Anat Fort Trio
In his seminal 1963 work Blues People Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones) argued that the “very structure of jazz is the melodic statement with an arbitrary number of improvised answers or comments on the initial theme.”* Although in 1963 Baraka was moving toward his more radical and militant black nationalist period his definition of the structure of jazz is fairly conservative, and is one that I’d guess most folks would agree with (now how the structure of jazz manifests itself in various styles would most certainly be debated – especially by Baraka).
And If, the new record on ECM from the Anat Fort trio, fully realizes the structure of jazz that Baraka (and many others) lay out. So many soloists – even the great ones – ignore the tune’s melody in their solos, as if the only thing that really matters are the changes. That’s why it’s so exciting to me when I hear jazz musicians treat their playing as a whole and break down the head/solo binary during their solos. That’s what I love about Anat Fort’s playing and new album. The solos seamlessly grow out of the compositions and directly reference them, so well in fact that several times I’m not sure if the entire track isn’t through composed. Her solos are an exact example of “melodic statement[s] with an arbitrary number of improvised answers or comments on the initial theme.” I’m not sure if I can think of another player who does this as well as Fort, and it results in a highly compelling album that flows effortlessly.
Fort’s writing is charming, pretty, and varied throughout the album. “En If,” and its sibling “If,” sound as if they could be a Romantic period character piano piece a la Chopin or Schumann (save for the bass and drums of course); “Some” plays with repeated and modified arpeggio figures; “Nu” is a touch on the frantic side; and the ten minute “Something ‘Bout Camels” creates a dreamlike soundscape by way of scraped bass harmonics, pensive single note piano thoughts and light cymbal rolls before settling into a medium tempo. “Paul Motian (1)” and “Paul Motian (2),” which bookend the album, are nods to the drummer, who helped set up Fort’s first ECM album, A Long Story.
Bassist Gary Wang and drummer Roland Schneider round out the trio, which has been together for 10 years. This group is tight: Wang and Schneider move as one and all three players know when to leave space or fill gaps. Everything about this album is gorgeous: Fort’s touch and use of space and pedal, her writing and solos, Wang’s tone and measured solo on “Minnesota,” and Schneider’s ability to pull numerous colors out of his kit. This album is a must have for Fort’s fans. Those who enjoy the piano trio format or anything put out by ECM should enjoy this as well. And If is one of the prettiest and most poetic albums of the year.
Postscript: Like all ECM records And If is beautifully recorded and mastered. Unlike many new albums I’ve heard recently the piano is never out of tune, each instrument is always where it should be in the mix, and there’s a general depth and warmth to the sound. I wish the label would press each of their records in 200 gram vinyl, because they’d sound even better on a good system (my bank account does not share this wish, however).
Tracks: Paul Motian (1); Clouds Moving; En If; Some; Something ‘Bout Camels; If; Lanesboro; Minnesota; Nu; Paul Motian (2).
Personnel: Anat Fort, piano; Gary Wang, bass; Roland Schneider, drums.
*Amiri Baraka, Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York: Harper Perennial, 2002), 27.