Friday, August 12, 2011

Eick’s Skala

If more than two musicians played a bar of music in the same room together while the programmers were assembling Lady Ga Ga’s latest album on a hard-drive someplace, it was probably a fortuitous accident. In contrast, the five weeks Norwegian trumpeter-multi-instrumentalist Mathias Eick spent in the studio for his latest CD would be relatively short by pop standards, but could be considered the equivalent of several years in jazz time. Yet, Eick’s distinctive trumpet voice happily remains front-and-center throughout the resulting Skala, now available from ECM Records.

As soon as the opening title track begins, listeners get a sense of the duality of Eick’s music, as his exquisitely burnished (almost classical) trumpets rings out over a funky backbeat. Yet, the aural backdrop never sounds busy, leaving plenty of space for sensitive solo statements from leader and tenor-saxophonist Tore Brunborg, an increasingly familiar name to those who follow Manfred Eicher’s label.

One of two tracks named after cities, the following “Edinburgh” (the site of its composition rather than a direct inspiration) is a perfect example of Eick’s cascading music, ranging from a soft growl to rich clarion call. Similarly, while “Oslo’s” intro is marked by spacey distortion, it eventually locks into a hypnotic groove that would turn hardcore trance heads. Yet, Eick’s remarkable tone and eloquence on his primary instrument are in evidence throughout the track.

A tribute to Joni Mitchell, aptly titled “Joni,” is perhaps the session’s most “radio friendly” track, in considerable measure due to Vince Mendoza’s stirring arrangement, inspired by the singer-songwriter’s “Both Sides Now.” It also features some virtuoso work from pianist Andreas Ulvo and the leader doubling on vibes, adding a lush texture to the dramatic mix.

Though deceptively modest in title, “Epilogue” is a perfect summation for Skala, steadily building from a contemplative prologue into a muscular jazz-rock dynamo, appropriately representing the various “fusions” at play throughout the album (jazz & electronica, music & technology, improvisation & studio assemblage, etc.). However, even with all the loops and distorting effects, Eick’s trumpet style always sounds engaging—frankly even welcoming. As a result, Skala continues to grow and ingratiate itself with frequent repeated listening. A compelling record of Eick’s musical development, Skala is another highly recommended release from the eminent ECM Records (widely available at surviving music retailers).

(Photo: Colin Eick © Mathias Eick 2011)