Jan Garbarek is, of course, one of ECM’s longest standing composers and saxophonists, yet he is first and foremost a spectacular improviser who often manages to reach farther than (I imagine) even his own expectations in touching new melodic concepts. Paired with the Spheres-like church organ of Kjell Johnsen, he plumbs the depths of spiritual and physical awareness in a way that few of his albums have since. Here more than anywhere else, he shapes reverberation into its own spiritualism, exploring every curve of his surrounding architecture, every carved piece of wood and masonry.
The combination of spoken words and musical improvisations may bring up associations with the Beat poets and some of their free jazz experiments, but that is far from the effect Paul Griffiths and Frances-Marie Uitti achieve in There Is Still Time, their 2004 release in ECM's New Series. These scenes for speaking voice and cello have a bleak existential quality that moves them into a different direction and are perhaps more like the spare monologs of Samuel Beckett than anything else. Griffiths' haltingly paced recitations of his austere, introspective texts is by turns fragile, morose, excited, and agonized – not exactly a theatrical performance, but certainly dramatic in its intensity and haunting in its suggestiveness.
Dino Saluzzi’s new music for orchestra and soloists characteristically glides through the borders between the idioms. A Saluzzi composition can, from one minute to the next, be “serious”, “popular”, “traditional”, “experimental, even if these style divisions barely exist for a bandoneonist who prefers to see his work as “simply an expression of innocence”. “El Encuentro” was recorded live in Amsterdam with the Metropole Orchestra in February 2009 and is issued in time for Dino’s 75th birthday in May.
The ECM New Series debut of Israeli composer Gideon Lewensohn, 'Odradek' is comprised entirely of premiere recordings. Lewensohn is increasingly recognised as one of the freshest voices in contemporary music and the title piece from this album, the 'Odradek Quartet' won First Prize in the International Competition of the Italian Academy of Arts and Letters. Lewensohn's music defies easy categorisation. It is by turns, playful, serious, ironic, caustic, beautiful. The composer defines his own role as that of a commentator on culture - sometimes from a specifically Jewish perspective - and the range of musical-historical references in the work is vast. In his compositions, Lewnsohn pays tribute to Kurtág, Kancheli, Lutoslawski, Shostakovich, Bartók, Mahler, Rochberg, the Hilliard Ensemble, ragtime composer Scott Joplin and many others.
Thanks in no small part to ECM founder Manfred Eicher's patience and indulgence, here we have another of Keith Jarrett's myriad of "special projects" – two CDs of music recorded on a clavichord. This carries Jarrett's anti-electric crusade to a real extreme, the clavichord being a keyboard from J.S. Bach's day, obsolete for over 200 years. The instrument produces a gentle pinging sound like a harpsichord crossed with a zither (the amplified Hohner Clavinet is the closest sound in our time), and Jarrett occasionally tries to stretch the instrument's limited possibilities, hammering percussively on the close-miked strings. Yet for the most part, Jarrett reins in his world-class technique in order to make unpretentiously minimal music on this ancient keyboard. Some of it sounds like folk music, some like new age contemplation, there are convincing neo-baroque musings, and a few of these untitled though numbered selections kick into a higher gear. Sometimes this music is charming; a lot of the time, it gets wearisome. But hey, they also laughed when Keith started putting out massive sets of solo piano…
Sofia Gubaidulina is one of the originals of our era. A new release comes to us from ECM this week, confirming and extending that idea. Canticle of the Sun (ECM New Series) presents the title work as performed by the Riga Chamber Choir, Maris Sirmais conducting, with Nicolas Altstaedt as cello soloist plus two percussion and celesta. The disk also features the world premiere recording of "The Lyre of Orpheus" with Gidon Kremer as violin soloist, Marta Sudraba, cello soloist and the Kremerata Baltica.
After important contributions to Heinz Holliger’s “Romancendres” and acclaimed performance, with Carolin Widmann, of Schumann’s Violin Sonatas, here is the first New Series solo recording from Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon. It is a recital that draws the listener in from the first moments – beginning with the dark, brooding language of Alban’s Berg’s Piano Sonata Op. 1, shaped in the shadow of Schoenberg, and continuing into the nebulous regions of Janáček’s impressionistic and near-contemporaneous “In the mists”, finally emerging into the clear light of Liszt’s immense - and immensely-influential - B-minor Sonata.
Pianist Vijay Iyer's fifth album for ECM, 2017's fiery sextet date Far from Over, follows his superb 2016 collaboration with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke. Where that album found Iyer and Smith engaged in a deeply interconnected series of often abstract chamber improvisations, here we find him exploding outward, but with no less interconnectedness between him and his bandmates.
Keith Jarrett weaves a special kind of spell in his improvisations, one somehow connected to a greater humanity, for though the music and playing are ethereal, one is never mistaken that they are anything but earthly. Jarrett is not a mere vessel, but a creative force of flesh and bone whose fingers speak in ways we can only understand without words. This live recording from Tokyo’s Suntory Hall expands that flesh, and feels so intimate it might as well have grown away from others in the cave of his private studio.
György Kurtág Jr., son of the great Hungarian composer, has long been developing his own electronic music. In this unusual project, fellow composer László Hortobágyi integrates Kurtág themes into his own arrangements in a recording that celebrates a long friendship. “This is,” say the group members, “a Hortobágyi album about Kurtág,” as well as “an invitation to discover a new sphere of music”. Drifting ambient washes of synthesized sound, near-subliminal bass, collages of subtle colours and sudden eruptions are but part of the story. An intriguing addition to ECM’s growing catalogue of electronica for discerning listeners.