Music and word: In Arvo Pärt’s work, they are manifestly at its core, even when no word is heard, no text has been set to music, but the power of language becomes the subject nonetheless. – Wolfgang Sandner
Tractus emphasizes Arvo Pärt compositions that blend the timbres of string orchestra and choir. New versions predominate, with focused performances from the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under Tõnu Kaljuste’s direction that invite alert and concentrated listening. From the opening composition Littlemore Tractus, which takes as its starting point consoling reflections from a sermon by John Henry Newman, the idea of change, transfiguration and renewal resonates, setting a tone for a recording whose character is one of summing up, looking inward, and reconciling with the past.
Tõnu Kaljuste, a long-time ally of Pärt, points out that much recent discussion with the composer has revolved around new approaches to the scores. Commenting on the wide-reaching and evocative repertoire brought together here, Wolfgang Sandner remarks in the CD’s liner note, “sound and silence, music and word always remain in dialogue in Arvo Pärt’s work. But the vocal and the instrumental too, the secular and the profane, complement each other. Liturgical ritual and spiritual concert are in exchange and form a context that points to a common origin.”
The compositions included on Tractus are based upon or inspired by scriptural, liturgical or other Christian texts. “The text is independent of us,” Pärt once said. “It awaits us. Everyone needs his own time to come to it. The encounter occurs when the text is no longer treated as literature or artwork but as reference point or model.”
Recorded in Tallinn’s Methodist Church last year, Tractus extends the line of Arvo Pärt albums begun with Tabula rasa in 1984, the recording which initially brought Pärt’s music to widespread awareness. The collaboration between Arvo Pärt and producer Manfred Eicher has persisted now for forty years: “Our work together making new records is always a celebration,” Pärt has said. “It is something very lively and in continuous formation.”
The Tractus album includes a booklet with all sung texts and liner notes by Wolfgang Sandner (in German), and by Kai Kutman (in English)
“When we walked out on stage it felt like a homecoming,” says guitarist Jakob Bro of this texturally spacious and emotionally charged live recording from Copenhagen, on which three of the defining protagonists of improvisation in Denmark, leading musicians from three generations of Danish jazz, come together. The concert, in February 2023, was particularly poignant since it marked a return to performance for trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, who delivers characteristically thoughtful playing here, always in service of the group context.
Repertoire – primarily by Bro but also including Mikkelborg’s piece “Youth” as well as “Returnings”, co-written by Palle and Jakob – is addressed in spontaneous and exploratory spirit. Material is gently transformed and reinvented as Marilyn Mazur’s subtle percussion language of blossoming gongs, bowed metals and rumbling drums blends with Bro’s drifting and rippling washes of sound. The music’s atmospheric qualities, as well its eruptive moments, are enhanced by the resonant acoustics of the Danish Radio Concert Hall.
Reviewing the concert for Nordic music magazine GAFFA, Ivan Rod wrote, “A little hour in the company of Mikkelborg, Mazur and Bro and the world had changed. Familiar frameworks had shifted through obvious moments of beauty and lingering calm”.
Jakob Bro and Palle Mikkelborg, friends for many years, had long discussed possibilities of collaboration in diverse idioms. They began to play regularly together a decade ago. . Improvisations with Jon Christensen and Thomas Morgan set some directions in motion that led eventually to the Returnings album of 2018. Marilyn Mazur took over the percussion role in 2020: “It seemed a natural extension of the music, which has continued to develop since then,” says Jakob. Of its constantly changing nature, he adds: "There is air in the music, great freedom and a shared desire to create something that cannot necessarily be explained, but felt".
“It’s a search for meaning,” says Mikkelborg of his life’s work as an improviser in Jørgen Leth and Andreas Koefed’s Jakob Bro documentary Music for Black Pigeons, a film currently touring the festivals . “Is there a meaning and if there is, can I be a part of it? And sometimes I’m reminded that there is.”
Marilyn Mazur (born in 1955) and Palle Mikkelborg (born 1941) have considerable musical history together. Marilyn’s contribution to Palle’s large-scale composition Aura, dedicated to and featuring Miles Davis, led to Mazur playing in Miles’s band in the mid-1980s.
Both Mazur and Mikkelborg have recorded often for ECM, Palle’s discography including five albums with Terje Rypdal, among them the late 70s classics Waves and Descendre. He can also be heard on recordings with Edward Vesala, Gary Peacock, Dino Saluzzi and Charlie Haden, and Shankar. Mazur has led ensembles on recordings including Small Labyrinths and Celestial Circle, and appeared on recordings with Jan Garbarek, Jon Balke, Eberhard Weber and Ketil Bjørnstad. Elixir, an album of percussion solos and duos with Jan Garbarek, followed 14 years as a member of the saxophonist’s group. Garbarek once compared Mazur’s playing to the movement of wind through trees, still a potent image for the fluidity and persuasive insistence of her sound.
Jakob Bro (born 1978) was first heard on ECM in the bands of Paul Motian and Tomasz Stanko on Garden of Eden and Dark Eyes. His albums as a leader have brought together improvisers of strikingly different background and experience. The scope of the music continues to widen, as evidenced on recent releases including Uma Elmo, a set of pellucid watercolours generated with Arve Henriksen and Jorge Rossy and the more outgoing Once Around The Room on which Bro and saxophonist Joe Lovano pay tribute to Paul Motian. Common to all these projects is Bro’s conviction that “the music has to breathe. It’s important that a kind of organic conversation is taking place.” Describing Uma Elmo for his Blue Moment blog, Richard Williams noted that Bro’s pieces can be “subtle in effect and gradual in momentum, but employing a surprisingly wide dynamic and emotional range. Exquisite but never effete, they invite the musicians to explore their individual instrumental vocabularies as part of a collective creation.”
The project with Palle Mikkelborg and Marilyn Mazur is also evolving. For concerts in spring 2024, Bro, Mikkelborg and Mazur are joined by German cellist Anja Lechner and Japanese percussionist Midori Takada. Dates include Bimhuis, Amsterdam (March 6), Die Singel, Antwerp (March 7), and Flagey, Brussels (March 8).