The Continuing Joys of the Piano Trio: Two Recent Additions from ECM
ECM has had a great year for releases, and the two recent piano trios discussed here are two of the reasons why.
Bobo Stenson has an extensive catalogue with ECM both as leader and sideman, and I am not sure that I have ever been disappoined in his work, but this new release is perhaps my all-time favorite. "Indicum" (ECM 2012) is a dynamically varied program of improvisations, sacred works, covers of Bill Evans and George Russell, with strong melody lines and a lively rhythmic sensibility that complement the impressionistic compositions that are also a part of this program. Bill Evans' "Your Story" leads off the CD and the strong melody line and dynamic reading is a joy to hear. "Indikon" is a lovely impressionistic improvisation and follows "Your Song". The next piece is the title song and it has a more fully realized melody and strong but subtle pulse provided by the bassist and drummer, Anders Jormin and Jon Fait respectively. "Ermutigung", the next piece opens with a solo from Jormin, and continues as a brooding solemn piece; as I understand, it is a protest song, which accounts for its mood. "La Peregrinacion" is a delicate work with lovely coloration from the drum set, beautiful counter melodies played by the bass, and a lot of open space to let the composition breathe. And so it goes, layer upon layer of beauty produced by a trio in synch with each other, a traditional Norwegian "Ave Maria", a piece by Jormin called "Sol" that starts with just the bass and drums for a full two minutes, a fascinating piece by George Russell called "Event VI", and the lyrical "Ubi Caritas" to close. This is a special CD in a long line of special performances by Stenson as well as in the tradition of all of the other great ECM piano trios.
The Benidikt Jahnel Trio is new to ECM, though Jahnel himself has been a sideman on previous recordings for the label with the group Cyminology. "Equilibrium" (ECM 2012) is another in the long line of outstanding piano trio CDs that ECM has brought to the attention of the listening public, and is a demonstration of the tastes and sensibilities that suffuse them all. The other members of the trio are Antonio Miguel on bass and Owen Howard on drums. Delicate, lyrical, restrained, moody are all adjectives that best describe the work, which is a highly unifed program of seven original pieces by Jahnel. The drumming is mostly in the background and used delicately for coloration, and the bass lines weave a path in and out under the delicate and lyrical piano melodies. This combination is best realized in the seond piece "Sacred Silence", as beautiful a song as you will hear this year. “Moorland & Hill Land” is a 14 minute piece that begins quietly and sparsely with a range of delicate and charming sounds from all three players individually followed by some more foreboding sounds from the bass clef on the piano; gradually they gather themselves together with a most lyrical middle section featuring a lovely piano solo and then bass lead with the drums nad piano comping. After the solo the piece returns to a collective, quiet ending. “Augmented” maintains the delicate and lyrical sensibility and demonstrate the elegance of Jahnel's touch and expressiveness. “Wrangel” is a bit more lively and less structured around a single melody line but is no less interesting to hear as the group plays with dynamics, textures, and sounds. It is played at a faster pace than the other pieces, and the piano part features some rapid runs, and stronger chordings in the left hand, while the beat is more pronounced and drives the song along. The album ends with the title track, which is another lyrical melody that demonstrates once more Jahnel's light touch and lyricism. A welcome addition to the ECM family.