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October 18 , 2013

Reviews of the Week

A German reviewer is impressed by András Schiff’s choice of period instruments as well as his interpretive approach on the pianist’s recording of the Diabelli Variationen by Ludwig van Beethoven

Das Ergebnis ist ein höchst bedenkenswertes Hörexperiment und ein starkes Plädoyer wider die, wie Schiff im Hinblick auf die heutige Steinway-Dominanz meint, ‘unglückliche Globalisierung in der Klaviermusik’ unserer Tage. […] Was zumindest der semi-historischen Bechstein-Aufnahme im Vergleich mit der Katalogkonkurrenz einen Spitzenplatz sichert, ist die musterhaft genaue, individuelle Spielmanieren ausklammernde Textrealisierung in Verbindung mit einem ausgewogenen und erfüllten Musizieren, das einen goldenen Mittelweg zwischen Pathos und Philologie hält. Auch ein Vergleich mit der 2007 im Rahmen seines Beethoven-Zyklus für ECM entstandenen Aufzeichnung des op 111 bestätigt den neuen Zuwachs an harmonischer Geschlossenheit im Spiel Schiffs.
Ingo Harden, Fono Forum

UK classical music magazine Gramophone on Michelle Makarski and Keiths Jarrett’s recording of Six Sonatas for Violin and Piano by Johann Sebastian Bach

Keith Jarrett long ago established that he does not come to Bach with any kind of agenda other than to represent the music as unpretentiously and respectfully as he can. His is not jazzman’s Bach; indeed he has said that Bach (which he learnt to play before he took up jazz) is for him a release, an opportunity to worry less about projecting his own personality than that of the composer. The evidence of this recording of Bach’s six wondrous sonatas for keyboard and violin, in which he is joined by Michelle Makarski, the American violinist with whom he has worked before on pieces of his own, is that nothing has changed in his attitude. Thre is nothing gimmicky here: from Jarrett come soft hands producing clear textures, well-judged tempi and precise but never fussy articulation; from Makarski stylish and musical playing, Baroque in its low vibrato and relaxed tone but with still a touch of ‘modern’ sweetness to the sound. The air of two fine and technically well-equipped musicians happy to give themselves up to music which is more than capable of speaking for itself is near-total: slow movements are quietly dignified [...] while fast ones are allowed to build impressive heads of steam out of their own resources with perfect naturalness. [...] for its cool beauty and unaffected honesty, this recording is one that will be very easy to live with.
Lindsay Kemp, Gramophone

Acclaim from England and Germany for Shadow Man, the new album by Tim Berne’s Snakeoil

Composer-saxophonist Tim Berne’s acoustic quartet Snakeoil was greeted with almost universal praise for the self-titled release of their first album in 2012. With such an enthusiastic reception of the debut album, the second album needed to rise to the enormous expectations—and it has done just that. It has been said that ‘Snakeoil is a band that loves to rehearse, developing and honing Berne’s exacting compositions to the point of second nature.’ For musicians such as Berne (alto saxophone), Oscar Noriega (clarinet and bass clarinet), Matt Mitchell (piano, keyboards) and Ches Smith (drums, vibes and percussion), perfection is not enough; it must be perfection-at-ease. It is exactitude and precision that has disciplined to the point where freedom and improvisation can be trusted. [...] With that trust, Berne can compose for his fellow musicians with complete confidence and no restrictions. Those compositions are excruciating in their demand but these four have taken complete ownership of the pieces.
Travis Rogers, Jazz Times

Verblüffend, wie dieses Quartett frei improvisierte und streng durchkomponierte Passagen, hysterische Lärmattacken und lyrische Klangflächen so organisch verbindet, dass auch längere Stücke nie an Spannung verlieren.
Bernhard Jugel, B5 aktuell

More international reviews applaud the interplay of Ralph Towner, Wolfgang Muthspiel and Slava Grigoryan on Travel Guide

Since they first made festival appearances together in 2005 and recorded ‘From a Dream’ in 2009, the guitar trio of American Ralph Towner, Austrian Wolfgang Muthspiel, and Kazhak Slava Grigoryan, has shown a remarkable sense of discipline, subtlety, and balance. ‘Travel Guide’ is the occasional group's debut for ECM. Its ten tunes were written by either Muthspiel or Towner. The tonal qualities on all of these tracks are beautifully nuanced: Muthspiel plays electric guitar, Towner classical and 12-string, and Grigoryan classical and baritone guitars. These compositions weren't written for these players to showcase their solo chops, but rather as songs with limited but impeccable improvisation. [...]. ‘Travel Guide’ is an understated, uncluttered gem of virtuosity and composition. The unselfish sense of deference between these players reveals not only their comfort with one another, but the collective confidence of a uniquely voiced, developing group.
Thom Jurek, All Music.Com

Filigrane, funkelnde, teils kontrapunktische Stücke von Towner und Muthspiel. Für Gitarrengourmets.
Berthold Klostermann, Fono Forum

British and German critics welcome Ralph Alessi’s first ECM-album as a leader Baida

Now comes an ECM debut album by Alessi which is really quite breathtaking: the music is vibrant, powerfully emotional and establishes beyond doubt that the trumpeter is a really compelling improviser. He has an all-star band on this recording, too: pianist Jason Moran, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Nasheet Waits. All the pieces are by Alessi [...] There’s a great variety thoughout the album, and every track is a gem.
John Watson, Jazz Camera

Auf ‘Baida’, seinem Debütalbum für ECM, klingt er schlichtweg spektakulär: mit bestechender Präzision, brillanter Improvisationskraft und bezwingender Phrasierungsfantasie. […] Mit einer grandiosen Band [..] streift Alessi durch eine Vielzahl von Stilen und Stimmungen; freie Schwebeballaden fulminante Free-Ausbrüche, vertrackte Themen-Abstraktionen, hinreißend melodische Songformen […] traumhaft gut!
Georg Spindler, Mannheimer Morgen

A Canadian reviewer hears ‘a major leap forward’ for John Abercrombie and Marc Copland’s artistic relationship on 39 Steps

The lion's share of the compositions belong to Abercrombie, who rightfully assumes leader credit here, with Copland contributing only two of the set's ten pieces, along with one group-credited free improv and an indirect closing nod to tradition with a reading of ‘Melancholy Baby’ that still fits within the quartet's overall sphere of approach; freely interpreted, in this case with no time and no discernible changes, its melody remains recognizable amidst the freewheeling yet carefully controlled freedom and interaction within which this group operates.
The other important change is, for the first time, having an external producer—in this case, ECM label head Manfred Eicher. As good as Copland's two previous recordings sound, there's a notable and tremendous difference in how this date sounds: more delicate, more rarefied, with every note discernible right down to its final decay and even the most delicate touch of a cymbal occupying its rightful place in the overall soundscape. [...] As good as their previous recordings together have been, 39 Steps represents a major leap forward for Abercrombie and Copland's relationship, even as the guitarist returns to the piano-based configuration that was his first touring context, back in the late '70s.
John Kelman, All About Jazz

The Guardian’s John Fordham on Aaron Parks’ first ECM album Arborescence

This almost all-improv session [...] draws on influences such as Béla Bartók’s interpretations of Hungarian folk songs, Keith Jarrett's and Ran Blake's solo playing, and Herbie Hancock in free-spirit mode. Parks' playing here isn't as funkily gospel-powered as Jarrett can be, nor as unstoppabably dynamic as Hancock at full stretch, but his melodic sense is acute and original, his narratives and harmonies varied, and his pacing subtle. [...] Arborescence has a low-lights feel, but its musicality and lyricism glows very brightly.
John Fordham, The Guardian