Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Get to Know: Mats Eilertsten

Mats EilertsenMats Eilertsen -- does it sound at all familiar to you?  You might know the name from his many side duties on some fifty or so recordings, many on outstanding discs for ECM:   Jacob Young's "Sideways" (2008) and "Evening Falls" (2004),  Wolfert Brederode' s "Currents"(2007) and "Post Scriptum" (2011), or Tord Gustavsen's "Restored, Returned" (2010).  And if you pick up a wonderful new disc by Yelena Eckemoff, "FORGET-me-NOT"  (Yelenamusic 2012) you will find him in a trio with Eckemoff on piano and the wonderfully creative Marilyn Mazur on percussion.

So who is this wonderfully lyrical bassist?  Mats Eilertsen was born in 1975 in Trondheim, Norway, and received his education in music from the  Jazz Department at the Conservatory of Music in Trondheim. He is a highly in-demand musician and in the past decade has played in a number of bands both in Norway and internationally, inlcuding the Tord Gustavsen Ensemble, The Source with Trygve Seim, Dutch pianist Wolfert Brederode, Bobo Stenson, and Food. As noted earlier, he has also released six CDs as leader, all on the Norwegian label Hubro. Mats is considered to be one of a handful of first-call bass players in Europe, one who brings a large, warm and lyrical sound to a band, and one who can play both inside and outside as called for by the music, showing an openness and willingness to experiement with sound.

Eilersten has six recordings under his name, but it is the last three on the Hubro label that are discussed here.

"Radio Yonder" (Hubro 2010) is a quartet album featuring Eilertsen on bass, Tore Brunborg on saxophone, Thomas Dahl on guitar, and Olavi Louhivuori on drums. It begins slowly with the mood set by the guitar and bass, followed by the entry of Brunborg on saxophone. Entitled "Radio" it is a good introduction to the sensibilities of the group, which features extended ruminations by the saxophone and guitar, with a solid,  almost droning bass line under-pinning the piece. The saxophone gradually builds in tempo and tone to a crescendo, and then falls back in the final minute as the music recedes slowly back to the two stringed instruments. Cover (Radio Yonder:Mats Eilertsen)The music is always melodic and lyrical, not in the sense of standards play but rather in a freer use of the instruments and their possibilities. Eilertsen leans towards a soft and sometimes dark sound with a flexible approach to time that's near-signature to Norwegian improvised music. This is inventive material almost entirely written by Eilertsen, and much of it is mellow and meditative and quite low keyed. "Bora", the second song, has a lovely long solo for the guitar with very restrained brushwork and basslines underneath, and Dahl is very much one who brings an inventive spirit to the group.  Brunborg in turn follows on "Bora" with a lovely extended and lyrical part, very restrained but yet inventive as he travels the length of his instrument. Overall, the ECM sensibility is very strong throughout the music, which enchants at times with each soloist taking a turn in the spotlight. Brunborg in particular is outstanding thoroughout.

Cover (Elegy:Mats Eilertsen)"Elegy"  (Hubro 2010) is a different CD entirely, as it features a traditional piano trio with Harmen Fraanje a Dutch pianist, and Thomas Stronen, Norwegian, on drums. Elegy is the bassist's first with a conventional piano trio, though it's far from the tradition of Bill Evans et al. Rather it follows the tradition of free play being created by modernists such as Paul Bley, Ethan Iverson, Stephano Bollani, and others, all of whom can play "in the pocket" and traditionallly, but also have stepped out to create purely improvisational pieces as well. The group ethos and energy of this recording is evident from the start, and the line blurs quickly between composed and improvisational parts of each piece. Stronen plays with sound throughout, sometimes setting the rhythm and at other times using bells, cymbals, brushes, and other effects to paint a mood. This can be seen at the outset with a two minute piece, "Drumba" , featuring just the bass and percussionist; there is no real tune here, rather it is a piece that sets a distinct mood for the entire disc. "Elegy", the second piece is similar, and it is not until the third piece "Sukha" that the piano enters, with an immediately lovely melody featuring single notes played against a very subtle background rhythm being set by the bass and brushes. "Falling" is from a completely different sound pallette  -- angular, short bursts of sound, and strong interplay among the three. It is never overbearing, loud, or jarring, but it is discordant though it is still played at a restrained sound level. The group returns to more melodic voicings, though "Tuven, Tuven" is a very free sounding piece that is more about sounds and interplay than melodies. It has one of Eilersten's stongest solo outings as a highlight. "Nardis", the Miles Davis song, follows with an outstanding reading by the group and a very unusual climax and then quiet resolution to the nearly 11 minute piece. Fraange wrote "Six Weeks" , a piece of dark melodies that features Eilertsen's  robust, woody tone and range, and Strønen's wonderful coloration.  This is a wonderful modernist trio disc with a great depth of feeling and range of ideas.

"Sky Dive" (Hubro 2011) is Eilersten's most recent, and features a quintet this time, with his original quartet -- himself on bass, Brunborg on saxophone, Dahl on guitar, and Louhivuori on drums -- enhanced by the addition of Alexi Tuomarila from Finland on piano and fender rhodes. With this grouping, Eilersten has created the perfect band to play his music. The group features intense beauty and each demonstrates their virtuousity with soloing throughout. Clearly working together, they have created what must be called Eilersten's best work so far. Mats Eilertsen: Radio YonderThis is effectively the same group that did "Radio Yonder" with the addition of the keyboard that he used in "Elegy", thus rounding out the sound. No single player is the star, rather they all commit themselves to bringing these original creations to the fore. These are contemporary European melodies, with a lyricism that capture's the attention of the listener as sounds shift among the players. Again, the pieces are all played at a very mild tempo, and the intensity is not in the loudness of the music or crescendos, but in the interplay of the instruments. Once again Brunborg's round tone floats above the rest when he enters, but equal time is given to the lyrical playing of Tuomarila, whose sound is demonstrated beautifully on "Memento", the CDs second piece. Tuomarila is brilliant throughout the recording. Overall, the disc is contemporary European jazz at its best -- understated, sensitive, and beautifully rendered and colored by outstanding musicians. Eilersten takes few solos, yet dominates the proceedings through his compositions. Sky Dive is a particularly expressive, evocative recording by an imressive group of players and should not be missed.

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