How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
From the first notes of "Just Now," an attentive listener will recognize that A Long Story is going to be something special. The seemingly simple, Middle-Eastern tinged melody is treated with odd phrase lengths, keeping the listener decidedly off-balance, despite the direct harmonic progressions. Pianist Anat Fort's improvisations on the tune float around the barely felt pulse creating an atmosphere of calm, serene beauty, which nevertheless is quite taut beneath the surface.
The rest of the album seems to simply unfold, gradually exposing this remarkable musician's compositional and improvisational skills. The pieces each tell a story and each has a combination of rigorous logic and playfulness mixed with much room for spontaneous invention.
This record, which feels like a longer story made up of shorter ones, is really a retelling of Fort's personal story, hence its title. As with most "overnight sensations" and "good luck," Fort's appearance on ECM has been prepared by years of playing and studying in both the jazz and classical disciplines, coupled with lots of determination.
Fort had wanted to play with Paul Motian since hearing him on a Bill Evans record years ago. After moving to New York from Israel and immersing herself in the downtown scene, Fort met and played with bassist Ed Schuller and clarinetist Perry Robinson, both of whom have long histories with Motian. This recording is the result of Fort asking Motian to record with her; Schuller and Robinson, Schuller talking Motian into doing it in 2004; and Motian so loving the music at the session that he recommended it to ECM. Manfred Eicher then helped to sequence and mix the record and three years later having it released.
That which so intrigued Motian, including the aforementioned "Just Now," for which he asked to see the score (which is quite out of character), is at once both perfectly clear and deeply hidden. The music seems completely obvious at first hearing, unfolding with extremely logical ease. As each track individually, and the album as a whole, progresses, however, intricacies begin to pile up, mostly without announcing themselves, indicating a very high degree of craft.
At the same time, Fort's music possesses much suppleness and spontaneity that moves it away from "good composition" and into "jazz as art," coupled with a playing style that combines gossamer beauty with a steely toughness. Her music also takes wonderful advantage of the musical personalities of Robinson and Schuller, both of whom are playful and light on their feet, and who clearly enjoy playing this music.
As for Motian, he is actually quite subdued most of the time, adding percussive color, along with the subtlest of pulses when needed, with the one exception of "Rehaired," where he plays out.
A Long Story is one of a handful of albums that can be listened to again and again while revealing different aspects of itself each time. Highly recommendedget ready to be seduced by the artistry of Anat Fort.
Track Listing: Just Now, Var. I; Morning: Good; Lullaby; Chapter-Two; Just Now, Var. II; Not a Dream?; Rehaired; As Two/Something 'bout Camels; Not the Perfect Storm; Chapter-One; Just Now, Var. III.
Personnel: Anat Fort: piano; Perry Robinson: clarinet, ocarina; Ed Schuller: bass; Paul Motian: drums.