The future of music, what you will hear today, tomorrow, 20 years from now, we can no more be sure about than about anything else in the future. Some things we can know, like for example it is quite likely that the minuet will not make a major resurgence. But are we sure? Who would have thought that hi-fi bachelor pad music of late '50s-early '60s provenance would come again to our attention?
So when pianist Lucian Ban did with Alex Harding the Tuba Project a number of years ago (covered recently on these pages, see May 1, 2013 posting), I would not have expected with the kind of dynamic hard-blowing music of that album to hear him now with a very different approach. And I am sure it is because I have not gotten to know Maestro Ban's music intimately in the widest sense. For here he gets together with the wonderful violist Mat Maneri for a live recording of duets where very open improvisation meets new music structural elements and very different compositional templates.
Transylvanian Concert (ECM B0018433-02) puts Ban and Maneri in a zone quite fitting for a new ECM release. There are subtle, inspired, freely transpiring compositions by Ban and one by Maneri, a collaborative composition and a Maneri arrangement of the spiritual "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen."
It gives you that lovely deep Maneri viola sound. Nobody sounds like him that I know of--and it is not gushy, not vibrato-centered, just squarely direct in a beautiful way. Then of course they both get improvisations going that one must savor--they are exquisite, not like a cannister of caviar, but with the beautifully natural crystalline cubism of grains of sea salt. There is a robustness to the beauty, a reflectiveness, an honest forthright somber-penetrating feel to the music.
You hear the blues in its essence, you hear some of the ultra-chromatic bridges to a sophisticated harmo-melodic end of new music-free music and even folk strains. And whatever they do in this concert, it is on that rarified level of two masters in a highly inventive mood.
Both Ban and Maneri are in peak form. It serves as a beautiful introduction to the two artists, or a reaffirmation of why you found these player-composers interesting in the first place. If there is an ECM sound, as of course there has been for a long time, it doesn't stand still. This one is an example of how the music moves forward in good ways.