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by Tim Owen

December 07, 2008


Yeraz is typical of the type of richly understated, quietly compelling recording in which ECM have come to excel

Yeraz is typical of the type of richly understated, quietly compelling recording in which ECM have come to excel, although aesthetically the austerity of the packaging does this music few favours. The grainy, grimy photograph of road traffic hardly hints at the melodic lucidity conjured so consistently within.

Trygve Seim (soprano and tenor sax) and Frode Haltli (accordion) have apparently played together for many years before this, their first recording as a duo, and the result is a unique sound world, with Haltli in particular developing a distinct sound for the accordion; their partnership is wonderfully fresh and evenly-balanced. On the whole both men avoid the clichés of their respective instruments, although Seim’s sax does occasionally evoke the softly burred clarity of Jan Garbarek, as in the closing moments of Mmball, while in the opening moments of Praeludium he mimics the Armenian double reed duduk.

At over 70 minutes, this is an over-long album, which by track six has become cumulatively over-rarified. None of the individual pieces, however, are less than compelling. Indeed that track, Bhavana, actually emerges as my favourite overall, precisely because of its ethereal delicacy. Even so, the following Fast Jazz brings a welcome lightening of mood, being relatively up-tempo with almost cartoonish passages (albeit as if for a cartoon directed by Ingmar Bergman). This is followed by a version of Redemption Song, played about as ‘straight’ as the instrumentation allows. Haltli and Seim emphasise the overt lyricism of the piece, and Bob Marley’s lovely melody sits rather uncomfortably in the broader context of the album.

The penultimate track, Waltz for Waits, is an unlikely but apposite dedication to Tom Waits, presumably inspired by the more elegiac strain in Waits’ work, which surfaces in songs such as Tom Traubert’s Blues. Lacking anything approaching Waits’ lachrymose nostalgia, this waltz is thoughtfully measured, lulling the listener back into reverie of the closing Postludium, appropriately named for a short, free-form piece of music for the conclusion of a church service.

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