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July 5 , 2013

Reviews of the Week

British and German reactions on the music of Dobrinka Tabakova as recorded on String Paths

Bulgarian-born composer Dobrinka Tabakova first came to the attention of ECM founder and producer Manfred Eicher through the Lockenhaus Festival, a source of inspiration for many of the ECM New Series releases involving both composers and performers. On that occasion he heard violist Maxim Rysanov as soloist in a performance of ‘Suite in the Old Style’, scored for viola, harpsichord, and strings and one of three suites Tabakova had composed for Rysanov. Born in 1980, Tabakova is very much a 21st-century composer, familiar with the broad spectrum of genres explored by composers during the twentieth century without feeling any major bond to any of them (either the genres or the composers).
It should be no surprise that this suite is, at least in part, a reflection on Alfred Schnittke. Tabakova came to know Rysanov through his performances of Schnittke’s viola concerto; and he also performed his ‘Suite in the Old Style’ on viola, rather than on violin, for which it was scored. However, while Schnittke’s view of the past tended to be jaundiced (when not outright cynical), Tabakova was also influenced by the more sensitive retrospection of Ottorino Respighi, as in his three suites of ‘ancient airs and dances’. She has described those suites as ‘conversations’ with the past; and she conceived her own suite as a similar ‘conversation’ with Jean-Philippe Rameau. Listeners familiar with Rameau’s style will now have no trouble eavesdropping on this conversation with the release (earlier this month) of ‘String Paths’, Tabakova’s debut recording for ECM New Series, in which Rysanov serves as both soloist and conductor of the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra.
Rysanov also conducts that ensemble in a performance of a cello concerto, which Tabakova composed for Kristina Blaumane, Principal Cello with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Like the suite, this concerto radiates with positive energy, even to the extent that the ‘tempo marking’ for the last of the three movements is ‘Radiant’, complementing the ‘Turbulent’ opening movement and the intervening movement, marked as ‘Longing’. Once again the listener may well approach this as another dialog composition, although in this case the dialog is between composer and soloist.
[...] The album concludes with a single-movement string septet, entitled ‘Such Different Paths’ and scored for pairs of violins (Janine Jansen and Julia-Maria Kretz), violas (Amihai Grosz and Rysanov), and cellos (Torleif Thedéen and Boris Andrianov), along with a bass (Stacey Watton). This was composed for Jansen, whose own approach to the programming of chamber music often involves that same ‘conversation’ between past and present that has occupied Tabakova’s attention. In ‘Such Different Paths’ the melodic material progresses from the upper register instruments to the lower strings, while the ‘elevation’ of the first violin alludes to the rising solo passages for violin in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending’. This new release thus presents Tabakova to the community of serious listeners as a composer very much of the current century but with a clear understanding of the past and the potential influences that reside there.
Stephen Smoliar, Examiner.com

Am besten mit dem guten Schluss beginnen und das fünfte Stück zuerst hören: Dobrinka Tabakovas neue CD ‚String Paths’ (ECM) endet mit der Komposition ‚Such different paths’, das die Weltklasse-Geigerin Janine Jansen und ihr Kammerensemble mit einer Verve durchbrausen, wie man es sich nur wünschen kann. So muss das klingen, wenn in dieser Komposition Elemente bulgarischer Volksmusik als vibrierende Melodiegeber auf splitternde Dissonanzen treffen. Ein kompaktes Stück, melodisch eingängig und typisch für Tabakovas Komponierstil. Die urwüchsige Kraft darin reißt Interpreten und Hörer mit. Ein ebenso erfreulicher wie erwartbarer Effekt, denn Janine Jansen und Spectrum Concerts Berlin sind Widmungsträger des 16-minütigen Werkes. Das siebenköpfige Ensemble entfacht bei den im Kern schlichten Melodien und riff-artigen Themen fahl leuchtendes Feuer, um auf den im Titel beschworenen verschlungenen Wegen ins Ziel zu tanzen. Mit gerade mal 33 Jahren hat Dobrinka Tabakova noch das forsche Temperament der Jugend, verbindet es jedoch mit konzentriertem Stilwillen. Diese Qualitäten prägen auch die übrigen vier Stücke des Albums.
Werner Theurich, Spiegel online


German classical music magazine Concerti on the recording of Morton Feldman's Violin and Orchestra by Carolin Widmann and the hr-Sinfonieorchestra

Musik aus der Stille für die Stille. Feldmans ‚Violin and Orchestra’ ist ein dünnes, kostbares Netz aus Klängen, jede Figur zählt, jeder Ton. Kein Wunder, dass der US-Komponist dem Kollegen Stockhausen auf dessen Frage nach dem Geheimnis seiner Musik schlicht beschied: ‚Don’t push the sounds.’ Was auch Carolin Widmann und das hr-Sinfonieorchester unter Emilio Pomarico tunlichst vermeiden – und dadurch eine unglaubliche Spannung und Dichte entstehen lassen, karg in den Farben, doch derart konzentriert, dass diese in ihrer nackten Schmucklosigkeit eine ganz eigen(willig)e Schönheit entfalten.
Christoph Forsthoff, Concerti


British website Marlbank on The Dowland Project's Night Sessions

The main body of the album dates to a post-midnight session recorded after the music for [the album] ‘Care-charming Sleep’ had been completed. Potter quotes producer Manfred Eicher: ‘Let’s go back into the church and record some more’, and that’s what they did. Whether notated or improvised the sound of the ensemble meets somewhere mysteriously in the middle on ‘Night Sessions’, an album that conjures up a very distinctive medieval atmosphere with an internal logic of its own. Yet on a track such as ‘Swart mekerd smethes’ where the interplay resembles free improv, the link between past and present is strikingly obvious.
Stephen Graham, Marlbank


Transatlantic acclaim for Gary Peacock and Marilyn Crispell's duo recording Azure

Ein Duo verlangt die Fähigkeit zur Zwiesprache. Diese Fähigkeit leben die Duopartner Marilyn Crispell und Gary Peacock vorbildlich aus. Im Verbund mit dem unlängst verstorbenen Schlagzeuger Paul Motian haben die Pianistin und der Kontrabassist bereits den Klassiker ‚Amarillys’ eingespielt, nun breiten sie vorzugsweise lyrisch-abstrakte Stimmungen aus. Stimmungen, die sowohl Raum für Soloausflüge als auch für Hand-in-Hand-Gänge lassen. Zu einem soliden Preis erhält man demnach eine unvergleichliche Duo-Session sowie zwei umfangreiche Einzelporträts profilierter Einzelgänger. Während Crispell sparsam wogende Akkorde ausstreut, über einen äusserst filigranen und eher sanften Anschlag verfügt, wirkt Peacock, wenngleich 78 Jahre alt, sehr agil: er treibt voran, findet Kammern und Winkel, die allzeit der Abwege lohnen. Ein schlanker Ton zeichnet sein Spiel aus, ein stets relevanter Nachklang, eine Virtuosität, die nie ausgestellt daherkommt. Eine Zwiesprache von profunder Brillanz kommt da wie von selbst zustande.
Adam Olschewski, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

The duo opens with Crispell's aptly named ‘Patterns’, its series of knotty thematic constructs played with temporal flexibility by the pianist (in impressive unison, with both hands), acting as a foundation for some jerky interactions with Peacock, but four songs later her ‘Waltz After Dave M’ explores melody in a most personal way; more clearly structured, it shows Crispell and Peacock at their most eminently lyrical and unashamedly beautiful. Peacock's tone is warmer than usual, and on his abstract ‘Puppets’, he delivers a rare arco solo, reaching for the outer edges and pushing through them to a more rarefied space; still, as esoteric as his playing might seem, there's always an inner logic and unerring focus. Peacock returns to pizzicato on the closing title track, one of three completely free improvisations. Paradoxical in its combination of hovering stasis and forward motion, it feels both as structured and thoroughly open as all of ‘Azure's eleven tracks. A long time coming, ‘Azure’ demonstrates, with pristine clarity and utter transparency, a unique partnership now finally unveiled for a larger audience on the year's most superb—and revealing—duo recording.
John Kelman, All About Jazz


Jazz Journal on Somewhere by Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette

Superbly recorded, it’s an especially attractive and enjoyable set, which – after limpid, sparely rendered musings of the aptly titled solo Jarrett opener – freshens both the sophistication of post-bop blues-kicked swing (Davis’s ‘Solar’) and the melodic and harmonic depths of a widely conceived and diversely grooved Americana. [...] Featuring superlative playing throughout what is perhaps the best balanced of all the sets this trio has recorded live, this anniversary disc offers unalloyed pleasure, from first note to last.
Michael Tucker, Jazz Journal


Lucian Ban and Mat Maneri's Transylvanian Concert is reviewed on German nationwide radio Deutschlandfunk

Zwei seelenverwandte Musiker verbinden eine alte Welt des Balkans mit einem stets archaisch anmutendem Jazz. Klingen dabei mal absolut zeitgenössisch, dann wieder wie aus einer versunkenen Welt. Der eine, Lucian Ban, wuchs dort auf, wo Bela Bartok die folkloristischen Traditionen Rumäniens erkundete, Jahrzehnte später zog es ihn nach New York. Der andere, Mat Maneri, bewegt sich genauso souverän zwischen Jazz und Zeitgenössischer Klassik; Mat Maneris reichhaltiges Spiel in dunkleren Tonlagen kann subtil und unterschwellig alte Gesänge aus dem östlichen Europa genauso anklingen lassen, wie er dem Gospel ‚Nobody Knows the trouble i've seen’ unerhörte Abgründe entlockt. Da klingen zudem und fast beiläufig, während man einmal gar Regen auf das Dach der Konzerthalle fallen hört, für Sekunden Themen alter amerikanischer Jazzweisen an, um sich dann wieder, fast geisterhaft, in Luft aufzulösen. Dann wieder bewegt sich das Duo in Sphären, wo alle vertrauten Insignien fehlen. Das Unheimliche bleibt unberechenbar, in diesem transylvanischen Konzert.
Michael Engelbrecht, Deutschlandfunk


Stereophile's Thomas Conrad on City Of Broken Dreams by the Giovanni Guidi Trio

Until now, Guidi has been an enfant terrible of the piano, exploding Ornette Coleman and Radiohead into jagged fragments, smashing keys with the flats of his hands in wild tantrums. On his new album he has turned inward. Nine originals are proffered like a casting of runes. Guidi follows tides of mood. His lyricism is rapt, though still tense with implicit energy. [...] It would be difficult to overstate the importance of bassist Thomas Morgan to the poetry and power of this album. He never solos and never stops soloing. His intricate, haunting lines are a continuous, revelatory second perspetive on the elusive truth Guidi seeks. ECM has had two great Italian pianists, Stefano Bollani and Stefano Battaglia. Now they have three.
Thomas Conrad, Stereophile


English weekly The Independent on Sunday reviews Terje Rypdal's Melodic Warrior

The two superb orchestral pieces here suggest that Rypdal really needs to be seen as a composer. Commissioned by the Hilliard Ensemble, with Bruckner Orchester Linz conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, ‘Melodic Warrior’ sets native American poetry (with a nod to Jimi Hendrix and his stated desire to ‘kiss the sky’), to startingly shamanic soundscapes.
P.J., The Independent on Sunday


Chants by the Craig Taborn Trio impresses British reviewers

Although the trio has been in existence for some eight years in total, this is actually the first recording by the trio in New York and it is an all original set. If at times the structures are quite complex and dense and not immediately acceesible, there is nonethless a warm intimacy to the album as a whole that bodes well for the future and this is exemplified on the opener ‘Saints’ which has a lovely crispness to the drum beats. An irresistably catchy and repetitive piano vamp on ‘Beat the ground’ builds into a Bach-like groove and this is performed at a fast pace throughout. For an example of fine piano trio interplay, the highly rhythmic pattern of ‘Hot blood’ stands out where piano and drums create a collective riff. Where the trio really excel is on the ballads such as ‘In chant’ and on this gentle number the duet intro then affords bassist Morgan to focus on a solo while Taborn delicately comps. The piece has a slightly menacing edge to it and yet succeeds in being strangely reposing at the same time. Cleaver shines with some nifty brush work on the minimalist number ‘Cracking hearts’.
Tim Stenhouse, UK Vibe

As a solo artist, Taborn made an acclaimed debut on ECM with the piano Album ‘Avening Angel’ in 2011. This new cd is the debut album for his trio, with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver, though they have been very active as a musical unit for eight years. Taborn and Cleaver, in particular go back a long way, and they made their debuts on the ECM label as members of Roscoe Mittchell’s Note Factory. Taborn’s skills as a free improviser are well known, but for all its musical complexity ‘Chants’ is an album distinguished by a strong melodic force and pulsing rhythms. All the compositions are Taborn’s, but as a creative work ‘Chants’ is very much a joint achievement by all members of the trio. Compelling.
John Watson, Jazz Camera


UK website The Jazz Breakfast on the box set Selected Signs - Music Selected for the exhibtion ECM - A Cultural Archaeology at Haus der Kunst Munich'

If we’ve missed the exhibition in Munich, the next best thing is this lovely white box of six discs [...] which contains the music the visitors could listen to on headphones. So what do we get on these six discs. Well, a shrewdly compiled trip through ECM’s back catalogue, moving seamlessly from classical to jazz to world and folk, and providing not just individual delights but also the joys of juxtaposition. So some Steve Reich moves to Arvo Pärt and so on to György Kurtág and then to J.S. Bach and then to Tigran Mansurian. And that’s just a part of disc II. [...] Even if you have shelf loads of ECM discs there is still a good reason to own this extraordinary box set and that is to have your very own ECM-determined DJ to put it all together in new and beguiling ways.
Peter Bacon, The Jazz Breakfast