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Mats Eilertsen: Short Stories

Budd Kopman By

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Short Stories, with fourteen tracks totaling less than forty minutes, is a disc of all solos (except for the last track) that manages to be intense and calming at the same time. Most current jazz releases have an overriding theme, or at least an attitude—compositional or otherwise—that binds the tracks together. That the motives of bassist Mats Eilertsen are not obvious makes the release all that more intriguing.

What is obvious is the overall sound, which is somber with reflections of church music. Despite the fact that Short Stories was recorded in two different churches, the ambience is not one of long decaying echoes. The church influence is heard directly in the organ playing of Torbjørn Dyrud, who contributes three pieces ("Geist," "Litany" and "Undertow").

An interesting musician, Dyrud composes for organ and piano, but mostly for a cappella choir. As a player, he is interested in improvisation and these three pieces, particularly "Geist," do not sound through-composed. "Litany" would fit perfectly in the post Vespers music played Sundays at St. John The Divine in New York City, while "Undertow" evokes the feel of water. The inclusion of "Alltid Freidig" by C. E. F. Weyse, although played by Eilertsen, leads back to Dyrud.

Accordionist Frode Haltli plays two Eilertsen compositions ("Preludium" and "East Of Auster"). While his album Passing Images (ECM, 2007) demonstrated that Haltli stretches the use of the accordion, here he is asked to interpret music that again is quite churchy. "Preludium" functions as an introduction to the following track and directly leads to it harmonically.

That second track is "To The Little Radio" by Hanns Eisler which is first played as a solo by Eilertsen and repeated as the last track with Dyrud taking the lead, accompanied by Haltli and Eilertsen. A complex person, Eisler was a student of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, broke with him saying that music should have a social function, was exiled from Nazi Germany, later declared an "undesirable alien" during the McCarthy Era, wrote the East German national anthem, yet fought the censorship of jazz and atonal music, and finally was an early proponent of the technologies of radio, film and recording.

Since the solo and trio versions of the Eisler tune bracket the album, it assumes an importance beyond how charming it is. What we are left with is Eilertsen's compositions and playing. "Metal" and "Apus Apus" do not fit into the prevailing mood and are distinctly modern, especially the latter. "Gutua" and "Glory" share a similar musical space, with the latter being a bit more rhythmically active, while "Lace" and "Vertigo" are both arco and use harmonics.

In the end, Short Stories can be seen as an experiment in writing miniatures where every note counts, as a social statement which looks backwards or as a political statement (of some kind), and it is worth every note.

Track Listing: Preludium; To The Little Radio; Metal; Alltid Freidig; Geist; Lace; Gutua; East Of Auster; Glory; Litany; Vertigo; Apus Apus; Undertow; To The Little Radio.

Personnel: Mats Eilertsen: double bass; Frode Haltli: accordion; Torbj

Title: Short Stories | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: AIM Records

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