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Joys and Solitudes
Yonathan Avishai: piano
Yoni Zelnik: double bass
Donald Kontomanou: drums
Release date: January 25, 2019
UPC: 6025 675 1624 8
Israeli-French pianist Yonathan Avishai has made important contributions to the music of Avishai Cohen, as documented on the ECM albums Into The Silence and Cross My Palm With Silver. In parallel, over the last five years, he has been developing his own project with the trio heard here, with Paris-based Israeli bassist Yoni Zelnik and Donald Kontomanou, French drummer of Guinean and Greek heritage. Sometimes known as the Modern Times Trio, the group re-examines shifting meanings of modernity in the course of its work. The new album opens with Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”, a composition written in 1930, and for Yonathan still very much up-to-the-minute. “Ellington is a thoroughly modern pianist and composer,” he muses. “His way of telling a story with his playing influenced me, and ‘Mood Indigo’ is a song I’ve loved for a long time.” In the original pieces that follow, Avishai makes reference to a broad range of musics. Uniting the different inspirational sources is a feeling that Yonathan is digging deep for the essential in his playing and writing. Ornamentation is rigorously trimmed; not a note is wasted here. Old values like swing and blues feeling still apply in Avishai’s forward-looking concept. The music keeps dancing in the spaces between phrases.
“I do feel very much rooted in the tradition. First of all I love history and the perspectives that study of it brings. And I’m interested in all of jazz history, from Louis Armstrong to Cecil Taylor and beyond.” Asked to define the moment when he recognized the characteristics of his own style he replies, “I think it has to do with recognizing the things that you can’t do. I’m not only talking about skills but understanding the contexts in which your own voice is most expressive. I saw at some point that I become more expressive with less notes. And when you listen to Lester Young or Louis Armstrong and you see how they can make you cry in eight bars….” It’s an economy to aspire to, he implies.
Born in Tel Aviv, Yonathan Avishai spent his early years in Japan, where his father was studying. “My parents were people concerned with art and culture and exposed me to a great deal of it in Japan. I saw a lot of kabuki plays, for instance, and became a real fan. I feel the influence of this period stayed with me somehow, a sensitivity to a certain kind of aesthetics and energy – and although I don’t particularly like the word, a taste of ‘minimalism’ is part of my work, and perhaps that could be traced that back to kabuki.”
Returning to Israel, Yonathan, as he puts it, “basically grew up alongside Avishai Cohen.” The pianist and trumpeter starting playing together at thirteen and have collaborated almost continuously ever since. “We went to the same school, lived in the same neighbourhood and went through very similar experiences in discovering jazz.” In Yonathan’s case, the process was a kind of backwards journey – reversing through hiphop, funk and fusion to the core of the tradition. His growing interest in jazz was supported by relatives in France, who would send cassette tapes to Israel: “Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington Trio, Count Basie, Bill Evans…Those were the first ones I heard and loved.” There was encouragement also from the Israeli jazz community. “The jazz scene in Israel is great. It’s a tiny country, so very far from the United States, but there is something going on in the music. We had great teachers, passionate and knowledgeable people.”
In 2000, Yonathan relocated to France. Based for more than a decade in the Dordogne region of the south west, he moved closer to Paris a few years back, and promptly met up with Yoni Zelnik and Donald Kontomanou. “It was very quickly clear to me that I had the people I needed to go further with the music and this project.” Both players share Avishai’s open-minded creative approach. Drummer Kontomanou has latterly been playing in Laurent de Wilde’s New Monk Trio. Bassist Zelnik’s credits include work with the groups of pianist Florian Pellissier and drummer Fred Pasqua. He has also toured as a member of the Triveni trio with Avishai Cohen and Nasheet Waits.
Pieces on Joys and Solitudes take their genesis from many different places. “Les pianos de Brazzaville”, for instance, recalls two journeys made by Yonathan Avishai to the Republic of the Congo in Central Africa.
“Tango” is a creative response to hearing Dino Saluzzi and Anja Lechner’s album Ojos Negros. “I listened to that recording non-stop for a month. My piece wasn’t an attempt to write a tango, but to capture some of the colour and flavour of the playing.”
“When Things Fall Apart”, borrowing its title from the book by American Buddhist writer Pema Chödrön, is inspired by the music of Avishai Cohen. “It’s actually a direct response to Avishai’s composition ‘Into The Silence’. Even though I’m part of Avishai’s band, and have participated in the shaping of the music, the way in which that piece develops is a little mysterious, and I like the emotional result. Many of the things I write are melodically simple, and often in 4/4, but with ‘When Things Fall Apart’ I wanted to experiment with a longer form, with spaces for improvising, as Avishai often does.”
Joys and Solitudes was recorded at Lugano’s Auditiorio Stelio Molo RSI, in February 2018, and produced by Manfred Eicher.
Further ECM recordings with Yonathan Avishai, including a duo album with Avishai Cohen, are in preparation.
Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone, tarogato, gongs
Marilyn Crispell: piano
Carmen Castaldi: drums, percussion
Release date: January 25, 2019
CD UPC: 6025 6796426 1
LP UPC: 6025 7736190 6
Joe Lovano on tour 2019
Jan. 27th Buffalo, NY **Albright-Knox Gallery
Feb. 16th St. Catharines, ON Oscar Peterson Jazz Festival
Feb. 19th – 23rd New York, NY Birdland (saxophone summit)
Mar. 1st Tucson, AZ Crowder Hall, U of Arizona
Mar. 8th Aliso Viejo, CA Soka University
Mar. 10th Albuquerque, NM ** Outpost Performance Space
Mar. 11th Santa Cruz, CA Kuumbwa Jazz Center
Mar. 12th – 13th Seattle, WA ** Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley
Mar. 14th – 17th San Francisco, CA ** SFJAZZ Miner Auditorium
Apr. 13th Austin, TX Bates Recital Hall
** indicate Trio Tapestry performances
Joe Lovano, widely acknowledged as one of the great tenor saxophonists of our time, has been a presence on ECM since 1981, appearing on key recordings with Paul Motian, Steve Kuhn, John Abercrombie and Marc Johnson. Trio Tapestry, introducing a new group with pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Carmen Castaldi is his first as a leader for the label. An album of focused intensity and expressive beauty, it features a program of eleven new compositions that Joe calls “some of the most intimate and personal music I’ve recorded so far.”
The album, produced by Manfred Eicher at New York’s Sear Sound studio, draws upon Lovano’s history and development as a player who has addressed both jazz tradition and exploratory improvisation. “For me this recording is a statement of where I am, where I’ve been and where I may be headed.” In a performer’s note in the CD booklet he says of the recording, “The divine timing of interplay and interaction is magical. Trio Tapestry is a melodic, harmonic, rhythmic musical tapestry throughout, sustaining moods and atmospheres.”
Each of the pieces here flowers from a melodic core informed by twelve-tone processes, a methodology Lovano came to appreciate through his long association with composer Gunter Schuller. “And working with Marilyn Crispell who also had lived in that world, having played a lot of contemporary composition and played extensively with Anthony Braxton and so on, we had a beautiful communication in that sound.” If the colors and textures of the music invoke a chamber music ambience, the players themselves “are deeply rooted in jazz, sounding out each other’s feelings in the improvising, and making music within the music. I brought in the material and had an idea of what I wanted to happen, but in terms of how we play together, there is a very equal weight of contribution. We harmonise in this music in a really special way.”
Crispell and Lovano first crossed paths in the mid-1980s when the pianist was a member of Anthony Braxton’s quartet, with Gerry Hemingway and John Lindberg. “They happened to be recording in a studio next door to my loft in New York. We met then and stayed in touch.” Around 2006 Joe sat in with Marilyn’s trio with Mark Helias and Paul Motian for a night at the Village Vanguard, which led to a concert as a quartet at New York’s Miller Theater, playing compositions by all four musicians. “That was the first time I’d played a full concert with Marilyn.” The potential for further musical exploration was evident, fulfilled now by Trio Tapestry.
Carmen Castaldi and Joe Lovano have played together since their teenage years in Cleveland, and moved to Boston together to attend Berklee in 1971. In the mid-70s when Joe relocated to New York, Carmen headed to the West Coast where he was based for the next couple of decades. Since his return to Ohio, cooperation between the two friends has intensified. Castaldi played on Joe’s Viva Caruso album on Blue Note and toured widely with Lovano’s Street Band, “playing a more ‘folk’ kind of music, with a different energy”, in a line-up including Judy Silvano, Gil Goldstein, Ed Schuller and Erik Friedlander. “Carmen is a wonderful free spirit on the drums, a total improviser, inspired by Paul Motian his whole life. I was really happy to have him on this recording, which is more than ‘a session’ for me. It incorporates a way of playing and interacting that Carmen and I have developed together over very many years.”
Castaldi’s subtle drumming engages with the dialogues between saxophone and piano, detailing and adding commentary. A further textural element, augmenting the music’s sense of mystery, comes from Lovano’s use of gongs. “I started to develop that concept back in the 1980s, playing tenor saxophone and accompanying myself on gongs, having a mallet in my right hand to create different tonalities and different key centers from which to improvise.”
Over the last fifteen years, the soulful cry of the Hungarian tarogato has also found a place in Lovano’s music. It seems to lend itself to solemn or yearning meditations. Joe played tarogato on “The Spiritual” on Steve Kuhn’s Mostly Coltrane, for example. On Trio Tapestry it is featured on “Mystic”, declaiming over rumbling percussion.
Cecil Taylor once praised Marilyn Crispell for “spearheading a new lyricism” in creative music, and Lovano who hails the pianist for her “amazing sound, touch and vocabulary” is pleased to provide a context for her expressive voice here. Crispell, of course, has recorded for ECM for more than twenty years to date, with a discography that includes trio albums with Paul Motian and Gary Peacock (Nothing Ever Was, Anyway and Amaryllis), a duo album with Peacock (Azure), the solo piano album Vignettes, and more.
Lovano’s ECM leader debut with Trio Tapestry follows more than two decades as a Blue Note recording artist, with numerous releases in formats from duo (with Hank Jones, for instance) to large ensemble (the Grammy-winning 52nd Street Themes).