Harmen Fraanje and Enrico Rava © Gemma Kessels 2012

Photo © Gemma Kessels

My third and final review for this year’s November Music, originally published in Dutch on VPRO’s Eigentijds Radio 4 music blog.

Same as last year, I consider myself privileged to write about all the music and musicians I got to hear and see. If you ever have the chance to visit one of their live concerts, don’t hesitate. The experience itself, as well as the amount of energy and inspiration you’ll get from live music, is worth years of online music listening.

 

 

ECM

 

With a wealth of contemporary musicians and uniquely different releases ECM has become a hallmark in itself. You don’t have to look hard to find many references to the qualities of this record label, founded in 1969 and led by Manfred Eicher since. He is praised and prized as a master of space, the kind in which music resonates.

 

The releases of ECM are characterised by a silence of seven seconds before the first tones come out of your speakers. No 7 seconds of silence though before the session of pianist Harmen Fraanje and trumpeter player Enrico Rava, but more on that later.

 

All those beautiful releases raise high expectations, expectations that I already wrote in my previous review of Reich’s ‘Music for 18 Musicians’.

These expectations are of course not only awakened by ECM’s releases, on the contrary. Unlike the many “polished” recordings that caress our ears daily, ECM tends to release little misses of their virtuoso musicians. Perhaps a musicians’ ear is needed to recognise them, but I think a scarce unintended tone can very much contribute to the character of a plate. You need to hear that it were “just ordinary people” who made the music, to really be impressed. An ode to the pursuit of perfection through imperfection.

 

 

Space

 

Manfred Eicher’s idea was brilliant and simple, make recordings sound like live music. And during “ECM Artists in Concert” it was as if Eicher himself was the soundengineer. We were surrounded by an unsurpassed spaciousness in an ocean of sound.

 

 

Wolfert Brederode International Quartet with Mark Feldman

 

Wolfert Brederode with Mark Feldman and his International Quartet were completely in their element. The performance was perfect. Wonderful music, played timeless and flawless. The fact that they only rehearsed for one and a half hour, shows – besides the sheer virtuosity of the individual musicians – Brederode’s qualities as a composer in knowing to find the right balance between freedom and control.

 

 

Hamren Fraanje and Enrico Rava

 

Then Rava and Fraanje. As said, no 7 seconds of silence. Before the two of them reached the stage Rava, literally, set the tone. Which at that time seemed to become a spontaneous encounter, decreased into a long journey through a seemingly endlessly long corridor lined with doors that, despite the efforts of both musicians, remained unopened. A disappointment? Yes, but a disappointment that kept me thinking. I remember that I wondered if during the improvisations the musical possibilities were deliberately left unexplored. Still trying to follow the sound and flow. Again and again my senses were overthrown. No new music came to be.

But what a fantastic contrast, afterwards, with the two other performances! What pure humanity. It doesn’t really matter why it wouldn’t work. It just didn’t. Not in that moment, and even with these two great musicians, who really don’t need to prove themselves. It shows once again that the creation of music is a mystery, and sometimes impossible to find its source. A mirage, in which 7 seconds of silence can resound eternally.

 

 

Jan Bang ‘And Poppies from Kandahar’ ft. Arve Henriksen and Stian Westerhus

 

Spontaneous and full of humor, something for which ECM perhaps is less known, was the performance of Jan Bang. Together with Arve Hendriksen and Stian Westerhus, Bang brought us a very surprising end to ‘ECM Artists in Concert’. Like Rava and Fraanje, the three of them played together for the first time. Electro-acoustic with the emphasis on Bang’s electro, but without losing itself in “screen staring” (there was no screen), and with a good flow full of unexpected variation and distant sounds. Hendriksen’s singing reminded me of Sidsel Endresen. A Norwegian artist whose career took a very different, and certainly as interesting, turn after ECM. Stian Westerhus’ playing deserves a special mention. Carefully balancing, almost dancing on his pedals, he played a much larger instrument than just his distinctive Gibson. Whether he played with or without bow, every sound was attuned to the whole. All in all a night of surprises, contrasts, very many highlights and undoubtedly ECM worthy. Even though the recording of this night would never appear on the label.

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