian musician Kayhan Kalhor on kamancheh, a spike fiddle, and his Anatolian counterpart Erdal Erzincan on baglama, an eastern Mediterranean lute. Traditional Persian and Turkish tunes are punctuated with breath-stopping improvised passages with age-old roots, culminating in 10 minutes of ‘Intertwining Melodies’ from both cultures.
David Honigmann, Financial Times


British magazine The Wire on the box set Selected Signs - Music selected for the exhibition ECM - A Cultural Archaeology at Haus der Kunst Munich

This typically handsome package of six CDs is an invitiation to evaluate Eicher’s vast undertaking. The compilations was made to accompany a recent exhibition [...] But this is no cosy, congratulatory A-Z of ECM’s history.‘Selected Signs’ [...] is described as a soundtrack to the exhibition. As a label survey, it offers a Michelin guide to some of the less familiar ingredients of the ECM audio-gastronomy: no solo Keith Jarrett, but plenty of Heiner Goebbels and lesser known Eastern European composers.
The first disc opens and closes with tracks from Goebbels’ ‘Der Mann im Fahrstuhl (The Man in the Elevator)’; both feature his trademark recitative style delivered with ominous portent and minimal accompaniment. This effectively wrongfoots the listener: Goebbels is hardly typical of the label, but his inclusion has the effect of alerting us to ECM’s diversity – a paradoxical notion, considering its much touted homogenous identity. One of Eicher’s finest accomplishments is providing a home for the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Arvo Pärt and Robin Williamson, while retaining an instantly recognisable label signature. [...] After six CDs of music, you’re left with the conclusion that there is an ECM sound, the existence of which has been discussed by critics since the label was launched with a string of jazz records that used recording techniques more readily associated with the classical world (not to mention the superior reproduction quality that came from using Deutsche Grammophon’s pressing plant). There is no muddiness or scuzzy analogue blurring in Eicher’s recordings, and the adamantine audio signature of ECM records is undeniable. But is it the sound or the music that is dictating this perception?
Adrian Shaughnessy, The Wire


Gary Peacock and Marilyn Crispell's Azure delights a German reviewer

Zwei, die nichts mehr beweisen müssen und es eben deswegen tun. Im Trio mit dem nun fehlenden Paul Motian haben Marilyn Crispell und Gary Peacock berückende Aufnahmen vorgelegt. Ohne ihn nun geben sie sich dezente Steilvorlagen in ihren akustischen Dialogen für Klavier und Kontrabass, Impulse und unverhoffte Wendungen, die sie umspielen und in wieder neuen Richtungen fortsetzen, auf dass sich diese luftig intensive Kammermusik entwickelt. Lyrische Stücke, eins klingt nach Folksong, andere greifen kraftvoll ins Freie, je ein schön integriertes Solostück, allesamt Eigenkompositionen, die auf jahrzehntelangen Erfahrungen mit kontrollierter Spontaneität fußen.
Ulrich Steinmetzger, Jazzthing


All About Jazz has some serious fun with the music on Stefano Bollani and Hamilton de Holanda’s O que será

With de Holanda—equally expansive in range and a star in his own right, having collaborated with everyone from Richard Galliano to Bela Fleck—Bollani has, perhaps, found the perfect partner. Not only does de Holanda possess similar instrumental mastery, but he is as capable of pushing Bollani to turn on a dime as the pianist is in driving the mandolinist to change directions at thought-speed, the pair occasionally throwing in seeming ‘non sequiturs’ that invariably reveal themselves as anything but.
‘O que será’ is like watching two hyperkinetic kids in a musical candy store, looking to sample everything they can get their hands on. On pieces like Bollani's ‘Il Barbone Di Siviglia, (The Tramp of Seville)’ and the frenetic closer, ‘Apanhei-te Cavaquinho’ there's an exciting sense of the two playing constant cat-and mouse, Bollani breaking away from form into a high-speed passage of unfettered freedom only to get pulled back in by de Holanda, as if to say ‘catch up!’ The mischief is palpable; it's almost possible to see the two grinning at each other madly as they interact, sometimes at speeds that would be considered impossible were they not here to be heard.
But an overarching sense of humor and relentless synchronicity don't mean that Bollani and de Holanda aren't capable of greater sensitivity. The duo's opening look at ‘Beatriz’ is short and sweet, while Antonio Carlos Jobim's ‘Luiza’ and (Astor Piazzolla)'s ‘Oblivion’ are, if not totally serious, then at least clearly reverential, as the two instruments engage at a near-mitochondrial level.
The inclusion of audience reactions throughout the show help make ‘O que sera’ a breathtaking 54-minute break from life's trials and tribulations; as close to being there as any audio recording can be, it's proof positive that serious music can be fun, too.
John Kelman, All About Jazz