Album reviews

Jorge Rossy, Robert Landfermann, Jeff Ballard – ‘Puerta’

Jorge Rossy, Robert Landfermann, Jeff Ballard – Puerta
(ECM Records 2661. Album review by Graham Spry)

Jorge Rossy is a familiar name to those who have followed the career of Brad Mehldau, in whose original trio Rossy played drums for more than ten years. In fact, Rossy’s connection with Mehldau dates back as far as 1993, when Brad Mehldau’s first albums as a co-leader were recorded with Rossy in Barcelona together with Rossy’s brother, Mario, on bass. In a sense, Puerta, Rossy’s first album as a leader on ECM records, maintains this connection as the drummer in Rossy’s trio, Jeff Ballard, is also the Brad Mehldau Trio’s current drummer.

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The link with Mehldau is present in the album’s title track as well. Puerta was originally composed by Rossy in a London hotel just before his third to last gig with Mehldau. Rossy says: “At this point, we hadn’t talked about me leaving the band yet, but I had started to feel like it was time to move on. ‘Puerta’ is Spanish for ‘door’. I think I was subconsciously already thinking about opening up a new one in order to enter a new phase, a new chapter.” The song certainly has a very different sound to anything that one might associate with the Brad Mehldau Trio, being sparse and reflective, and perhaps a little melancholic.

Rossy has switched from drums to the vibraphone and the marimba, but it isn’t only his choice of instrument that is different. He generally plays as few notes as he can on this album, thereby allowing a great deal of space for the music to breathe. This is an approach he attributes to his experience as a trumpet player when he was young where the melody mostly comes from a few well-chosen notes.

He and Ballard are accompanied by German double bass player, Robert Landfermann. As the album credits demonstrate, there is a conscious policy for each member of the trio to perform on equal footing which Rossy may have learnt from playing with Mehldau, who so valued the work of a trio working as one that five of his albums were entitled The Art of the Trio. Landfermann is the least familiar name in the trio, but deserves his equal status. He has won many awards in his career, principally in his native Germany, and may be most familiar to English jazz listeners as a member of the Pablo Held Trio.

The mood on the album is varied but generally restrained. Puerta is probably the most despondent track. There is a jaunty swing on tracks like Post-Catholic Waltz, Maybe Tuesday and Ventana. Rossy concentrates on the marimba on S.T., Scilla e Cariddi and Tainos, in which tracks there is more a discursive to-and-fro between instruments than a settled groove. Adagio is a mostly improvised track and the album ends with the pleasing tango sound of the appropriately named Adios. All the songs are written by Rossy with the exception of Cargols which was written by Chris Cheek with whom Rossy has performed on many occasions.

This very satisfying album was recorded at the Jazz Campus in Basel – part of the University of Northwestern Switzerland (Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz) – where both Rossy and Ballard teach. The album’s overall feel may reflect the atmosphere of wary trepidation in September 2020, when the album was recorded, that accompanied the temporary relief from the COVID pandemic, in that the music is both undemonstrative and tentatively celebratory. In common with all releases on ECM records, the engineering is of the highest quality and the overall excellence of the album is as much a credit to the production as it is to the musicianship.

Puerta was released on 5 November 2021. UK distributor is Proper

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