All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Extended Analysis

Theo Bleckmann: I Dwell In Possibility

By Published: August 16, 2010
Theo Bleckmann

I Dwell In Possibility

Winter & Winter


To record I Dwell in Possibility, vocalist Theo Bleckmann made a musical pilgrimage to the Beinwil Abbey in an isolated area of Switzerland. With the aid of producer Stefan Winter, he proceeded to lay down 15 tracks, only using his voice, a collection of bizarre little instruments and the resonant acoustics of the abbey's monastery. Left unprocessed with its sounds of old stone and sacred voice, the resulting album has the quality of prayer. But it's also playful, funny and an unceasing creative demonstration of just how musical a single artist can be.

This is the first solo album from Bleckmann, who has been carving out a personalized place for himself in the new music scene for some time. Originally from Germany, and subsequently a native of New York, he has been a student of vocalist Meredith Monk
Meredith Monk
Meredith Monk
and collaborator with such names as guitarist Ben Monder
Ben Monder
Ben Monder
, drummer John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck
and singer Laurie Anderson. His work with the avant-jazz quintet Kneebody

produced Twelve Songs by Charles Ives (Winter and Winter 2008), and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Classical Crossover album.

Bleckmann's voice blends touches of cabaret and classic jazz with an ethereal old patina and a healthy dose of the avant-garde. At times, he evokes many of the "extended vocal techniques" of mentor Monk, including streams of syllables that never quite coalesce into words, haunting snatches of vocalise and oral ornamentations drawn from various non-European vocal traditions. This is particularly true on Monk's "Wa-lie-oh," which finds him reaching to the extremes of his range with whoops and exaltations. Other tracks finds Tuvan throat singing mixing with Gregorian chant, and Bleckmann dueting himself through the wonders of technology.

The words (when there are words) draw from such diverse sources as Joni Mitchell, the Egyptian Book of Dead, Euripides, James Taylor and Emily Dickinson. They're words with bite to begin with, and the combination of sparse arrangements with the monastic location give each enunciated syllable an added texture. They draw out in a timeless way in the space, lingering and rising up in unexpected ways. Yet for all the experimentation going on, Bleckmann's swinging rendition of "Comes Love" would put any old school cabaret crooner to shame.

In addition to the formidable instrument of his voice, Bleckmann brought a toybox's worth of exotic instruments with him through the Alps. From more traditional items like autoharp and melodica, to Indonesian frog buzzer and shruti box, as well as the ever practical hand-held fan and best-selling iPhone, the instrumentation is a preschool class' dream. But in practice, it works so very well. "I Hear A Rhapsody" has a distinctly otherworldly quality to it, as haunting melodica chords lead in to lyrics that have become standard in the jazz repertoire, but are sung here with a lilting, pared-down beauty. And "Comes Love" simply would not be complete without the aforementioned frog buzzer.

Solo albums are special opportunities for artists to show the range of their talent, and Bleckmann's talent is considerable. The blend of vocals, drones and space that he concocts creates a sense of wonder. And something beautifully mysterious lingers in the wake of its blend of the medieval and modern.

Tracks: I Dwell In Possibility; I Hear A Rhapsody; Lord Is It Mine; Duet For One; Static Still; Wa-Lie-Oh; That Lonesome Road; So La So Mi; Ma'at; If Only; Earth And Sky; The Fiddle And The Drum; Kleines Norwegisches Wintergedicht; Comes Love; Water Song.

Personnel: Theo Bleckmann: voice, autoharp, chime balls, chimes, finger cymbals, flutes, glass harp, hand-held fan, Indonesian frog buzzer, iPhone, lyre, melodica, miniature zither, nut shell shakers, rotary pan flute, shruti box, tongue drum, toy amp, toy boxes, toy megaphones, vibra tone, water bottle.

comments powered by Disqus