Vana Gierig – Making Memories
(Enja ENJ-9597 2.CD Review by Alison Bentley)
For pianist Vana Gierig music makes memories: ‘They don’t just happen, but we have to actively do something to make them, since they will stay with us for the rest of our lives.’
This recording shows German-born, NY-based Gierig’s formidable skills as a composer and arranger (he studied jazz and composition at Berklee, Boston), as well as a performer. It draws on his own memories of listening to music from all over the world while touring.
Looking Back and Texting While Driving are for piano trio. The first opens with flamenco solo piano, growing into Tristano-like lines and big juicy ten-finger swinging chords (Gierig first got into jazz listening to Oscar Peterson) The writing builds expectation by moving from the strong swing sections (with Matthew Parrish‘s muscular bass) to plangent solo piano, (redolent of Herbie Hancock’s The Piano). Texting while Driving also has dramatically contrasting sections: impossibly fast, almost comic, two-hand harmonised piano runs, alternating with slow bass-led parts- some serious multi-tasking going on here. It settles into classic swing over what sounds like the chords to All of Me. Parrish’s solo is boppy, physical ; drummer Marcello Pellitteri‘s solo scatters paradiddles with great skill and humour.
Declaration and Conversation start and end the album, adding Vinicius Barros on percussion (particularly tingling triangle). Gierig’s touch on the opening solo piano of Declaration is light and crisp and legato. The mood changes into a Chick Corea-like 6/8 tango, with lively, woody bass tone, bells and flamenco handclaps, then swinging sensitive drums. Gierig’s solo has a little Bach, a touch of bluesy lyrical Jarrett, immaculate and strongly-felt. In Conversations, the prepared piano parleys with catchy bass and left-hand piano riffs, high-energy brushes on drums (samba meets delicate rock).
The legendary Paquito d’Rivera (on clarinet on this album) joins them on The Spell and the Spiralling Spell, and Sean Conly takes the bass role with aplomb. The Spell has haunting, rhythmic piano cluster chords, like a more classical version of Tania Maria (especially when Gierig sings gently in unison with the piano). The rhythm is hypnotic, with African-influenced percussion. Textures rather than solos characterise this piece: they grow and weave a spell as D’Rivera conjures harmonies. Piano and clarinet solos spiral together in a double helix in The Spiralling Spell, D’Rivera’s sweet, pure tone against the insistent piano tango, the clarinet growing more bluesy, then klezmer-like. Gierieg works regularly with singer Ute Lemper (including her Piazzolla repertoire) and there are strong echoes of Piazzolla here.
The final pieces are scored for clarinet, violin (Jane Hunt) and cello (Wolfram Koessel). Rome evokes the city in melancholic mood with ecstatically high, long violin notes over delicate brushes and piano, like rain on a window. It’s beautifully composed with a nostalgic air- it reminds me of Eleni Karaindrou’s music for the film ‘Eternity and a Day’. Making Memories has an oriental minor mood from the opening piano solo, melodic and dreamy. The percussion sounds Eastern, and the violin slides around the notes like a Chinese erhu. The clarinet, cello and violin tease out the notes of the chords in gorgeous backing lines- and there’s a clarinet solo to lift the spirits. Morning Cadence begins with light and space; rising Spanish tunes and trills emerge (glimmers of Corea’s Spain). The clarinet solo sounds as if it’s about to fly away.
This is an album of great beauty and elegance, with compositions that create powerful memories: memories of fine musicianship and strong emotion.