on 31 May 2013
Being a fan of Bjørnstad's music and Antonioni's film, I approached this with much anticipation. However, I'm sorry to say that I found it very disappointing. The listener gets absolutely no sense of the film from this recording and even if one were to take it as a stand-alone piece (which perhaps it is), it's really rather average stuff. Melodies are weak, the playing is efficient rather than inspired and there's nothing approaching a clear identity. It could be any one of the countless pieces of Scandinavian jazz churned out by ECM over the years. Having bought a number of disappointing ECM's in recent months, I'm beginning to wonder whether Manfred Eicher's fabled instinct for quality music has finally begun to desert him. Either that or I've had my fill of the label without realising it. Where's Edward Vesala when you need him?
on 3 November 2014
It's been at least twenty years since I last dozed through the Antonioni film that allegedly inspired this suite, so I'm just going to go ahead and say that this music strikes me as a more rhythmically adventurous version of one of pop composer Fox Amoore's imaginary movie soundtracks, by way of a Yo-Yo Ma crossover project (cellist Anja Lechner plays the lion's share of the solos in this all-star sextet).
The suite's eight sections, imaginatively titled with Roman numerals, begin with a stately prelude for piano, cello, and (eventually) bass; "II" is a swinging piece that overlays fiery solos for guitar, sax, and drums over a melody that wouldn't sound out of place under the closing credits of an anime action movie. The Nino Rota-like "III" is melancholy-tinged circus music for cello and soprano sax, while "IV" is a piano ballad that cries out for a set of wistful Japanese vocals, but gets a lovely trio with tenor sax and cello instead.
"V" is a slower, more melancholic ballad, at least until the drums kick in for the power outro. "VI" is a nocturne for cello and piano that ends, memorably, in a virtuoso cello/bass duet that segues into the most explicitly jazzy part of the suite, the uptempo "VII." Arild Andersen's driving bass, Eivind Aarset's freak-out guitar, and Andy Sheppard's soprano sax take their turns in the spotlight.
"VIII" is the postlude for piano, cello, and percussion that leads us into the dawn and out of LA NOTTE. Recorded live at Norway's Molde International Jazz Festival, there's not so much as a peep from the audience, which was either enraptured or absent.
on 6 May 2013
The official blurb says that this was recorded live, but if, like me, you are put off by the vast majority of live releases, don't worry. Perhaps the players are inspired to their glorious heights of emotional eloquence by the unseen and unheard audience (the best kind), but apart from that you wouldn't know it was a live recording at all. The sound is as gorgeous and meticulous as any ECM, there is no intrusive audience applause or, heaven forefend, "whooping" noises of any kind, and there certainly isn't any grandstanding by the players for the crowd.
While this is an ECM all-star cast (Andy Sheppard saxophones, Anja Lechner cello, Eivind Aarset guitars , Arild Andersen bass, Marilyn Mazur percussion, Ketil Bjørnstad piano), as you would expect from these class acts, this is no ego-jam - there is no competition, cutting or clashes of style, just a glorious never-ending flow of harmonious interchanges and musical empathy, bringing out the absolute best in absolutely everyone.
While Bjørnstad recordings are always beautiful, the varied instrumentation and changes of pace and intensity here means this recording sustains the interest more easily than many of his previous ECMs, such that the occasional Bjørnstad solo segments grab and hold the attention as forcibly as everything else on this wonderfully enjoyable album.
La Notte is one long musically integrated suite segmented into 8 parts, minimalistically entitled "I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII and VIII". The blurb tells us that it is "a salute to Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni". Once again, I'm afraid, I have to take their word for this, being entirely ignorant of such things (but piqued now to investigate further ...).
If you are an ECM aficionado, do not hesitate, purchase at once, this is a major work and a sheer joy.
If you are new to ECM, there could be no better place to dip your toes in the water and, while the cost of entry of an ECM album always makes it a tough speculative purchase decision, I feel sure that anyone that likes pensive, beautiful and atmospheric in music will fall in love with this immediately.