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Bebop Spoken There

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11,783 (and counting) posts since we started blogging 12 years ago. 1023 of them this year alone and, so far, 50 this month (Sept. 17).

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IT IS ADVISABLE TO CHECK IN ADVANCE WITH THE VENUE THAT THE GIG IS ON

SUNDAY 20

Vieux Carre Hot 4 - Spanish City, Spanish City Plaza, Whitley Bay NE26 1BG. Tel: 0191 691 7090. 12 noon. Free.

Riviera Quartet - The Globe, 11 Railway St., Newcastle NE4 7AD. 8:00pm. A limited number of seats are available which MUST be bought in advance online. £7:50 or £5:45 live stream only.

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Vieux Carre Jazzmen - The Holystone, Whitley Road, North Tyneside NE27 0DA. 0191 266 6173. 1:00pm. Free.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

CD Review: Theo Bleckmann – Elegy

Theo Bleckmann – voice; Ben Monder – guitar; Shai Maestro – piano; Chris Tordini – double bass; John Hollenbeck – drums
(Review by Hugh C)
German-born vocalist, Theo Bleckmann, now resides in New York.  He has been described as a “sound painter” - on this CD he uses his instrument to create both broad brush strokes and delicate patterns, he has also composed most of the material.  Bleckmann has had a musical association with guitarist Ben Monder and drummer John Hollenbeck for over two decades, but a more recent association with pianist Shai Maestro and bassist Chris Tordini.
Elegy sets out to be an “exploration of death or transcendence in some existential way”.  Bleckmann states that in this album he wants to “create songs that deal with this subject matter not in a morbid way, but with some light to it”.  

The CD consists of a series of songs contributing to the exploration, with short instrumental interludes, each of which are improvisations on Bleckmann's written material.  Semblance is the first of these and rapidly moves into Comedy Tonight, setting Sondheim's words and arranged in memory of Bleckmann's mother, who died recently at the age of 91 still looking for things to make her laugh.  Bleckmann's atmospheric take on Sondheim's lyrics are supported by Maestro's solo piano.  Fields, followed by The Mission feature the whole band in balladic mood, with Bleckmann's vocalese floating over the instrumentalists.  After another brief instrumental interlude – Littlefields - comes the title track, Elegy, which has a darker musical texture, through which emerges the more uplifting finale.  To Be Shown to Monks at a Certain Temple, based on an 8th-century Zen poem by Chiao Jan, is about not giving up and exhorts the listener “not to think about death, but keep on moving; not to be morose, keep on living”.

Another instrumental interlude - Cortege - precedes a short reprise of Elegy, leading into Take My Life.  Bleckmann composed this thinking about Bach and his cantatas, especially “Ich habe genug” - Bach was looking forward to the afterlife; Bleckmann here imagines in his lyrics what it would be like to die, but ultimately finds “no other God but silence”.  Wither (sic) – no h and no question mark - is another vocalese, no lyrics.  This reverts to the ballad format with fine piano from Maestro, sensitively supported by the three other band members.  A final instrumental improvisation, Alate, closes the set in a rising chordal progression, rather in the manner of an old black and white film ending, with a slowly closing iris ultimately forming a small central dot, followed by the word FIN.

This is certainly a thought-provoking offering.  The musicianship of all the band members is beyond question.  I think it would probably pass Lance's Outré test.  It is certainly unconventional (even for an ECM recording) and could possibly be considered bizarre.  I do think that Bleckmann has probably achieved his objective and created songs that deal with this subject matter [exploration of death or transcendence in some existential way] not in a morbid way, but with some light to it.
Hugh C

Elegy is now released on ECM (ECM 2512  479 9717)

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