Izabella Effenberg, Cuèntame (Unit Records)
This is the debut album of the Polish vibraphonist and composer Izabella Effenberg, who lives in Germany. The CD brings together an imposing septet of European musicians in a chamber music approach that coalesces elements of jazz, modern classical music and—for lack of a better catch-all term—world music. One impression is of European jazz that has developed in the Nordic countries and Germany over the past half-century. Often attributed to the ECM label, the sound encompasses a good deal of variety.
Still, Effenberg’s ensemble does not float through one boreal mood after another in the manner of many ECM ventures. Indeed, there are passages of mutual improvisation and complexity that suggest Twentieth Century pioneers of modern music such as Charles Ives and Bela Bartók. The quirky opening track, “Dings Bums,” contains allusions to John Coltrane and Horace Silver— just two of the album’s quick side trips into witty allusions that often verge on the subliminal.
Israeli vocalist Efrat Alony is a powerful presence on a number of tracks. In the title piece, she is notably effective with Effenberg’s vibes counterpoint, and then paired with the low tones of clarinetist Florian Trüsbach. On several occasions Trüsbach on alto saxophone and Norbert Emminger playing baritone sax exploit the contrasting ranges of those instruments without sounding as if they’re emulating Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan.
Most often, Effenberg integrates her vibraphone into the ensemble, but on “Like A Child,” she employs a violin bow to draw sound from the ends of its keys. Later in the piece, using mallets, she provides silvery commentary to Alony’s lyric as Markus Scheferdecker adds a third voice by way of his double bass line.
In this hour of music, there are many more rewards than reveal themselves in one listening. Recommended.