by Ian Mann
March 19, 2012
Beautiful melodies which the ensemble have distilled to their very essence with their flawlessly delicate playing.
(ACT Music & Vision ACT 9520-2)
ACT, the enterprising Munich based label founded by former Warner’s executive Siggi Loch celebrates its twentieth anniversary in 2012. “Liberetto” is the first of a series of outstanding releases scheduled for this anniversary year (others include major new recorded statements from Michael Wollny’s and Vijay Iyer plus an album of previously unreleased material by the label’s former flagship band E.S.T) and it is perhaps appropriate that label stalwart Lars Danielsson should set the ball rolling.
The Swedish bassist, cellist and composer has had a long and fruitful relationship with the label and particularly so in recent years thanks to his acclaimed collaboration with Polish pianist Leszek Mozdzer. This sublime creative alliance produced the duo recording “Pasodoble” (2007) and the group album “Tarantella” (2009), both of which are reviewed elsewhere on this site. With Mozdzer now concentrating on his solo career following the success of his solo piano album “Komeda” (2011, also ACT, also reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann) Danielsson has turned to the Armenian born pianist Tigran Hamasyan ( generally known simply as Tigran) as his chief collaborator on this new recording. As on the earlier “Tarantella” Danielsson has assembled something of a “supergroup” for the recording with British guitarist John Parricelli remaining on board and with former E.S.T. drummer Magnus Ostrom and Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen, who guests on a number of tracks, replacing Eric Harland and Mathias Eick respectively.
However “Liberetto” is no superstar jam, Danielsson lavishes the same care on this recording as he did on his two most recent releases. The twelve selections are frequently concise and pithy but beautifully composed and arranged. Danielsson and Tigran both contribute to the writing process with Tigran also bringing his arrangement of the Armenian folk song “Hov arek sarer djan” to the session. Both Danielsson and Tigran come from classical backgrounds and this influence is inherent both in the album title (which forms a neat continuum with “Pasodoble” and “Tarantella”) and in the music itself where their classical tendencies combine superbly with folk and jazz strands.
Tigran, still only in his twenties, currently commutes between France and New York and already has four albums under his belt including his breakthrough 2011 recording for Verve Records “A Fable”. His tune “Yerevan” opens proceedings here with Henriksen’s trademark whispered trumpet sound combining with the composer’s piano and Ostrom’s characteristic brushed drum groove. At just over two minutes it’s little more than a highly atmospheric sketch, or an overture if you will.
Danielsson’s title track is gorgeously melodic with a delicate classically inspired motif. Tigran’s serene touch at the piano is sublime and Danielsson contributes a beautifully articulated bass solo. Ostrom’s brush work and occasional percussion is subtlety personified and the sound is filled out with Paricelli’s carefully considered guitar atmospherics. It’s all very lovely and inescapably Scandinavian despite the international nature of the group.
“Day One” is an exquisite miniature for bass, trumpet and piano with Henriksen at his feathery best and with Tigran again displaying a maturity beyond his years.
The attractive melody of “Orange Market” is sketched by Paricelli’s cleanly picked acoustic guitar and provides the springboard for expansive solos by Tigran and Danielsson, the pair entering into a joyous exchange of ideas. Danielsson’s soloing is a wonderful mix of good taste and a remarkable dexterity before Ostrom’s unmistakable grooves push Tigran to fresh heights.
The gently unfolding “Hymnen” sounds suitably solemn and ethereal with Henriksen combining beautifully with Tigran on the theme. Danielsson contributes a movingly resonant solo while Ostrom’s gently brushed cymbals provide perfect punctuation.
Tigran’s “Svensk Lat” represents the pianist’s attempt to write a tune in the Swedish tradition. “Svensk Lat sounds more Swedish than some of my songs” remarks Danielsson in approbation. Essentially the piece is divided into two parts, the first gentle and folky and featuring Danielsson on cello, the second more hard grooving with a conscious nod in the direction of E.S.T.
The pianist’s imaginative arrangement of the Armenian folk song “Hov arek sarer djan” is a delicate exploration of the melody with Danielsson again deploying the bow. The piece also includes Tigran’s gentle vocals (he also features his voice more extensively on his own album “The Fable”). His voice sounds timeless, even when juxtaposed against electronic effects (very possibly generated by Henriksen’s trumpet).
Danielsson’s “Party On The Planet” is unashamedly happy and upbeat with a memorable Pat Metheny/E.S.T. style melody. Danielsson contributes an almost funky bass solo and doubles on Wurlitzer piano. Paricelli’s solo sees him making extensive use of the wah wah pedal to generate a distinctive, almost dirty sound on his solo as Ostrom grooves along behind.
“Tystnaden”, jointly composed by Danielsson and Tigran is brief and intimate with a measured, deeply resonant pizzicato bass solo. Danielsson overdubs himself with the bow to create eerie effects that complement Tigran’s careful and exact piano. It’s all highly atmospheric as is the following “Ahde’s Theme” which sounds like a wordless but ineffably melancholic folk/pop song. Henriksen’s frosty sounding trumpet returns to double up on the melody with Tigran and the sound is enhanced with other electronic embellishments although I wouldn’t like to speculate as to the source. It’s simultaneously beautiful and chilling.
Paricelli’s distinct nylon string guitar sound is featured to good effect on the folk tinged “Driven To Daylight” alongside Tigran’s flowing piano. Danielsson’s supple but resonant bass grounds the piece and Ostrom offers delightful small percussive details.
The album closes with the lovely “Bla Angar” with Henriksen’s plaintive trumpet whisper, verging on the flute like at times, the defining sound above a sparse backdrop of acoustic guitar and Ostrom’s minimalist percussion groove. Tigran’s almost glacial piano weaves in and out on this definitive slice of Nordic melancholy.
Some observers may find Danielsson’s controlled, super chilled approach a little bloodless but fans of the earlier “Tarantella” will no doubt be impressed. Danielsson and Tigran have come up with some beautiful melodies which the ensemble have distilled to their very essence with their flawlessly delicate playing. Tigran’s crystalline touch at the piano is magical throughout and Paricelli and Henriksen both make telling, if less frequent contributions. Ostrom’s playing is very different to his work with E.S.T. or his own electric prog/jazz “Thread of Life” quartet yet he still sounds like himself, his unique way with a groove remaining intact even in the quietest moments. His contribution is immense.
As for Danielsson his own playing is consistently excellent and tightly focussed, whether leading from the front in a variety of concise solos or anchoring the group from the rear. As a writer his melodic gift is apparent throughout the recording.
“Liberetto” is certain to be great success by virtue of its innate accessibility and superb musicianship. The presence of E.S.T legend Ostrom and the current buzz surrounding Tigran won’t do sales any harm either. Danielsson and his colleagues have ensured that ACT’s twentieth birthday celebrations have got off to a great start.