Monday, September 15, 2008

Different Angles from Jacob Young

By all possible counts, ECM is making a huge comeback. Between a reissue series that shows its catalogue in a new light, brilliant albums from old stalwarts (a smattering of new albums by Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio; Marylin Mazur's "Elixer"), and one of the best (if not the best) albums of the year from a young musician (Mathias Eick's recent "The Door"), ECM is beginning to really give the American labels a serious run for their money. Into this fray comes Jacob Young's "Sideways," a sort of statement of purpose from the stalwarts and young turks alike. Young has recorded before for ECM; in 2004, his "Evening Falls" made a splash amongst European jazz enthusiasts, but barely registered in the States. Hopefully "Sideways" is accessible enough to give Young some recognition; by the looks of it, however (two stars in downbeat?!), "Sideways" is going to be treated as "just another ECM record," which is a shame.

The real star of "Sideways" is not the leader, but the young Mathias Eick, who can be heard here- in all of his subtle glory- playing trumpet. While "Sideways" is neither as adventurous nor as beautiful as Eick's recent debut, "The Door," there are many similarities in the music; both albums feature a jarring amount of space, and both albums are interested in off-kilter melodies. The likenesses stop there, however, and the appearance of both a saxophone player and a guitar player differentiate the proceedings. There are more subtle differences however; whereas songs like "Williamsburg" and "December" on "The Door" merely hinted at melody, Young's approach on songs like "Slow Bo-Bo" is much more transparent. Eick plays beautifully on Young's songs, as does the saxophone player, Vidar Johansen.

The biggest problem with "Sideways" is that Young's own playing is not as memorable as that of his sidemen, or as memorable as his tunes. In addition to Eick and Johansen, the veteran drummer Jon Christensen- the player both in Keith Jarrett's famed European Quartet, and on Jan Garbarek's "Wichi-Tai-To," perhaps the greatest ECM recording ever- and the bassist Mats Eilertsen are here to liven up the proceedings. Add the brilliance of the other musicians to the aching beauty of songs like "Hanna's Lament," and Young simply gets lost in the mix. The only thing I have jotted down about Young's playing on this album (after having heard the album twice, mind you) is that it is "subtle." Go figure. In spite of this fact, however, I would unequivocally recommend this album, especially for fans of the brilliant Eick. If you are not aware of Eick's work, pick up "The Door" instead.

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