Jun 16 2015
A brief round-up of recent ECM Records releases (Part 4): Julia Hulsmann, Theo Bleckmann, Tim Berne’s Snakeoil and Lumen Drones
So, here’s some quick hits on a handful of the albums released on the ECM Records label thus far in 2015. It’s by no means comprehensive. It’s just the ones I felt like talking about. These aren’t reviews. They’re just brief opinions, and comprise very little time writing but lots of time listening. A few of these albums also appear in various This Is Jazz Today columns or have proper write-ups on this site. I link to stuff where I deem appropriate.
I’ve been posting these in bundles of two. Feel free to read the previous installment, Part 3 (LINK), and the previous bundle, Part 1 (LINK) and Part 2 (LINK), which covers some albums released at the tail-end of 2013. Between Bird is the Worm and my various columns on eMusic 17 Dots and Wondering Sound, I’ve written plenty more about various ECM releases, but this round-up column is a new thing and its “start date” is rather arbitrary.
A note: Of no small irritation to me is the inability to embed any album tracks, either via Soundcloud or the “ECM Player,” which is an ECM in-house audio player. I would love for you to be able to simply press play and listen as you read the column. That said, ECM does stream an album track on their site… so they get credit for that, definitely. At the bottom of each synopsis/opinion, there’s a link to where you can stream an album track. I’ve got it set up to where it opens a new window/tab, so go ahead and click that thing for each album rundown… it’ll begin playing automatically. The link will also lead you to some excellent information on each album, in case you want to read more.
Okay, that was a long preamble. Let’s begin…
Julia Hülsmann Quartet – A Clear Midnight
I’m almost at the point where I give a blanket recommendation for any Theo Bleckmann project where he adapts a particular artist’s songbook. I raved pretty enthusiastically about his take on the Kate Bush songbook back in the early days of this site, and even today, that album makes me appreciate aspects of Bush’s music that I hadn’t previously. On his current collaboration with pianist Julia Hülsmann, they’ve got a Kurt Weill theme going. And much like his Kate Bush project, the final result of Clear Midnight is one in which the listener isn’t required to be versed in the source material to get full enjoyment out of the recording. This is a blissfully gorgeous album, and, when it all shakes out, that’s all that really matters.
This is music that casts the enchantment of moonlight on a dark eve, and possesses both its strangely comforting warmth and its striking tranquility. Hülsmann’s quartet is comprised of trumpeter Tom Arthurs, bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinich Kobberling, and their presence is that of the enveloping darkness and provides even greater brilliance to Bleckmann & Hülsmann’s moonlight.
Tim Berne’s Snakeoil – You’ve Been Watching Me
Based on recent history, it’s pretty easy to assume that ECM Records is all about peaceful ambiance and undisturbed serenity. However, going back in history to the label’s birth, that definitely wasn’t the case, and the passing of time up until the turn of the century, ECM continued to spend worthwhile time releasing albums that kicked up some dirt. Alto saxophonist Berne’s works on ECM honors those traditions in spirit by submitting his own personal sound to the present and future of that particular lineage.
Berne typically shows flashes of sharp teeth and betrays no hesitation to let ’em sink in deep. His newest, however, is far more approachable due to some powerfully melodic passages that envelop this unconventional music. The Snakeoil ensemble consists of Oscar Noriega doubling up on bass and b-flat clarinets, Ryan Ferreira on both acoustic & electric guitars, pianist Matt Mitchell also getting in some well-placed electronics and drummer Ches Smith on a variety of extra percussion.
You’ve Been Watching Me has got an absolutely magnetic personality. It’s the kind of thing that can be surprisingly addictive.
Lumen Drones – Lumen Drones
This one actually came out at the tail-end of 2014, and I’m kind of surprised the self-titled Lumen Drones didn’t get its hooks into me at the time. Lumen Drones is the trio of Nils Økland on fiddles, Per Steinar Lie on guitars and Ørjan Haaland on drums. It’s a mix of drone rock and ambient folk. For you indie rock fans out there, it’s comparable in many ways to the Dirty Three outfit.
Melodic development often begins more with a seed than a statement, and it blossoms way out far onto the horizon line without looking back. The rhythmic attack is often focused with a driven determination. Plenty of lovely moments that reveal themselves at high rates of speed. A great album when you want something intense that makes you feel alive, but not something so aggressive that it grabs you by the throat and screams YOU ARE ALIVE right in your face. P.S. By point of comparison, Økland also lends his fiddle to the ambient drone duo 1982, and its no less resonant for its serenity.
Here’s a nifty video that incorporates the album track “Ira Furore” into it.