Mathias Eick – Midwest
(ECM 472 4478. CD Review by Peter Jones)
When midwesterner Pat Metheny first came to public notice in the late Seventies with his recordings for ECM, what people noticed was a certain quality of spaciousness and optimism, almost naïvité. The music was folk-influenced, full of melody, very different in tone to the urban funk route that American jazz had taken during the first part of that decade. In particular, tunes like (Cross the) Heartland and New Chautauqua seemed to catch the mood as white America shook off the humiliations of Vietnam and the Watergate scandal and got ready to elect Ronald Reagan.
This new album from Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick is imbued with a similar spirit, but it goes much further back. Midwest is explicitly intended to reflect the experiences of the million or so Norwegians who emigrated to the American Midwest in the 19th and early 20th centuries, settling in rural towns like Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon and the real-life Fargo, immortalized by the eponymous Coen Brothers film. We have also seen these landscapes in Terence Malick’s Seventies movies Badlands and Days of Heaven.
It’s the participation of folk violinist Gjermund Larsen that gives Eick’s album its distinctive quality. Its melodic ideas are cinematic in scope, evoking the vast emptiness of this part of America. Your mind conjures up images of wagons rolling slowly across the plains.
Beginning with a Lyle Mays-like ostinato piano figure from Jon Balke, the title track takes an unexpected turn halfway through, as Larsen strikes up a vigorous campfire hoedown before Balke returns to his theme, accompanied by a brief double bass solo from Mats Eilertsen. Hem, the gentle waltz which follows, refers to Eick’s Norwegian home village. There’s more ostinato piano in the majestic March, Eick here producing the sort of flute-like tone we have also heard from fellow Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen. Fargo is a personal favourite, very ‘ECM’ in feel, sparse and reflective in the best way.
The melancholy Dakota ends with drummer Helge Norbakken adding his signature understated percussion, described in the publicity as ‘hinting at Native American tribal pulses or perhaps bison hooves pounding the plains’. Fanciful as that may sound, listening to such evocative music can’t help but bring out comparisons like these.
The music of Midwest doesn’t grab you by the lapels, but takes its time, revealing itself slowly, and fully rewarding your close attention.