CD REVIEW: Mats Eilertsen - Rubicon



Mats Eilertsen - Rubicon
(ECM 477 4315. CD review by Henning Bolte)


Norwegian bassist and composer Mats Eilertsen has a special talent for uniting heterogeneous elements, eliciting deep and touching resonances from them, and letting them sound like a family of beautiful and complementary voices.

An impressive example was his recent Memorabilia, a new work commissioned by this year’s Jazz Festival in Trondheim - the town of Eilertsen’s birth - for his trio with Harmen Fraanje (p) and Thomas Strønen (dr) together with the vocals/violin of Trio Mediæval.

Rubicon was a 2014 commission for eight-piece ensemble from Vossa Jazz. In it, Eilertsen places trust in his fellow musicians and their instruments and voices, and makes them find their own place, role and colour as inevitable part of an emerging whole. That is what makes the difference, as does his special talent for giving things an unusual twist with a lightly puzzling and at the same time amiable reshaping. The careful consideration given to the instrumentation of the album, notably the adding of marimba and vibraphone (Rob Waring) shows this well.

The opening piece Canto is a wonderful example of how music both emerges from the swirls of the air, and also arises from the deep ground. The way both spheres cross-fade and intertwine yields a special quality. The circling of Trygve Seim’s curved saxophone and Eirik Hegdal’s dry clarinet, and their eventual merging are provide a truly remarkable moment. When the sky is clearing, the bass enters the scene, plays melodic elements whilst the piano subtly takes a subdued role in which it is simultaneously loose and tight. It finally conjures a sense of timelessness and floating, expanding space. That’s just the introduction - with nine more pieces yet to come.

Having listened to these ten pieces several times the album reveals itself as a masterpiece. The delicate and dynamic way of foregrounding, fading in and out different sections of the eight players, that really matters here. The pieces are built on strong melodic elements the repetition of which goes along with captivating enrichments time after time. In every piece a special space, a special sphere and mood is set. But above all it is the way of expanding that in each piece, which makes it such a great album. The music and the musicians take its/their time to broaden en deepen the resonances, consonances from the centre. There is a remarkable flow, depth, clarity and airiness – not of the far away type but of the type making the listener part of it.

The album contains a combination of lush and more sober pieces. The two sober ones (and shortest pieces), Wood and Water and Introitus, as well as the two lush ones (and longest pieces), September and March, are my personal favourites in the context of the whole album. The humming Intriotus as well as the mysterious Wood and Water witness remarkable playful, with fetching interactions of bass, marimba and bass clarinet. In March the billowy and fanning movements gravitate to Trygve Seim as central player and subsequently are discharged, leaking into the richly layered consonance of the whole. September’s motif is exposed beautifully by Harmen Fraanje’s piano and then “rebuilt” by bass, vibraphone, guitar and drums (Olavi Louhivuori) before the horns arise and a central electric guitar part (Thomas T Dahl) expands. In this piece the way of gaining width. as well as the quiet reverberation in the postlude are especially captivating.

 The particular kind of energy in the music of Rubicon seems to come from a secret place. It has its very own tinge of longing, even of 'saudade.'

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