On his last album, Midwest – described by All About Jazz as “his most well-conceived outing yet” – trumpeter Mathias Eick imaginatively reflected on the exodus of hundreds of thousands of his compatriots who journeyed in the 19th century from the villages of Norway to the vast plains of Dakota. The geographical ambit of Ravensburg is smaller, but the scope of the compositions no less broad. This time Eick draws inspiration directly from his family circle, and the pieces, with modest titles like “Family”, “Friends”, “Parents”, Girlfriend” and “For My Grandmothers” add up to a kind of collective portrait, touching upon “all the emotional situations we experience on the stage where we mostly hang around. That is: home.” Embodied in the music, with its strongly melodic themes and improvisational exchanges, are ideas of relationships, dialogues, longings, games – and journeys. The Norwegian trumpeter Eick also has German ancestry, with one grandmother hailing from Ravensburg, the historic Swabian town. (Ravensburger jigsaws – “3,000 pieces, 5,000 pieces… a bit overwhelming” – were accordingly a mixed blessing of Eick family Christmases.)
“The working title for the album was just ‘Family’ says Mathias Eick, “but once I realized how many albums there are with that title, it had to change. Anyway, the starting point was a wish to create energetic rhythmic compositions where I could use both Helge Andreas Norbakken and Torstein Lofthus as two strong personalities in the family. Helge is ‘a drummer’ on paper, but he’s really a one-of-a kind musician, with a very personal approach. His drum kit doesn’t look much like a regular kit, and the sounds he draws from it are completely his own. I didn’t offer any instructions at all to him or Torstein about how they should interact or play together, because I thought they’d work it out wonderfully between themselves, even though they’re coming together for the first time here. Torstein has immaculate time and a beat that can really drive a band. So, my idea was to give him – within this idea of family and friends – a playmate, so to speak. I wasn’t trying to make the drumming bigger or louder but rather more three-dimensional. With lots of interaction and shadowing. In fact, what’s going on in the area of rhythm is very much like what’s happening between Håkon and myself, where a similar idea of shadowing and conversation and call-and-response is taking place.”
One of the pleasures of the Midwest album was hearing Mathias Eick’s radiant, vaulting trumpet supported by Gjermund Larsen’s violin; the trumpet/violin combination, a particularly evocative instrumental blend, is further developed on Ravensburg. Håkon Aase, the new violinist in Eick’s ensemble is, one of the up-and-coming players of the Norwegian scene, whom attentive ECM listeners will already know from his work with Thomas Strønen’s group Time Is A Blind Guide; latterly he has also been working with Mette Henriette. Aase has been playing with Eick in live contexts for three years already. “Gjermund did a great job on Midwest, but that was more ‘folk’ orientated. Well, I wanted some folk for this one, too, but also the jazz direction and a feeling for contemporary improvising. Håkon, who was only 22 when he started with us, has all of that in his playing – and he has really turned out to be the best possible guy for the band. He has huge ears, and I’m very happy with the level of interaction we’ve arrived at on this album.”
Bassist Audun Erlien is, with pianist Andreas Ulvo, and drummer Torstein Lofthus, a long-serving member of the Eick road band. All three of them appear on Skala, Mathias’s recording of 2009/2010, and Erlien is also on Eick’s ECM leader debut The Door (and, still earlier, he can also be heard on Nils Pettter Molvær’s Solid Ether). “Audun has a very warm sound for an electric bass player and with his background in soul and R’n’B and his true understanding of the jazz and improvised universe he brings a lot of good things to the band.” Andreas Ulvo, meanwhile, is “deepening and refining his musical expression all the time, with strong capabilities in both rhythmic playing and improvisational soloing. Obviously live and studio are two different things: when we play this material in concert, Andreas’s extended introductions often stimulate new creative ideas.”
Alongside the album’s central thematic concerns, another of Eick’s larger designs continues to unfold. On his ECM albums to date the trumpeter has been spelling out a kind of sonic calendar, with compositions named for the months of the year. With Ravensburg, “August” is added to a list that already includes “March” and “November” (on Midwest), “June” (on Skala) and “October” and “December” (on The Door).
“August” is one of several tracks on Ravensburg where Eick’s singing voice has a role to play. It’s a new development. “I’d been singing at home every night with the kids. Then I started singing some more while I was making music. Since I’ve always thought of the trumpet as an extension of my voice, it seemed like it might be time to also use my voice directly…”
Mathias Eick has won numerous awards, including the International Jazz Festival Organization’s “International Jazz Talent” prize, the Statoil Scholarship and the DNB Prize. After finishing his formal musical education at NTNU Trondheim’s jazz studies, he soon gained acclaim working with artists including Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Chick Corea, Jaga Jazzist, Iro Haarla, Manu Katché, and Jacob Young. As trumpeter, vibraphonist, double bass player, guitarist and piano player he has performed on over 100 albums.
Ravensburg was recorded at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio in June 2017 and produced by Manfred Eicher.