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.


A few days ago an extremist murdered 69 young Labour Party activists on Utoya Island and 7 more in central Oslo.  The purpose of this senseless massacre was to cower a nation and to stop the ruling Labour Party in its tracks.   Neither has occurred as Norway is made of sterner stuff than that and more than a million people gathered in Oslo to underscore their deeply held commitment to tolerance and humanism.   A sense of shared humanity will continue to steer this small nations course and no far-right fundamentalist will be able to derail that purpose.  By now most people get the bitter irony of this massacre, as the atrocity was perpetrated against one of the worlds most peace-loving and tolerant peoples (Oslo is the home of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Oslo Peace Accord).    Norway not only looks after its own citizens well, but it sets an example to the wider world when it comes to foreign aid.

This was no shadowy middle-eastern jihadi as a few foolish people had suggested, but an altogether more recognisable figure was resposible.   A pathetically deluded white male who professed  admiration for the worst genocidal killers of Europe.

Norway has produced many fine Jazz musicians and I have included several clips which can speak for themselves.    The first is the tune ‘Oslo‘ by ‘Mathias Eick‘.   What begins as an eerie trumpet call soon evolves into a gently swinging tribute to this peace-loving city.  The second is a tune by ‘Jan Garbarek‘ and ‘Shankar’ and is titled ‘paper nut’.   ‘Garbarek’ will need little introduction to Jazz audiences.