1 Where Do We Go from Here
2 Circular Confidence
3 Camino Cielo
4 Hung up on That Ghost
5 Last Decade
6 Remember This
7 Open Minds Lost
9 My People
Benjamin Lackner's label debut is a focused exploration of adept quartet interplay, with the pianist leading an exceptional cast of instrumentalists with a keen sense of restraint. Benjamin's compositions have a strikingly lyrical quality that opens up many opportunities for his colleagues - trumpeter Mathis Eick, drummer Manu Katché and Jérôme Regard on bass - to give the music their own character. Subtle grooves and flowing solos emerge between the four.
The good chemistry between pianist Benjamin Lackner and Jérôme Regard can be traced back to 2006, when Jérôme first joined Benjamin's trio. Various incarnations of the trio produced six albums between 2004 and 2019, half of which feature Jérôme. Now having to expand his compositional scope from trio to quartet, Benjamin recognizes new possibilities and finds the freedom of having a melodic partner on horn.
"We decided early on that this would be an acoustic record, which made it easier for me to focus on one direction and allowed me to rediscover the piano in a more intimate way," Benjamin explains. "I worked on finding grooves that allowed me to conceptualize melodies in a more open way. With a horn player in the band, I had to come up with different harmony parts on the piano than I'm used to and consider the trumpet as the main voice, which is also new territory for me since I usually play in solo or trio settings. It was an inspiring change to write with Mathias in mind, because his phrasing fits perfectly with the way I hear melodic material."
Together, Manu Katché and Mathias Eick have released more than twenty albums for the label, each serving as a leader. Mathias was also involved in Playground (2007), Manu Katché's second album for ECM. Their contributions to this quartet are very different - Katché's drum patterns exude both natural spaciousness and particular assertiveness, while Eick's airy trumpet tone pierces the textures. Says Lackner, "In the studio, my colleagues were very open-minded and helpful in arranging the music, and we ended up making some changes that gave my compositions just the final touch they needed. Manu spontaneously added unique rhythmic touches, and the session overall had a sense of freshness because everything was new to us."
This freshness is evident from the start, as is Benjamin's ability to compose a framework in which the extraordinary abilities of his fellow musicians can fully unfold. "Where Do We Go From Here" opens the album with a rubato exploration of cymbals by Katché before shifting to a more robust rhythmic foundation for "Circular Confidence," a song in which piano and trumpet share the melodic themes equally.
Jérôme Regard acts as a harmonic partner and cornerstone, mastering the entire fingerboard of the double bass with elasticity and elegance, often meshing with Katché's various emphases. The program consists entirely of Lackner originals, with the exception of "Émile," named after Jérôme's son. The bassist improvised the music on the spot in the studio, capturing pristine acoustics. On 'Camino Cielo,' named after the mountain range in California to which Benjamin Lackner's ancestors emigrated from Germany in the 1930s, the bass blends into the band in a particularly smooth way, allowing the group's remarkable interplay to take center stage, not the solos. This is true of most of the music on the album.
"Hung Up On That Ghost," the title track, "Remember This" or "Open Minds Lost" are never just about the individual, but the sum of the parts. In this case, the sum of four musicians improvising over carefully crafted sketches with precision, attentiveness to each other, and the guidance of the producer, which Benjamin points out "helped shape the improvisations in a way I've never experienced before."
The closing track "My People," originally conceived as a strict 11 / 4 beat, was collectively reworked in the studio into a loose rubato head with a jam-friendly middle section, summarizing many of the idioms previously introduced. It highlights the idea that Last Decade builds on the strengths of each member of the quartet as they work together to create a greater whole.
The album was recorded in September 2021 at La Buissonne Studios, Pernes-Les-Fontaines, and produced by Manfred Eicher. Benjamin Lackner and his quartet will present the music of Last Decade throughout Europe in January, with stops in Dortmund, Koblenz, Regensburg, Brussels, Oslo and more.