As the ECM label nears its fortieth birthday, its vitality, inventiveness and, of course, its vaunted sound continue to be a source of joy for jazz enthusiasts worldwide. Manfred Eicher, ECM's founder, has always recorded those artists in whom he hears his own vision, which affects the rest of the jazz world with each new release.
Not yet thirty, trumpeter Mathias Eick represents the new blood that any institution needs to grow. The remarkably mature, joyous and subtly complex The Door is his first release for ECM as a leader, although he has appeared as a sideman on other ECM recordings, working with older musicians such as drummer Jon Christensen, who goes back to the label's beginnings. He has also added his strong and confident musical personality to guitarist Jacob Young's Evening Falls (2004) and Sideways (2008), pianist/harpist Iro Haarla's stunningly beautiful Northbound and drummer Manu Katche's Playground (2007).
Comprised entirely of Eick originals, The Door impresses immediately with its lyricism and soaring, clarion trumpet lines. The lushness of the recorded sound, and directness of each tune's melodic emotion, places it within the musical world of Northbound. As with Haarla's album, The Door's artistic level is considerably raised by the subtle complexity that lies underneath its surface.
Haarla controlled her own creation, but here the credit goes to pianist Jon Balke, who rarely appears as a sideman and, to a lesser extent, percussionist Audun Kleive and bassist Audun Erlien. There is a tension between Eick's highly directed lines and the openness of the arrangements which allow Balke to almost craft the sound by adding many telling and appropriately placed details.
The Door is under fifty minutes, but feels longer due to its pacing, richness and intensity. As demonstrated immediately by the opening title track, Eick fuses many different genres into his music. A melodic phrase, harmony or rhythm that seems simple will surface, pushing the music towards the popular, only to have more complexity added to draw it back into the realm of art music.
The main characteristic of the music is its dramatic content, which is carefully controlled and shaped, while logically developing the emotional story. Each tune inhabits its own universe, but they share a sense of appreciation for beauty and the joy of living a creative life, tempered, however, by a Nordic reticence.
With The Door, Eick has made an extremely strong statement of musical purpose. "Cologne Blues," with its Chopin-esque underpinnings, unhurried intensity and a marvelous solo from Balke (with a nod to pianist Bobo Stenson) says it all: outstanding.