Mathias Eick: Skala (2011)
That Eick is credited as co-producer, for a second time, is demonstrative of ECM label head/producer Manfred Eicher's rare confidence in sharing that critical role. As a member of guitarist Jacob Young's sublime quintet on Evening Falls (2004), and Finnish pianist/harpist Iro Haarla's quintet on Northbound (2005) and the equally stunning Vespers (2011), Eick's distinctive, Kenny Wheeler- esque thematic sensibility, coupled with a painstaking attention to timbre, has made him someone to watch. In the context of his own work, he continues to favor substance over style, and while the music of Skala is even more structured than that on The Door, when Eick does solo, it's with an economical precision that weaves through grooves and changes with equal aplomb.
A more ambitious follow-up, Skala features, at its core, Eick's double-drum quintet, though the trumpeter doesn't shy away from reconfiguring his group as the music demands. "June" is largely a duo feature for Eick and Ulvowho, unlike live performance, stays with grand piano throughout the albumuntil Sidsel Walstad's harp enters to expand the soundscape of this elegant, poignant song. In The Country's Morten Qvenild guests on the gently grooving title track (also featuring the equally note-conscious Tore Brunborg on one of two tenor sax spots), and the episodic "Oslo"where Eick's looping creates a soft, Frippertronics-like intro, but soon leads to a fiery, riff-driven pulse from Ulvo and bassist Audun Erlien, driven by Gard Nilssen and Torstein Lofthus' powerhouse drumming, It's no surprise that the compositional detail resembles Jaga Jazzist, but Eick's music is less dense, though his vibes on the arpeggio-driven "Joni" and the propulsive "Epilogue"where he also plays double-bass, in a virtual quintet with just Ulvo and Lofthusdoes reference JJ's percussive-driven sound.
The Door was intentionally an acoustic record; despite Balke's Rhodes and Erlien's electric bass, Eick avoided the use of effects on his horn, and overdubbing was minimal. Here, however, Eick's tasteful use of looping and pitch shifting expands his own palette, and a stronger reliance on simple backbeats on tunes like the balladic "Biermann" and the four-on-the-floor of "Day After" make Skala a more accurate representation Eick's position and direction. A quantum leap, Skala's combination of melody-driven material and effortlessly tasteful contributions from a larger cast of characters confidently delivers on the promises made by The Door's compelling statement of intent.
Track Listing: Skala; Edinburgh; June; Oslo; Joni; Biermann; Day After; Epilogue.
Personnel: Mathias Eick: trumpet, vibraphone (5, 8), electric guitar (6), double-bass (8); Andreas Ulvo: piano; Audun Erlien: electric bass (1, 2, 4-7); Torstein Lofthus: drums (1, 2, 4-8); Gard Nilssen: drums (1, 2, 4, 6); Tore Brunborg: tenor saxophone (1, 7); Morten Qvenild: keyboards (1, 4, 5); Sidsel Walstad: harp (3).
Record Label: ECM Records