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"On the third album by his excellent trio with bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis, Stacken puts his own compelling spin on the idea of bagatelles, creating 13 compositions that each explore a specific idea or approach. Bagatelle No. 1, for example, is built around overtones, with the leader letting his notes ring out and directing his partners to scrabble around the decaying sounds, while the next piece finds the trio cycling through written and improvised material pushed against a simple ostinato figure played by Stacken through the entire piece.
Other pieces explore serial techniques, rondo form and pitch sets articulated in minimal long tones. The trio brings an oblique but real heat and emotion to the performances, and as a whole the album coheres brilliantly. Certain pieces mirror othersthe opening phrase from the first bagatelle resurfaces in Number 9, for examplewhile others return to the pure sound of struck piano keys naturally disintegrating, and in the end the album adds up to a unified, gripping suite."
-Peter Margasak -Down Beat (August, 2012)
"The Brooklyn jazz pianist Jesse Stacken has led a trio with the bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis since 2005. Hes fascinated by rules, and lately hes been into writing daily or weekly études and self-challenging exercises; on Bagatelles for Trio he uses his band to carry out 13 plotted pieces that cut between languages of improvisation and composition.
You dont remember the tunes so much as the ideas behind them. They drive the pieces, introduce various kinds of improvisation into them, bring them to a close. (Hes into Schoenberg, and a few of these use the 12-tone system; hes also into Morton Feldman, and Bagatelle No.5 achieves his slow, floating-sound ideal). Looks fine on paper, but the tacit challenges almost outweigh the articulated ones: in doing this hes got to make the individual pieces sound like more than the sum of their ideas, and hes got to sequence them into an album with some narrative or development or flow.
I think hes done it. This is a sharp, well-practiced group, making generous, voluptuous subtleties out of formal ingredients."
-Ben Ratliff -New York Times (June, 2012)
"Béla Bartóks Fourteen Bagatelles (1908) were among the Hungarian composers earliest masterpieces. The collection of piano miniatures marked a formative moment in the young composers life, harkening back to the Romanticism of the century just ended, showing nascent traces of his exploration of his native countrys folk music, and taking bold new steps in the direction of the avant-garde.
At a similarly early stage in his own already-impressive career, pianist/composer Jesse Stacken has composed his own set of Bagatelles one less in number than Bartóks, but expanded for a piano trio and open to jazz improvisation.
I really liked Bartóks Bagatelles and studied them, Stacken says. And as I was learning them, I thought that a lot of them were almost perfect for inspiring some sort of improvisation. Each one is short, concise, and portrays one or two very direct ideas. So I thought about composing something with that in mind.
Stackens Bagatelles were conceived for his working trio with bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis. The trio formed in 2005 and has recorded two previous albums: That That (2007), which also focused largely on shorter works, and Magnolia (2009), which explored more extended forms.
Stacken calls Bagatelles for Trio both an extension of and departure from those previous releases. Recorded shortly after achieving his masters degree from the Manhattan School of Music, the first record was me trying to get away from school, Stacken says. I was just trying to respectfully reject some of that college-sounding jazz, get out of my comfort zone and get into some different sounds. Magnolia was more about rediscovering the sound of the piano.
This third release, Stacken continues, became driven by a return to melody. That goal is clear throughout, in each of the Bagatelles starkly bare-bones presentation of its core elements. Unadorned melody stands in skeletal relief on pieces like the ethereally introspective No. 3, the slyly darting No. 4, or the stutter-stop No. 8. But elements that inflected those previous discs recur here: the resonant intonations of the piano, influenced by the work of composer Morton Feldman, motivates a number of pieces, No. 1 in particular. At the same time, even in their abbreviated form, several works are constructed with intricate frameworks; No. 11 draws inspiration from Schoenbergs 12-tone serial technique, and No. 12, from the immense chords of Messiaens compositions for organ.
More than any individual piece, however, the entire set of Bagatelles for Trio can be viewed as a single extended work, and Stacken labored to craft an overarching unity for the album as a whole. The trio performs the piece only in its entirety, in the order represented on the CD, never as individual selections out of context. Stacken insists that the composition of the Bagatelles was heavily influenced by the individual voices of his longtime triomates.
He initially met Davis while both were playing with saxophonist Peter Van Huffel, though when it came time to form his own group, Jeff was not the most comfortable choice, Stacken says. Hes got a very warm feeling to his playing, but hes not a guy who lays down the time. He plays around the kit in a very melodic way. I decided to go with Jeff to get me going in a different direction.
Stacken calls Opsvik, an amazing player, but he also has a really strong personality and he a lot of artistic savvy. He has a really good ear. It was Opsvik, in fact, who finally pointed out that a fourteenth Bagatelle seemed not to fit; Stacken agreed and removed the piece. The chemistry between us seems to work and develop really well, Stacken says of the trio. Were friends and have a really good time together on and off the bandstand. It seems to be getting better and better as we go.
Originally from Hopkins, Minnesota, Stacken studied music education at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire before earning his masters at the Manhattan School of Music. He has since become an active participant in New Yorks creative music scene. Besides his trio, he works regularly with trumpeter/cornetist Kirk Knuffke; the two have recorded a pair of albums as a duo and a third, as a trio with drummer Kenny Wolleson, was recently released. Stacken recently formed a quartet called For the Mill with some of New Yorks most inventive musicians: saxophonists Andrew DAngelo and Josh Sinton and drummer Mike Pride."
-Matt Merewitz -Fully Altered Media
"Bagatela. La elección del título puede significar por sí misma dos cosas: una falta de pretensión o un reto. Y va a ser lo segundo, con esta alusión indirecta a la creación para piano del último siglo y la sobresaliente figura de Arnold Schoenberg. En concreto, el propio músico reconoce, respecto a sus polos de atención, respeto a la obra de Bela Bartók y Morton Feldman con una llave extendida hacia la improvisación tomada del trío de Schippenbach. Stacken, quien empezó a tocar profesionalmente el piano a los 16 años, afirma que su intención era conseguir unir los extremos que unen a estos autores. Y lo consigue pese a la distancia que separa la intrincada construcción melódica con raíces folk -emancipada rítmicamente- del compositor húngaro a la levedad persistente del norteamericano y de la solidez del acto instantáneo para tres voces que configura el alemán. Trío fundado en 2005, el de Stacken es uno de los que perfilan la contemporaneidad de este formato en la ciudad de Nueva York, al igual que los tríos de John Escreet o Kris Davis o Russ Lossing. A diferencia de los dos trabajos anteriores registrados en este mismo sello, Stacken propone aquí un discurso exploratorio (que acaba siendo espejo) del sonido de piano del siglo XX, en especial si tomamos como referentes a los autores anteriormente citados. Del mismo modo, sonido y estructura quedan recogidos bajo esta pequeña figura llamada bagatela, que le sirve de puente entre la melodía o el sistema tonal y también para ir más allá hacia la atonalidad y la improvisación. Lo interesante de esta música, en cierto modo programática, es que la demarcación de los temas en la escritura de Stacken determina y restringe el espacio de los desarrollos libres, prescindiendo de la figura -muy recurrida en jazz- del tema con variación que imprime un mayor desarrollo y por tanto una locuacidad extra. Los primeros pasos en el lied dodecafónico realizados por Schoenberg, figura que parece aquí trascendida (nº2), posibilitaron la unión de melodía como aspiración sublimada por los románticos y una atmósfera que se revelaba en el expresionismo figurativo (nº10), entre pliegues y sombras. Esas dos claves que afectan al clima sonoro perviven en este estupendo trabajo en el que la declinación lenta del tiempo (el suspenso feldmaniano) conecta el ensimismamiento y la monumentalidad melódica (nº12), la consonancia y precisión rítmicas (nº11 y nº 13), no ya con la atonalidad sino con las texturas del ruido (de la nº5 a la nº6).
Música situada en ese difícil espacio entre la luz y las sombras, lo tonal y lo abstracto. Música que sugiere un decorado en cierta forma familiar pero de belleza intrigante y enigmática. Como una engañosa bagatela."
-Jesús Gonzalo -Elintruso.com (Abril, 2013)
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