Mathias Eick – ‘Midwest’

Midwest2Before hearing the first note, I knew that I would like ‘Midwest’. Mathias Eick is a unique communicator and his compositions gift us with particular ways of experiencing places we have not yet visited. Sound is transmuted and we see what he is seeing. As I listened to the album I was drawn deep into a world of vast open spaces, history and complex human emotion. The connection was visceral as the music brought the plains of the Midwest into the range of intimacy. I sensed the wild grass running between my fingers as I listened. The last album to evoke such a strong sense of place for me was Tomasz Stanko’s ‘The Soul of Things’. ECM is the home of such evocative albums.

This is an outsiders look at the Midwest of America and a fresh take on Americana. The emotions and melodic intensity are what they are; expressions borne of the heart, devoid of apparent preconception, arrow straight in their delivery. Few bands are as suited to realise this as Eick’s and for the task he has assembled the ideal collaborators. All of the elements are there. The hint of sadness in the gentle slurs of Gjermund Larsen’s violin, the sparse beauty of Jon Balke’s piano, the folksy bass lines of Mats Eilertsen and the colourist pulsing percussion of Helge Norbakken. Above all the soft-edged well modulated soulful trumpet; a trumpet that sounds like no other.MidwestWhere I live in the South Pacific, Jazz musicians sometimes pose the question; Do we have our own sound, a unique quality that we tap into? As our scene grows the answer is increasingly yes. This uniqueness of ‘sound’ is evident among Scandinavian improvising musicians and especially so among Norwegian trumpeters. In this case the identity is multi faceted. It is Norwegian and Americana.Midwest 3The Midwest is both mythical and real, we feel that we know it intimately. Endless tales arise from the indigenous peoples (who respected it best) and the hopeful European settlers who spread across it looking for a new home. It struck a particular chord with Eick as the peoples of Norway were prominent among those settlers. The writer Lawrence Durrell explains this best when he says that certain places transcend reality and become ‘less a geographical entity than an idea’. ‘Midwest’ is an embodiment of this principle. Midwest by Mathias Eick is out on the ECM label.

Night in Tunisia

Youssef Dhafer at Moers Festival, June 2006, G...

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In the mid nineties I was lucky enough to visit Switzerland for two weeks. Walking happily and aimlessly around the beautiful shores of Lac Lemon, Geneva, one summer evening, I came across five North African musicians playing entrancing modal melodies on the traditional instruments of their region. As I recall there was an Oud, hand drums, a reed instrument and several other stringed instruments.  I stopped to listen and during a break in the music asked them the obligatory, “what country are you from?”  “Tunisia” they called out with huge grins indicating their traditional costumes.  “Dizzy Gillespie”,  I said turning to my friend Michael as I threw a few Swiss francs into the cap that lay in front of them. We had hardly walked on a dozen steps when a cheerful cry of  “hey English” accosted us.  As we turned round the musicians began channeling Dizzy and to my ears that version of ‘Night in Tunisia” sounded just wonderful. I marvelled that they should know that 1940’s American Be-Bop warhorse because they were barely more than teens.  Jazz can truly be a world-music.

Some years ago I listened to a not-so-successful attempt to use an Oud in Jazz. The band was about in the late 1950’s and the ‘fusion’ was far from convincing; a novelty at best.  As the ECM label broadened the scope of its Jazz offerings I began to hear marvelous improvised music on the Oud. In the late 90’s I purchased several CD’s by Tunisian Oud player Anouar Brahem (a Keith Jarrett influenced musician). The Oud creates a wonderful soundscape and the deep improvisations the instrument is capable of adds much to the musical lexicon.

In 2009 at the Wellington Jazz festival I decided on a whim to go to an additional concert. The group was lead by Sufi Tunisian Oud player Dhafer Youssef.  This concert was up-there  as an experience and I enjoyed every note. His band consisted of Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Michal Miskiewiscz (drums) and a great Canadian arco-stick-bass player whose name now eludes me. Dhafer sung his other worldly songs and played the Oud and the crowd was entranced.  Having the heart of the utterly brilliant Tomasz Stanko band as his rhythm section did not hurt either.

The Oud is just fine by me.