My first exposure to the ECM milieuthe singular look, the sharp sound, the hypnotic musicwas with Keith Jarrett's 1975 opus The Köln Concert. After longtime immersion in my parents' West Coast-intensive record collection, this amazing work of crystalline beauty hit me like French New Wave hits an American movie buff. Some guy named Manfred Eicher was telling me, in effect, "We don't have to do this music the same old way! Free your ears and your mind will follow!
I bring this up because pianist Anat Fort's ECM debut, A Long Story, brought me right back to the freshman dorm, to the moment when I heard that simple, five-note opening to the first movement of Köln. For me, the beauty, the simplicity, and the originality of the Israeli pianist's compositions and improvisations are a direct link to a time thirty years gone, and it's great to have that back.
Fort's early studies of classical music merge with her tutelage in improv theory by Paul Bley, particularly on the meditative "Just Now. Fort uses it as a starting point, a mid-disc reset, and the disc's denouement, presenting the piece differently with each variationwith the base trio, as a solo piece, and with reedman Perry Robinson joining the rest of the players on the finale. The music is the same, but the emotional place keeps changing; on "Just Now, Var. III, Robinson's clarinet adds a gypsy undertone, injecting a hint of wildness into an otherwise pensive piece.
I love Fort's titles. Take the sprightly, hopeful "Morning: Good not "Good Morning, but "Morning: Good, i.e. morning and light good, night and darkness bad. "Not A Dream? comes with the question mark; the unreality of the exploratory, asymmetrical piece evokes those nightmares that seem so real, you forget you can wake up. "Chapter-Two is just that: Two people writing a chapter of their lives together, with Robinson slurring and sliding on clarinet over Fort's dancing, cantering riff. Fort returns to the piece later, but as a solo, so the title changes to "Chapter-One.
For a date that embodies the old school ECM sound, Fort couldn't have a better percussionist than Paul Motian. A contemporary of Jarrett and Bley, Motian doesn't play the beat as much as he embosses it on the music, though there are a few moments where he actually gets out front and swings. Robinson's contributions are superb, especially his Asian-influenced ocarina on "As Two/Something 'bout Camels. Ed Schuller has played with both Motian and Robinson, so the disc's underlying chemistry is that of a long-term partnership based on total trust.
This date was recorded in 2004, so it's been in the cellar for a while. Then again, it takes time to make vintage wine. A Long Story has the crisp, scintillating flavor of the past, but it also gives us a taste of the future, in the form of a gifted young pianist who straddles two musical worlds with ease and flair.
Personnel: Anat Fort: piano; Perry Robinson: clarinet, ocarina; Ed Schuller: bass; Paul Motian: drums.