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Christian Artmann: The Middle of Life


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Christian Artmann: The Middle of Life
As he continues to do his part in maintaining the relevance of the flute in contemporary jazz, Christian Artmann also provides plenty of food for thought in his wide-ranging, thoughtfully constructed compositions. There is a contemplative dimension to his vision, evident on Our Story (Sunnyside, 2018), which explored the interdependency of human relationships through the lens of his Buddhist faith; and it is also present on his latest release, which involves taking stock of this moment in the planet's fragile existence and considering its challenges and possibilities.

Joining Artmann in this venture are his frequent collaborators, pianist Laszlo Gardony, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Yoron Israel. Given the tranquility and space that is characteristic of Artmann's compositions, these colleagues exhibit the careful restraint that is needed to let the pieces breathe. Artmann's technique on his instrument is soft-hued, winsome rather than ostentatious. And his compositions have the same quality, as the ten tracks here take a while to develop, revealing their subtle charms incrementally and aggregatively, as impressions form and evolve. With most of the pieces in the five to eight-minute range, there is plenty of room for them to take shape in an unhurried manner.

"Turnaround," the album's enticing opener, gives a good indication of Artmann's modus operandi. The loping, graceful melody almost lulls the listener at first, until one picks up on its subtle odd-meter structure, only to find another twist when the piece goes into a faster-paced segment, sparked by Gardony's and Lockwood's crisp unison ostinato. It provides the contrast needed to sustain interest over the piece's seven-minute duration, even though the group clearly feels at its most comfortable when the music is at a low simmer rather than a full boil. The stimulating title track is another crafty composition, with its gentle lyricism winding its way through its rhythmic intricacy.

Elsewhere Artmann gives voice to his political concerns, with the brief "Lament for Ukraine" featuring a poignant solo reflection on the tambin, a richly resonant African flute. Sometimes his subject matter turns more personal, as on "July," one of the album's most affecting tunes, dedicated to Artmann's son. Artmann also clearly has a fondness for Latin-inflected themes, including the album's lone cover, "Paisagem da Janela," a samba composed by Lô Borges and Fernando Brant, one of the three pieces featuring vocalist Elena McEntire, whose presence adds another lyrical dimension to Artmann's music.

Although Artmann's temperate tendencies give the album a cohesive feel, there are moments when a bit more zest would be welcome. Hints of what the band can do when fully energized are occasionally evident, as on "July," where Artmann's partners build the piece's momentum with palpable fervency, not coincidentally catalyzing the flautist's most exuberant solo on the record. Those moments are relatively rare, however, as the album's overall spirit remains a subdued and somber one. Even so, for those occasions in which listeners may want a chance to pause and reflect pensively on life's weightier themes, Artmann's music may provide the perfect opportunity to do so.

Track Listing

Turnaround; Lament for Ukraine; Snow River; If I Must Go; Paisagem da Janela; the Middle of Life; Twenty Seven; July; Nine Years of Love; Last Words.


Album information

Title: The Middle of Life | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records




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