Benedikt Jahnel Trio
SCQ Rating: 84%
Every year-end list deserves a devious curveball. Against most readers’ wishes, Skeleton Crew Quarterly has indulged in a few jazz oriented posts over the last two years – a show review here, an editorial there. But Benedikt Jahnel Trio’s stunning Equilibrium has the distinction of being not only the first straight-up jazz disc to factor into SCQ’s year-end festivities but a sure-fire sign of vitality for ECM records.
A longstanding measure of artistic quality and sonic mastery, ECM has nevertheless aged alongside its top exports. With the exception of John Surman’s electronic-assisted Saltash Bells, the label’s recent output (by big names like John Abercrombie and Eberhard Weber) has consisted of conservative balladry or high-brow minimalism, suggesting that revolutionary statement-records had indeed become part of the past. Equilibrium isn’t rewriting jazz genetics but pianist Jahnel and his trio have bolstered ECM’s renowned knack for beauty with a bucolic sense of momentum. Percussionist Owen Howard evokes Jack DeJohnette's wide plateau for the piano and bass to intermingle on the relaxed drive of “Wrangel” and the serendipitously reflective “Sacred Silence”. At thirteen minutes “Moorland and High Land” proffers where Equilibrium might’ve toppled over but, instead of meandering in some elitist wilderness, the trio abides a disciplined, snaky narrative that rises from free-form disquiet to a thriving, unified whole. It’s undoubtedly motivated foremost by piano but as the closing moments of the title track illustrate, no heart can resist the right touch of ivories. A spirited ray of light from one of jazz’s very best imprints.