The question of classification in music today begs for Duke Ellington’s denotation of music and musicians as ‘beyond category.’ Maybe we should give up deciding, as with the music of Theo Bleckmann, whether this music is jazz and get on with the task of concluding it far and beyond category.
As a vocalist and composer the German-born Bleckmann practices a wordless ‘scatting’ improvisation, emanating more from baroque, than from the jazz tradition. His approach to creative music enters from an ethereal platform. He is more desert than city, more space than 4/4 time.
Origami continues on the collaboration between Bleckmann, guitarist Ben Monder, and electric bassist Skuli Sverrisson whose prior recordings No Boat (Songlines 1997) and Monder’s Excavation (2000 Arabesque) included drummer Jim Black. Here, Black is replaced by John Hollenbeck, a frequent collaborator with Bleckmann, and vibraphonist Matt Moran.
The music moves, dare I say inches, along with lush overtones layered through electronics and overdubbing. Bleckmann has arranged music from Latin to folk, noise, free, and trip-hop – always in a slow-paced minimalist otherworldly way. He delivers his vocals sometimes as chant as on “Douce Dame Jolie,” other times in Japanese, as on the title track, and in German on the anti-Nazi “An den kleinen Radioapparat.” Bleckmann even mimics the sound of a CD player repeatedly skipping on Johnny Mercer’s “I Remember You,” vocally tracking the studio-created blip-blip of a laser tracking gone awry. Monder plays a perfect accompaniment to the vocalist’s approach with his patient open-plains lines.
The question remains: where does this music come from? Why does the almost ambient improvisation of Bleckmann’s music draw you into his pacific world? Maybe it is because there is the element of improvisation, both in lengthy wordless vocals and instruments. Where he departs from pure ambient music is the human element of Moran’s vibraphone, Sverrisson’s basslines, and Hollenbeck’s percussive work. This is improvisational jazz, just taken at a pace not expected in today’s world. He covers “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries” as if from Space Odyssey 2001, almost crooning from Skylab. Origami bears repeated spins and contemplation, a fine recording.