Manfred Eicher: Through the Lens
Detractors hold artists like Marilyn Crispell up as an example of Eicher's apparent control, crying "foul" when, after her early career was spent in contexts more aggressive, the pianist began exploring a softer, more lyrical kind of freedom with albums such as Nothing Ever Was, Anyway (1997). Those who preferred her more outgoing expressionism may, indeed, cry foul, but there's a simple truth to be faced: were Crispell not doing exactly what she wants to do, is there any compelling reason why she would have remained with the label for nearly 15 years and five recordings? And if Eicher is regarded, by some, as imposing an aesthetic more disposed towards introspection, lyricism and space, how, then can albums like the avant-edge of bassist Michael Formanek's The Rub and Spare Change (2010), the electrified energy of guitarist David Torn's adventurous Presenz (2007), or the unrelenting density of saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell's latest with his Note Factory group, Far Side (2010), be explained?
Sounds and Silence, the film and the soundtrack CD, are certainly more emphatic of Eicher's interest in space, his disposition towards the beauty of a fully decaying note, and an unmistakable love of compelling if sometimes oblique lyricism. Their general avoidance of anything resembling traditional jazz might disturb some, and provide the evidence others are looking for to render the all-important "it's not jazz" verdict against the label, based on performances such as Dino Saluzzi and Anja Lechner's work from Ojos Negros (2007), Tunisian oudist Anouar Brahem's similarly chamber-infused Le Voyage de Sahar (2007), or the opera-informed melodrama of saxophonist/clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi's Profumo Di Violetta (2008). When Keith Jarrettwho is the closest of anyone here to a "real" jazz performeris heard in the recital context of Sacred Hymns, and the most overt improv comes from percussionist Marilyn Mazur and her Elixir (2008), what does it say about Eicher?
It says about Eicher what is relevant and broadly applicable, regardless of musical context. It provides a window into the working process of a producer who's as comfortable in the relative mainstream of saxophonist Lee Konitz's date with pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian (2011's Live at Birdland) as he is the cinematic expanse of Finnish pianist/harpist Iro Haarla (2011's Vespers); equally, Eicher has no problem moving from a Steve Kuhn session (the pianist's 's 2009 title-says-it-all Mostly Coltrane), to a date where Trio Mediaeval returns to sacred texts (2011's A Worcester Ladymass).
For Eicher, genre doesn't matter; nor does compartmentalizing music into neat and tidy categories. What matters is the musicensuring that the best possible performance is captured. What matters is creating a context that encourages uninterrupted engagement from the artists, and a recording process that captures each and every note with absolute accuracy while remaining unobtrusive to the musicians rendering those notes. What matters is creating a final package that, when put in the hands of the consumer, is more than just a silver disc with digital bits and bytes, It's a piece of art, from the design of the cardboard sleeve and the artwork, photography and sometimes liner notes of the CD booklet, to the music itself, presented with the kind of pristine clarity that allows every note be heard, from initial silence to final decay.
There may still be plenty we don't know about Manfred Eicher, but through 87 minutes of Sounds and Silence: Travels With Manfred Eicherits beauty and absolute verisimilitude begging for repeat watchesthere's plenty to be affirmed, plenty to be learned, and plenty still left unanswered. And that's exactly as it should be.
Sounds and Silence: Travels With Manfred Eicher (DVD)
Production Notes: Feature Film (87:00). Special Features: Theatrical Trailer (1:30); Manu Katché Playground EPK (6:43).
Music for the Film Sounds and Silence (CD)
Tracks: Reading of Sacred Books (Gurdjieff); Für Lennart in memoriam (Oärt); Arpeggiata addio (Kapsberger); Modul 42 (Bärtsch); Sur Le Fleuve (Brahem); Creature Walk (Mazur); Tango a mi padre (Saluzzi); Farewell Theme (Karaindrou); To Vals Tou Gamou (Karaindrou); Ojos Negros (Greco); Cosi, Tosca (Puccini, arr. Arnoldi); Readings of Sacred Books (Gurdjieff); Da Pacem Domine (Pärt).