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Solemnity and reverence are two characteristics that come to mind on hearing the opening tune on Tel Aviv-born pianist Anat Fort's ECM Records debut, A Long Story. The simple, straightforward melody of "Just Now, Var. I" sounds biblically old, like music tapped from humanity's collective marrow; and itand the entire setfits well into the atmosphere of a good percentage of the material released on the prestigious German label, sounds that are spare, spacious, understated and mesmerizingly beautiful. All of the music was composed by Fort, with the exception of "Chapter-Two, which was co-written by the pianist and clarinetist Perry Robinson.
The band proves itself a dream collective. Drummer Paul Motian, who can take a good deal of credit for democratizing the sound of the standard piano trio with his work with pianist Bill Evans in the early '60s, taps out subtle textural and timekeeping complexities, using just sticks and brushes, stretched skin and metal discs to create the deepest art. Ed Schuller, with a long history of collaboration with Motian and Robinson, provides an anchoring but always-malleable pulse; and clarinetist Perry Robinson adds, by turns, both warm tones and the occasional edgy grit to the mix.
The "Just Now" theme gets three variations, once as a trio, one solo take, and the closer with the full quartet. Perry Robinson emerges from the piano trio offerings on the third cut, "Lullaby," talking on his dark wood, telling a soothing story with the Stephen Foster-like melody.
"Not a Dream" drifts into noir territory, with Robinson's clarinet growling low along a dark alley and Fort's solo unwinding from the shadows, beginning with a stark simplicity that evolves into alluring abstraction before it tightens up again.
A Long Story sings with a floating, ethereal, Middle Eastern-flavored charm and a gorgeous group dynamic. No review, no blocky stack of paragraphs can do justice to its unadorned organic beauty. It has to be heard.
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.