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June 13 , 2014

Reviews of the week

Early reactions to Last Dance by Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden

The same strengths that made Jasmine such a wonderful—and welcome—diversion from Jarrett's solo and trio releases remain definitive on Last Dance. Haden demonstrates his usual unerring ability to find the absolutely perfect note—played with equally impeccable tone—whether it's in the spare yet ambling swing of his support for Jarrett's solo on the mid-tempo 'Everything Happens to Me' or his own more intrinsically lyrical feature later in the same song; there's never a note wasted or a note out of place. As for Jarrett, while his career has been predicated on both virtuosity and an ability to spontaneously pull music from the ether, and as consistently superb as his solo and Standards Trio work has been over the past three decades, here in this context, he's never sounded so relaxed, so unfettered in a way that's different from his inimitable freedom in live performance.
John Kelman, All About Jazz

Jarrett's timing and sense of space, plus Haden's spontaneous countermelodies, continue to provide low-lit delights. […] for all their warm glow, this duo constantly invests them with strength and urgency. It's just as good as Jasmine, and hopefully not a Last Dance for this partnership.
John Fordham, The Guardian

A German review of Wolfgang Muthspiel’s new album Driftwood with Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade

‚Driftwood‘ ist alles in allem ein ruhiges, nachdenklich lichtes Album geworden, voll subtiler Momente und Tiefgang. Eine Extra-Klasse für sich ist das unglaublich vielschichtige, vielseitige und von nuancierten Delikatessen nur so gespickte Spiel von Brian Blade.
Aber auch Wolfgang Muthspiel zeigt sich spielfreudig und flexibel wie eh und je, wechselt mit Leichtigkeit zwischen E- und Akustik-Gitarre, kreiert mal Rockiges oder verpflanzt einen eher klassisch anmutenden Nylon-String-Sound in die Welt des Jazz. Dazu mischt sich wunderbar knorrig der holzige Ton von Larry Grenadier.
Detlef Krenge, BR-Klassik

British and American reviewers on Jacob Young’s Forever Young

This dream-team amalgam of Norwegian guitarist Young and saxophone partner Trygve Seim with the Polish rhythm section from the band of Tomasz Stanko creates infinitely subtle, quietly intense music. It almost seems to hover in the room, such is the sense of airy weightlessness […] The third track, ‘Bounce’, is particularly fine, but it’s all very good, and keeps getting better.
Phil Johnson, The Independent

If anything, ‘Forever Young’ provides Young with even greater freedom than on his previous ECM outings, where he was the sole chordal instrument. Here, Young recruits pianist Marcin Wasilewski's trio — a group that, despite being on the shy side of forty, has been together for two decades and has, consequently, evolved both a chemistry and a language all its own […] For those unfamiliar with Young's extracurricular activities, ‘Forever Young’ demonstrates an ability to simmer in a way that his previous ECM recordings did not. It also represents a first outing by a quintet with plenty of potential; hopefully six years won't have to pass before this intimate yet delicately expressionistic quintet can once again reconvene.
John Kelman, All About Jazz

Acclaim from the UK for Ketil Bjørnstad’s Sunrise

A work that manages to move naturally between choral pieces, chamber intermezzi, free-ish jazz interludes, folk-jazz waltzes and something that might best be described as Astrud Gilberto on a Norwegian odyssey. It’s based on texts by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, of The Scream fame, which Bjørnstad has set variously for the wonderfully guttural solo voice of Kari Bremnes, the Oslo Chamber Choir and a group of jazz and chamber musicians including the marvellous Aage Kvalbein, whose cello sings with soulful sadness and passion. A work of considerate scope, it lacks nothing in drama but, equally, isn’t afraid to hit you with a damned catchy tune.
Rob Adams, Sunday Herald

The performance of female vocalist Kari Bremnes and the Oslo Chamber Choir for the album renders Bjørnstad’s musical interpretation of Munch’s writings truly magical.
Hannah Clugston. Aesthetica

UK daily The Independent on Heinz Holliger’s Aschenmusik

The title ‚Aschenmusik‘ derives from Heinz Holliger’s horror at Clara Schumann’s burning, with Brahms’ approval, of her late husband’s cello Romances, prompting Holliger’s composition of his own ‘cinder music’ , ‘Romancendres’, which is here framed by Schumann pieces […] His own imaginative Modernist response to Clara’s vandalism takes the form of a bright flare of energy leaving a dry, ashen residue. It’s an inquisitive piece in which cello and piano step tentatively around each other. An absorbing and emotionally gripping programme that unites Romanticism and Modernism with no grinding gear-changes.
Andy Gill, The Independent

More British reactions to Tigran Mansurian’s Quasi Parlando, with Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Anja Lechner and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta

It’s hard to imagine a richer, more persuasive match between performers and music than that revealed on this remarkable, profoundly moving new disc. Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja plays with an intensity that’s sometimes frighteningly raw, as if every note comes from deep within her. And while Anja Lechner can’t quite match Kopatchinskaja’s startling expressiveness, the German cellist’s playing is vivid, sometimes forceful, and always hugely passionate. They’re all qualities that bring the necessary authenticity and sincerity to these deeply serious, sometimes anguished works by Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian (b. 1939), whose mystical, highly expressive sound world draws together a darkly chromatic harmonic language with a sense of spiritual yearning. […] There’s strong support from an impeccably tuned Amsterdam Sinfonietta led by Candida Thompson throughout, and recorded sound is close, warm and truthful. This disc makes for a tough, emotionally demanding listen, but it’s all the more cathartic for that.
David Kettle, The Strad

This is ECM’s fourth CD devoted to the music of contemporary Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian, who was 75 in January. It’s the first to feature violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, whose pure, rich tone and unforced eloquence do so much to create the special sound-world of the programme. ‘Quasi Parlando’ (that piece features instead cellist Anja Lechner, and they come together in the Double concerto) is an apt title for the album as a whole, for the essence of Mansurian’s obviously attractive idiom is the quality of a speaking voice: typically, here, a string soloist (or soloists) fronts massed strings, all expertly scored for and evoking timeless images of preacher and congregation, or (as in the brand-new, passionate ‘Four serious Songs’) solo singer and supporting, lamenting choir. […] an intensely beautiful disc.
Calum MacDonald, BBC Music Magazine

Harrison Birtwistle’s Chamber Music is reviewed in Sinfini Music

Harrison Birtwistle’s 80th birthday falls this year – an occasion marked by the expected surge of performances and recordings, including this very fine one from ECM. […] Bogenstrich (‘Bow-stroke’) takes its name from an image in Rilke’s poem ‘Love Song’ (‘All that touches us, you and me, joins us together like the stroke of a bow, which draws one voice from two strings’). Two different settings of this flank three central pieces for cello and piano, together making up a half-hour sequence whose highlights are some beautifully poised singing by baritone Roderick Williams, and a remarkable contribution from Adrian Brendel: the second ‘Love Song’ sounds as if it is quietly accompanied by two cellists, at one point even three. The most appealing music here is the double group of settings of the American poet Lorine Niedecker – vividly re-imagined by Birtwistle as thumbnail musical sketches for soprano and cello, and performed with wonderful composure and precision by Brendel and soprano Amy Freston.
Malcolm Hayes, Sinfini Music

Transatlantic acclaim for the new recording by Italian Duo Gazzana with music by Schnittke, Poulenc, Silvestrov, Walton, Dallapiccola

This new album from Duo Gazzana appears to be a labor of love on behalf of Walton’s Toccata for violin and piano. It’s an early work, dating from 1922-23, when the composer was just 20 years old. Natascia Gazzana, the violinist of the duo, has been studying the work for an academic dissertation, and has had access to source materials at the Fondazione W. Walton at his island home on Ischia. It is a fascinating piece, and well worth an airing, but it’s not one that fits easily into a recital program. But the sisters have devised a context for it, based around the Baroque genre of its title. The result is a collection of 20th/21st-century works, each with a connection, however tenuous, to the Baroque era. It’s a diverse mix, and one that stretches well beyond what we might consider ‘Neoclassical,’ even in the broadest sense. Despite the historical allusions and references, every aspect of this recording is thoroughly modern. […] The Gazzanas perform in a way that is ideal for the ECM aesthetic: all big, round sounds and emphatic articulation, but with plenty of nuance and subtly when the music requires.
Gavin Dixon, Classical CD Reviews

A clever and largely engaging collection of 20th and 21st century works that look back to earlier times played by the Duo Gazzana with wit, poise and graceful affection.
Christopher Dingle, BBC Music Magazine

This is a recording of impressive execution based on serious musicianship. After all, both of the performers share that same ‘musical Grund’ with the five composers whose works they are performing. More importantly, however, their readings of these five compositions also show awareness of that ‘extended context’ of Weltanschauung. The attentive listener may thus appreciate each of the composers not only for his own craft but also for those factors that differentiate him from the other composers on the album. Is this not what we should expect from any satisfying listening experience?
Stephen Smoliar, Examiner.com