Apr 10 2018
We really need to have a talk about ECM Records.
John Surman – Invisible Threads
I am convinced that John Surman lives somewhere the sun never quite breaches the horizon, where the soft glow of twilight forever hangs just tantalizingly out of darkness’s reach. Time and again, the saxophonist captures the magnetic tranquility of those moments between nighttime’s end and daybreak’s release… where the hush settled over the earth is accompanied by the anticipation of those sitting awake and waiting for the change into day. Surman’s latest is arguably his loveliest synthesis of those moments to date. Joined by pianist Nelson Ayres and vibraphonist Rob Waring, the saxophonist rolls out variations on peacefulness. Sometimes it possesses the vibrant ambiguity of dreams, sometimes it twitters with the pulsating light of a night full of stars, and then there’s those moments that sink into a simple melodic image and each of its facets, as if exploring the individual droplets of waves crashing the shore. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard all year.
Bobo Stenson Trio – Contra La Indecisió
Look, I get the appeal of a Bobo Stenson recording, even if I don’t much feel it myself. There’s something to the way the pianist lulls you into drowsiness with the sparsest outline of melody and then slowly pulls back the shades to reveal the liveliness at the heart of the piece. For me personally, the atmosphere just gets too thick, and when a few fireworks are allowed to explode, the brilliance isn’t able to escape the gravitational pull of the torpor that came before. But I can see how that approach could develop a following. Hell, the dreariness of rain season can be oppressive without relinquishing its beauty. Stenson exists in that convergence. If kicking back on a peaceful evening and drifting off to the sounds of previous Stenson releases is something that rocks your world, you’re gonna enjoy adding his latest to your collection. Stenson is joined by double bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Jon Fält.
Andy Sheppard Quartet – Romaria
I’m liking this collaboration between Andy Sheppard and Eivind Aarset. Sheppard has a touch on saxophone that provides acute reminders that the beauty of the sunrise is countered by its potential to burn. So many of his works hints at a tranquility before surging up with a searing melodic heat. Guitarist Eivind Aarset is responsible for some of the most atmospheric music this side of an Arve Henriksen recording, and while he’s certainly capable of generating plenty of heat all his own, it tends to possesses an ethereal presence. Sheppard and Aarset meet each other half way, and how they temper one another’s tendencies toward either extreme really brings out their best qualities. There’s a consensual embrace of perspectives that allows the music on their latest to really settle in and breathe. That said, it would be a mistake to overlook the contributions of bassist Michel Benita and drummer Seb Rochford on this enjoyable recording. Both Benita and Rochford have a proven track record working with mediums where cinematic atmosphere and nuanced lyricism are best able to flourish, where melodies are adaptable to either drifting aimlessly or following a specific arc. The duo’s ongoing collaboration with Sheppard continues to pay dividends. I’ve always been partial to Sheppard’s work, but I’m really enjoying this divergence.
Shinya Fukumori Trio – For 2 Akis
This is one of those albums that starts out as a whisper… the rustle of drums, the sigh of saxophone, some raindrops on piano… and so strongly is it all woven together, that even when the temperature rises upward, the peacefulness of that opening whisper is the guiding force from first note to last. Much of this winning quality can be attributed to the gorgeous craftsmanship applied to the melodies, where clarity rings loud and clear with their introduction so that any amount of exploring where the melody might go never allows the memory of what it once was to fade. Drummer Shinya Fukumori, tenor saxophonist Matthieu Bordenave and pianist Walter Lang have put together a flawless performance on For 2 Akis. This is the kind of gem that marks the modern-era ECM Records catalog… where tranquility reigns supreme, even when the intensity ratchets up to levels that would not seem conducive to calming effects. Just a beautiful album. (Also, a very cool video to accompany it.)
Kit Downes – Obsidian
I’ve really got to give ECM Records credit for signing Kit Downes to put something down from his organ explorations. The pianist has been doing this organ-saxophone duo with Tom Challenger over the last handful of years, as well as his Tricko Tareco duo with cellist Lucy Railton. It’s really quite different, especially in the context of his other projects: Albums where Downes is the session leader, his contributions to The Golden Age of Steam, Threads Orchestra, Troyka, and as part of Thomas Strønen’s Time Is A Blind Guide ensemble. For this session, Downes hits up some churches in London and Suffolk and makes use of their organs and their acoustics for some dramatic effects. It’s all solo, except for one piece that Challenger sits in on. I go back and forth on this recording. I find it works best first thing in the morning, myself. In any event, I wanted to get a quick mention in about this recording. I think it’s pretty cool for ECM to be featuring one of the new generation on a project that doesn’t take a conventional path.