Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed


Marcin Wasilewski Trio
ECM 2019

Marcin Wasilewski Trio-January This is the second ECM CD for this group, previously known as Simple Acoustic Trio and as the backing group for trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. The musicians have clearly spent a great deal of time in one another’s company, with pianist Wasilewski and bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz having begun playing together at age 15 in 1990 and drummer Michal Miskiewicz joining in 1993. Their first CD , Komeda, appeared in 1995, a brilliant tribute to the great Polish jazz composer Krystoff Komda. Given that the members of the trio were born well after Komeda’s death, they already had an uncanny kinship with the luminously reflective quality that Komeda brought to modal jazz.

It’s convenient to group the ECM piano players together in a school of Jarrett out of Evans and Bley, but convenient groupings won’t account for the kind of haunting (and haunted) beauty that Wasilewski and company often achieve here, initially highlighting consistently spare and resonant playing. The emphasis on resonance is such that often a chord change feels more like a key change, notes ringing through wave-like ostinatos. The emphasis on melodic beauty informs most of the choices of repertoire, including Gary Peacock’s “Vignette,” Ennio Morricone’s light-filled “Cinema Paradiso,” and the somber blues of Stanko’s “Balladiyna.” The trio’s approach even works on Prince’s “Diamonds and Pearls,” clarity of execution raising it above a certain inherent melodic banality. Mid-way through the program, Carla Bley’s “King Korn” signals a marked change of pace, pastoral cover versions giving way to rhythmically animated and often blues and soul-suffused originals with a sharp-angled approach to group dialogue and kinetic rhythms displacing the sense of oceanic rapture.  
–Stuart Broomer


Norma Winstone
ECM 2028

Norma Winstone-Distances Norma Winstone used to talk frankly about having a "Radio 2 side." It’s a reference that now needs explaining not just to American readers, but also to Brits under the age of 40, who’ve seen BBC Radio 2 – formerly the "Light Programme," formerly the buffer between pop and rock on Radio One and classical on Radio 3 – dispense with its middle-aged and elderly demographic and claim an audience of upwards of ten million with a mixture of "gold" material and vocal jazz. Though not much Norma Winstone, I suspect.

Her position in British jazz is a fascinating one. Not widely appreciated as a libretto singer, able to invest a lyric with dramatic presence, she’s been more widely known for the kind of pure vocalizing she brought to Mike Westbrook’s music (notably on Metropolis, where she plays what is effectively an obbligato woodwind role) to the Azimuth trio with former husband John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler, and including her own magnificent Edge of Time LP on the way. The voice has matured, darkened and deepened over the years and Winstone, who’s recorded only sparingly on her own terms, has now returned – and returned to ECM – with a small classic.
The adjective isn’t belittling. Everything about Distances is conceived on an intimate scale. The trio format, with pianist Glauco Venier and soprano saxophonist and bass clarinetist Klaus Gesing (in a part that has John Surman’s name written all over it), is perfectly weighted. The songs are thoughtful, elegiac in cast and tinged with a gently sardonic quality that mitigates the eeriness that sometimes dissipated closer attention to her work. Winstone hadn’t recorded for ECM for some years when she received a call from Manfred Eicher. The label’s unique production values haven’t always been kind to singers, surprisingly enough (there are strong positive exceptions, ranging from Lena Willemark to Robin Williamson), but they suit Winstone perfectly, and the album’s sound is flawless.
Again, it’s not dismissive to say that the album’s key track is a version of "Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye," an emotionally satisfying performance that sits with the very best of them. Winstone isn’t the kind of singer you’d expect to find doing Radiohead or Nick Drake covers, but there are some other intriguing choices here: Peter Gabriel’s "Here Comes The Flood" is the most obvious, but a Pasolini/Satie meld is also intense and powerful. Winstone’s harmonic awareness has always been valued by fellow-musicians and bandleaders. There’s perhaps a nod to that in "Giant’s Gentle Stride," a collaboration with Gesing which might be considered her "Giant Steps." The opening "Distance" doesn’t seem to dabble with lontano effects, but it has an air of delicious remoteness that might be physical, might be emotional, might have something to do with the unique structure of the song and its rich chordal shapes.
There’s nothing to dislike here, though it’s not the kind of record that grabs you by the lapels and shakes. Not the kind of record you might often hear on either the old or the new Radio 2.
–Brian Morton


Yitzhak Yedid
Oud Bass Piano Trio: Suite in Five Movements
Between the Lines BTLCHR1218

Yitzhak Yedid-Oud Bass Piano Trio: Suite in Five Movements The literalism of the name of this work – Oud Bass Piano Trio – is in stark contrast to the dense, imaginative character of pianist Yitzhak Yedid’s piece and its elements as indicated in his notes and extensive sub-titles. Its intent is to simultaneously explore ritual and meditation, cultural difference and traditional themes.  Each of the five movements consists of several elements drawn from Judaic and Christian traditions and meditations on multiple modes of silence, including the “Non-believer’s silence,” and the prayers of priests and kabbalists as well as a Palestinian Bride and repeats of a motif entitled “Imaginary ritual belly dance.” These themes extend to other strongly programmatic notions, like Jerusalem’s ancient Cardo thoroughfare and Sabbath candles. 

This rich tapestry is rarely explicit in the music, instead it’s a parallel. In practice much of this work draws on the modal traditions of near-Eastern music both Jewish and Arabic. A strong melodic component and a welling emotional power are common to all of the elements, enhanced by an extraordinary attention to detail and richness of sonority. The individual voices stand out whether in collective invention or in their many individual moments, whether it’s Yedid’s use of foreshortened piano strings to create bell-like sounds in the piano’s interior or the turbulent invention of “A pianist’s conflict”; the plangent thrum of Mikhail Maroun’s oud; or the often stunning power of bassist Ora Boasson Horev, whose playing highlights  range from the somber low notes and banshee highs of the first movement’s bowed opening to the brilliant pitch-bending of the fourth. Whatever the individual power of the instrumental voices, it’s the cumulative intensity of the suite – the sense of meditative concentration – that remains.
–Stuart Broomer

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