Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick makes his ECM debut as a leader with this set, which features keyboardist Jon Balke and a guest appearance from Stian Carstensen - usually an accordionist, but here playing that jazz-band rarity, the pedal-steel guitar. Eick (who also plays vibes and guitar) has played with everybody from the pioneering Trygve Seim collective to Chick Corea, psychedelic group Motorpsycho and contemporary jazz-rock band Jaga Jazzist. His silky, unbrasslike sound is ideally suited to this undulating groove-landscape, and pianist Balke's apposite fills and asides help give the music a collective fluency. But there's more angularity in the rough offbeats and low keyboard grunts under Eick's airy lines on the funky Stavanger, the stately Cologne Blues is like a slowed-down Carla Bley piece (with Carstensen's steel guitar shimmering beneath it, and a probing Balke solo), and there's a folk song lilt to the mid-tempo Williamsburg. A lot of it is slow tone-poetry, but Eick's rather mournful, puffs-of-air sound is pretty captivating.
Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick opts for a different approach on Midwest. Four years after the song-like Skala, his sophomore ECM date that has attained "classic" status in European critical circles, he employs notions of history, folk tradition, and dislocation. This album was inspired by Eick's time spent playing the American continent; his tour began on the West Coast. When he entered the rural, upper Midwest and encountered its vast open spaces, he began to feel a sense of "home." He later learned that over the past two centuries of immigration, over a million Norwegians had settled there. After conceiving a "road" album that would begin in Hem, the village of his birth, and traverse the ocean to America, Eick enlisted violinist Gjermund Larsen (a folk musician who has contributed to Christian Wallumrød's ECM recordings), pianist Jon Balke, double bassist Mats Eilertsen, and percussionist Helge Norbakken. The compositions are all lyrical, in typical Eick fashion, but with Larsen they take on a rougher, more earthen quality.
The listener may be forgiven for not knowing that any Debussy "Edgar Allan Poe Operas" existed, for neither of the works recorded here was ever completed. Moreover, and you don't learn this unless you read the notes or have investigated for yourself, one of them was hardly begun. After the success of Pelléas et Mélisande in New York, Debussy was encouraged to adapt a pair of Poe's short stories for a new American production. Debussy needed little encouragement and quickly produced a pair of scenarios, but other projects intervened, and the operas were never finished. The more complete one is La chute de la maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher), for which there are substantial sketches and several full realizations including the one here by "creative musicologist" Robert Orledge.
The connection between Wales and the harp is a long-standing one, and Mathias's part in it began 12 years before his Harp Concerto was written, with Improvisations for harp solo; even a Welshman has to learn how to cope with such an idiosyncratic instrument. He learned his lessons well—even using semitone pedal glissandos in the second movement, and he keeps the harp audible by alternating its solo passages with orchestral ones or, when the two are working together treating the orchestra with a light touch (the celesta is used as a particularly effective companion to the harp), at other times resorting to the more familiar across-the-strings sweep. Two movements have declared Welsh associations: the first juxtaposes but does not develop three themes the second is a 'bardic' elegy; the last is simply ''joyful and rhythmic''. The whole makes pleasing listening appealing to the emotions and imagination rather than the intellect.