Five years have passed since Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson released his last disc on the ECM label, the sublime Serenity. It's not that he's been quiet or absent during that time, having recorded albums like last year's duet with saxophonist Lennart Aberg, Bobo Stenson/Lennart Aberg. But the limited availability of his Swedish releases has meant that for the most part, and with the exception of appearances on a number of ECM's :rarum compilations, he's been out of the eye of the greater international public.
And that's a shame. What's become increasingly apparent with Stenson's body of work, especially since returning to the ECM fold as a leader in '96 with Reflections, is that while he may not have the visibility of Keith Jarrett, he clearly possesses the same cachet as a deeply personal interpreter. Certainly he's a more rarefied pianist, less likely to impress by virtue of overt technical expertise, although it would be impossible to create the music he does were he not a formidable player. No, Stenson's strength is in his ability to go deep into materialany materialand find the hidden and more evasive truths that others might not.
One of the best examples on his latest trio record, Goodbye, is his take on Stephen Sondheim's too-often-covered "Send in the Clowns." While so many others introduce a sense of blatant melodrama, Stenson and his trio intimate a more elusive and bittersweet quality that is at the same time somehow more real, more relatable... and more fresh. His collaborators on this date are long-time musical partner Anders Jormin on bass and a relative newcomer to the trio, drummer Paul Motian, who has recently returned to ECM with a remarkable flurry of present and planned future activity.
Stenson is never one to overstate his purpose, most often creating suggestions that demand the listener participate more closely and draw his or her own conclusions. And whether it's Jormin's arrangements of music by Argentinean Ariel Ramirez and Soviet Vladimir Vysotskyobscure composers, both misunderstood in their timeor more well-known pieces by Ornette Coleman and Tony Williams, the trio's approach is purely democratic, making no instrument predominant and every one absolutely essential.
There are, of course, moments where a particular instrument comes to the foreJormin's plaintive arco work at the beginning of Tony Williams' "There Comes a Time," for example. But it's more akin to a conversation where one participant suggests a point of view and then draws back, looking for other opinions and reactions. And while Motian's sense of time is as elastic as Christensen's ever was, it's even subtler and filled with greater implication.
As spacious and ethereal as Goodbye can be, it's equally dynamic, with its own forward motion. The trio rarely swings in a traditional sense, although songs like Coleman's "Race Face" hint at it, more collectively than through any one individual. But in the final analysis, it's a sense of discovery which includes the listener as an active participant that elevates Goodbye above the endless stream of piano trio recordings released every year.
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Personnel: Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Paul Motian: drums.