Recorded December 2007
Auditorium Radio Svizzera, Lugano
Cantando marks the second time in as many albums that pianist and composer Bobo Stenson is making a personnel change in the drum chair of his trio. For many jazz artists this wouldn't even be a major consideration, as the transient nature of the music lends itself to such changes. But Stenson, along with longtime bassist Anders Jormin (20 years), has only made a total of six recordings in 37 years including this one, and former drummer Jon Christensen held that chair for 29 of them. Paul Motian stepped in for 2005's Goodbye and offered a different, mildly busier approach, though it too was rooted in the slow and deliberate spaciousness that has been at the heart of Stenson's music form the beginning. But 29-year-old drummer Jon Falt (Nordic Quintet) lends something else entirely to Stenson's brew as he may continue in Motian's footsteps as an elegant player but he is more physical dynamically, and more active in his sense of adventure. Another aspect of the change inherent in Stenson's approach to music-making would be the selection of material by other composers. Of the 11 pieces here, only one, "Pages," is an original; and it is a long improvisational work that sits dead-center on the album, compiled chop-up style from four demos by producer Manfred Eicher. It is credited to all three members. The other works here are by a highly divergent group of authors, from Ornette Coleman to Alban Berg, from Czech composer Peter Iben to the late Argentine nuevo tango composer Astor Piazolla, from Don Cherry to Cuban vocalist Silvio Rodriguez. These choices are all impeccable. Rodriguez's "Olivia" opens the set with its insistent lyricism and tender melody line. The interplay between Jormin - one of the greatest bassists ever to appear on ECM and one of the most technically gifted players in the music today - and Falt, with his dancing cymbal work and beat-heavy brushes on the tom-toms, offers an uncharacteristically tight space for Stenson in the melody and in his solo. Of course he rises to the occasion with glorious ostinati and syncopated arpeggios. Cherry's "Don's Kora Song" begins with the rhythm section, in particular the held, clipped cymbal sound by Falt that accompanies the insistent, woody attack by Jormin in an insistent rhythm. Stenson begins by rumbling in the lowest register before gradually moving toward the center with a mysterious minor-key articulation of Cherry's lyric line and developing a solo of chords into the middle of that as Falt allows the cone of the cymbals to ring more with his attack. Jormin is dazzling as he propels the tune from underneath. Coleman's "A Fixed Goal" follows this, and the reading is wonderful. With its playful, staccato melody echoing a nursery rhyme ethos and decidedly marked harmonic lines and rhythmic shifts, it is the perfect number for this trio. Stenson's solo is dazzling. The real mettle of the trio is on "Pages," where the group plays freely - for Stenson - with time, space, and texture. Falt and Jormin are wonderful together, continually challenging and complementing, and Stenson's elastic melodic sense is given new elasticity. This is a stellar effort that announces - hopefully - an extended run for this trio.
All Music Guide
"Cantando", from the Spanish word for "singing", is the title of a characteristically far-ranging programme by the resourceful Bobo Stenson Trio. Alongside group improvisation and new compositions (including two tunes by bassist Anders Jormin), the Swedish trio play "Love, I've Found You", a standard which Stenson has loved in both Miles Davis and Wynton Kelly versions, back to back with the 1907 "Liebesode" of Alban Berg. Unexpected juxtapositions belong to this group's methodology: on the "Serenity" album of 1999, Stenson already performed "Die Nachtigall", also from Berg's "Sieben fruhe Lieder" cycle.
The trio plays, twice, "Song of Ruth" by Czech composer Petr Eben, who died just a few weeks before this session. A piece originally scored for soprano and organ, it is transformed here. Astor Piazzolla's intensely expressive tango "Chiqulin de Bachin", dances at a sultry slow pace. Also from the Latin American corner: the supple "Olivia", by Cuban songwriter and folk/protest singer Silvio Rodriguez, another Stenson Trio favourite.
The lilting "Don's Kora Song" is a tune Bobo often played during his long association with the late Don Cherry: "Don had a real affinity for West African music and was strongly inspired by it. When we travelled, there would often be tapes of music from Mali playing in the bus: the sound of that has been in my ears for years." Cherry also used to tip Stenson off to rarer Ornette Coleman tunes, but the uncommon "A Fixed Goal" reached the pianist by another route. It is one of the pieces Ornette played during his latter day association with Joachim Kuhn, relayed to Bobo by French bassist Jean-Paul Celea. No other pianist plays Coleman like Bobo does, however, with the darting horn-like figures in the right hand, and an exultant feeling of freedom in the melodies. "Well, the beauty of Ornette is that the goals are really not so fixed! The fact that his pieces are very rarely chordally-based gives you this wonderful sense of openness, the feeling you can take the music anywhere."
"Pages", fourteen minutes of spontaneously composed material, is actually four separate group improvisations. Selected by Manfred Eicher from seven free pieces the group played in the studio, they eloquently demonstrate how form may be found in the moment. The whole sequence makes astute use of space: this is free chamber music. "Space is important," Bobo Stenson told JazzTimes, "to create an atmosphere is important, to keep a whole thing around it," journalist Tom Conrad maintained that, "in terms of atmosphere few pianists 'keep a whole thing around it' like Stenson. In all tempos, in all keys, in all musical situations, his notes hang in the air like what Wordsworth called 'thoughts too deep for tears'."
"I have always been interested in classical music and folk music," Stenson told All About Jazz L.A. "You like a melody, and you play it. You have to be open to what happens around you." And of course, you have to choose your material carefully, and respect it. If Stenson has long integrated his knowledge of the genres - jazz, classical, folk and more - into a coherent and unified style, critical awareness of his achievement continues to grow steadily. In 2006 he won the European Jazz Prize as Musician of the Year. The "Reflections" album won both a Swedish Grammy and the Golden Record Award of Orkester Journalen, and "Serenity" and "Goodbye" were albums of the month in publications around the world.
"Cantando" was recorded in December 2007 at the Auditorium Radio Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, a recital space increasingly valued as an ECM recording location. (Other albums recorded there in recent seasons include "The Third Man" by Enrico Rava/Stefano Bollani, "Le Voyage de Sahar" by Anouar Brahem, "Vignettes" by Marilyn Crispell, and "Nostalghia" by Francois Couturier.)