Posts Tagged “ECM Records”


Mats Eilertsen


ECM Records CD

Eirik Hegdal, saxophones/clarinettes; Trygve Seim, saxophones; Thomas T Dahl, guitar; Rob Waring, vibraphone/marimba; Harmen Fraanje, piano/fender rhodes; Olavi Louhivuori, drums; Mats Eilertsen, bass

In his debut as a leader on ECM, Rubicon, bassist Mats Eilertsen fronts a formidable septet of musicians with whom he has collaborated on many previous sessions. To be fair, many of the tracks on Rubicon feature subsets of the larger group, but the overall musical effect is filled with fascinating textures regardless. Apart from a single tune by pianist Harmen Fraanje and a group-composed piece, the compositions here are all by Eilertsen. He proves to be as adept a creator as he is a performer.

It is particularly interesting to hear Eilertsen interact with the comping instruments, Thomas T. Dahl’s guitar, Rob Waring’s vibraphone and marimba, and Fraanje’s piano and Fender Rhodes. There is a sense in which the bass’s walking lines set up another whole layer of harmony, allowing chordal interjections to be interposed with linear excursions by all three aforementioned players. This sense of “walking harmony” and the rhythmically propulsive quality in Eilertsen’s playing is equally savory when juxtaposed against the playing of the two saxophonists on the date, Eirik Hegdal and Trygve Seim. Seim is well known to ECM listeners; Hegdal makes his debut. The enveloping quality of their duets is  stirring and it makes for formidable counterpoint against the rhythm section.


photo: André Løyning

Album opener “Canto” begins with a winds cadenza, accompanied by marimba, after which Eilertsen makes his presence known and Fraanje supplies a wistful solo. Eilertsen’s subsequent solo is pristine in its lyricism and drummer Olavi Louhivuori  provides subtle interjections. “March” may be a slow-paced composition, but it has an adroit buildup and memorable melodic material. Waring’s vibraphone playing is marvelous. “Lago” begins sparely, with a duet between Fraanje and Eilertsen that only gradually cedes some territory to the saxophone. Fraanje shapes his solo with technical poise and a keen sense of pacing, later further developing its melodic material alongside the saxophones.

“Wood and Water,” co-composed by Eilertsen with Waring and Hegdal, features the latter musician playing clarinet. It begins misterioso, but in two minutes travels to considerably more jocular terrain. Short and sweet, but one wishes this trio played on longer. More expansive is album standout “September” which is given its motor by a riff first stated in the vibraphone and then taken over by the bass. The vibraphone takes on a more linear role, joined by saxophone and guitar on overlapping melodies. Both guitar and vibraphone are given ample room to solo and eventually are joined in ensemble passages by the saxophone. All of this builds to the piece’s climax, followed by a denouement that returns the proceedings to the simple ostinato riff from the opening in the vibraphone, gently coaxed to its conclusion by the other ensemble members. Whether the band is given room to develop material or are directed to take a more aphoristic collective approach, Eilertsen’s Rubicon has many moments of noteworthy music-making.



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2441 X

Amores Pasados

John Potter, voice; Anna Maria Friman, voice and Hardanger fiddle; Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman, lutes

ECM New Series 2441 CD





John Potter is best known for his work with the recently disbanded Hilliard Ensemble (writing recently disbanded for that estimable group is saddening indeed). But he has kept an active profile as a soloist as well. On the ECM label, he has focused on lute songs, with albums devoted to the Dowland Project. Anna Maria Friman is a member of Trio Medieval, who also record on ECM. They are joined by lutenists Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman on Amores Pasados, a most imaginative project. The central repertoire are lute songs written by rock musicians: John Paul Jones (of Led Zeppelin), Tony Banks (of Genesis), and Sting. Potter and company have also included selections by 16th century composer Picforth and by John Campion, a 17th century composer famed for his lute songs. Rounding out the recording are Potter and company’s arrangements of songs by early Twentieth composers and compatriots E.J. Moeran and Peter Warlock.


For those who misread this as one of too many “casual” crossover projects, don’t forget the background of the pop musicians involved. Tony Banks played 12-string guitar on the early Genesis albums, Sting has recorded an entire album of songs by John Dowland and Robert Johnson, and John Paul Jones is a versatile and formidable musician. This is in part why the results of this collaboration are so successful. The other factor, of course, are the performances. Whether in tuning the achingly beautiful close part harmonies in Jones’s No Dormia or navigating the harmonic and rhythmic shifts found in abundance in Banks’s “The Cypress Curtain of the Night,” Potter, Friman, and their lutenist colleagues prove skilful and sympathetic collaborators. They make no pretense to be pop singers, performing with classically trained singers’ diction and tone. The way they manage to meet these songs in the middle is rhythm and phrasing: they readily adapt to the syncopation that is ubiquitous in pop songs and amply present in those collected here.


With material so uniformly strong, it is difficult to call out favorites. However, Sting clearly picked up a great deal about ayres when recording The Labyrinth. His “Bury me deep in the greenwood” could pass for a song by one of Dowland’s contemporaries: it is quite stirring. I would love to have a crack at the sheet music – even if I had to negotiate lute tablature!


-Christian Carey

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Erkki-Sven Tüür
ECM Records New Series 2040 CD

In his recent music, Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür has dispensed with some of the polystylistic juxtapositions of his earlier works in favor of a methodical, mathematically devised approach he calls “vectorial writing.” While this approach does seem to create a more unified sensibility to his harmonic language, the results never seem mechanical. Rather, Tüür’s recent music is capable of a passionate immediacy that’s often quite refreshing. Yet at the same time, he’s unafraid of employing swaths of dissonance and creating intricate formal designs.

Strata, Tüür’s Sixth Symphony, is an intense work, brimming with dynamic power. Emerging from icy verticals and bustling counterpoint are myriad swells of knotty cluster chords and fierce, angular melodies, which gradually build to explosive orchestral climaxes. Strict constructionists may quibble with calling a single-movement work a symphony; but then again, they’d have to argue with Lutoslawski on that score too! Strata certainly tends to favor the heft and developmental formal trajectory of a large-scale symphonic work rather than the episodic/programmatic elements of a tone poem. In a confident and detailed performance, the Nordic Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Anu Tali, makes a strong impression here in their debut for the ECM imprint.

Strata is paired with Noesis, a double concerto for the sibling duo of violinist Carolin Widmann and clarinetist Jörg Widmann. Their solo lines emerge from a slowly evolving, prevailingly ominous orchestral backdrop, which is only occasionally brightened by shimmering chords from pitched percussion. The Widmanns are given numerous dovetailing duets and ebullient solo turns which contrast with their stark accompaniment. Eventually, the orchestra gives chase, adding propulsive countermelodies, jagged repeated string chords, sustained dissonant wind clusters, and eruptive brass and drums to the proceedings. Once again, Tüür has fashioned a labyrinthine journey in a single formidable and fascinating movement. Recommended.

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Henri Dutilleux: D’ombre et de silence
Robert Levin, piano
Ya-Fei Chuang, piano
ECM New Series CD 2105

Born in 1916, Henri Dutilleux remains one of France’s most important living composers. In the first recording to feature his work on the ECM imprint, pianists Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang tackle his piano music for both one and two pianos. The works collected here are an eloquent overview of Dutilleux’s gradual refinement of his musical language.

His early Sonate (1946-8) is perhaps best described as post-Impressionist, inhabiting the lush yet fluid world of Ravel and Debussy with several knowing glances at the rhythmic vitality of Francis Poulenc. Already by 1950, Dutilleux is exploring birdsong in a sympathetic manner to Oliver Messiaen in the brief but charming “Blackbird.” Conversely 1976’s Figures de résonances demonstrates an awareness for innovations by the Postwar avant-garde. This work, which features both pianists, is a stirring essay in sostenuto verticals, with dramatic outbursts followed by an intricate unfolding of reverberating overtones. A collection of preludes from the 1970s and 80s, as well as 1981’s Petit air à dormir debout distill this intricate vocabulary into limpid miniatures. The preludes combine moments of exquisitely shaded delicacy with ferocious outbursts.

With ardent performances and captivating sound throughout, D’ombre et de silence serves as an excellent introduction to this talented elder statesman’s music.

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