Monday, September 01, 2008

Currents from Holland

By the Wolfert Brederode Quartet
ECM Records 2004

Manfred Eicher’s ECM Records and vintage Alfred Lion-era Blue Note often seem poles apart stylistically, but arguably they shared philosophical similarities. Both labels were developed by strong founding producers whose distinctive aesthetic sense even shaped the signature look of their albums. Each also built reputations for respecting their artists, often signing sidemen who had distinguished themselves on previous sessions to their own contracts. Wolfert Brederode is the latest example of this practice. After contributing to the distinctive sounds of vocalist Susanne Abbuehl’s CDs, the Dutch pianist has just released Currents, his first session as a leader for the label.

Brederode kicks off with “Common Fields,” one of the more melodic and rhythmic selections in an elegantly subtle set. Brederode lays down a hypnotic groove on piano over which clarinetist Claudio Puntin soars, egged on by Samuel Rohrer’s insistent cymbals. It is a compelling track—an attention-getting introduction for a set of often ruminative music entirely composed, or in one case co-composed by the leader. It is followed by the exquisitely delicate “Empty Room,” a track that can easily get overwhelmed by outside distractions if you are listening to it around town on your ipod.

“High & Low,” essentially a trio performance, has a lighter, airier feel, nicely demonstrating the musicians’ facility for using space and rests, before Puntin returns to the fore introducing the mournful pastoral “With Them.” Throughout Currents, his clarinet sounds far removed from the shrill old-timey licorice stick, bringing forth a deep resonance from the instrument.

The aptly titled “Frost Flower” has a similar dark trance-like vibe as “Fields,” but is taken at a somewhat slower tempo. “Scarabee” is another thoughtful piece that also allows for some eloquent statements from Brederode and Puntin. Brederode’s group consistently shows a particular facility for subtle dynamic shifts, as on “Desiderata,” which steadily builds in intensity from the leader’s spare introduction.

As is the case with many ECM sessions, Currents resembles an EU summit conference, with the Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen and the Swiss Puntin and Rohrer joining the Dutch leader to form a remarkably cohesive unit. Like Mathias Eick’s recent release, it is quite rewarding to hear a relatively new artist afforded the opportunity to pursue their own musical conceptions as leaders. Brederode’s music has a fluid vibe that expresses much with great economy, making Currents a rich listen for those willing to spend the time to let it properly incubate in their ears.