Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Door Opens

Mathias Eick's "The Door," his first album as a leader, does not conjure up the object in its title. To my ears, "The Door" sounds more like a window peering out into a frozen plain; you can almost feel the cold breeze when you listen to the record in Eick's tones on trumpet, which are left to linger in soundscapes of his own creation. Like a frozen breeze, Eick's work is refreshing in an almost uncomfortable way, and "The Door" is the first album since Vijay Iyer's "Tragicomic" this year to give me chills. Eick, who is not yet thirty, wasn't even alive when fellow Norwegian Jan Garbarek was making his name with Keith Jarrett's European Quartet, but Garbarek's influence, and that of the other great early ECM artists like Bobo Stenson and Bill Frisell, can be heard in every note of "The Door." The "ECM sound" is all over the record, but it works. People complain about the wide open spaces inherent in ECM records, but they fit Eick like a glove.

In spite of all of the jazz, there is also a discernible pop influence in the young trumpet player's work, albeit a very subtle one. Unlike his other young counterparts here in the States, who wear their hip-hop and R&B influences like a glove, Eick is more interested in the feeling than the actual sound. "Williamsburg," the album's centerpiece, has a hook worthy of a pop song and contains a fair amount of improvisation, but builds like a classical work; it's impossible to pigeonhole the tune into any one genre, but the aesthetic is clear. "Williamsburg" isn't just meant to be heard, but to be felt. The band breaks down a few times, going into understatedly short, rehearsed free sections, before coming back with the song's insistent piano groove. Eick himself plays beautifully, imbuing the song with a quiet weight. For such a young player, Eick has already found an extremely individual voice; after having heard "The Door," I could never mix Eick's understated beauty up with the work of any of the plethora of other young trumpet players on the scene today.

His sidemen are not here to provide back-up, however; in spite of the fact that many tunes are developed in the traditional head-solos-head fashion, they are too textured to be mistaken for normal straight-ahead jazz. When Eick solos, the band solos with him: pianist John Balke, drummer Auden Klieve, and bassist Auden Erlien all double on various other instruments through-out the record to match Eick's various moods, and each member eggs the other on when the leader isn't soloing. Eick seems to be heralding something of a renaissance in Norwegian jazz, in spite of guest spots on all kinds of albums, his "The Door" is the first one to take the works of the older Europeans and add something substantial to them. "The Door" is possibly the most beautiful album I've heard all year, and it doesn't hurt that I've never heard anything quite like it. Highly recommended.

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