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Anat Fort - A Long Story

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Artist: Anat Fort

Album: A Long Story

Label: ECM

Review date: Apr. 18, 2007

ECM has long served as a haven for pastoral pianists. Bobo Stenson, Paul Bley and perhaps most famously and prolifically, Keith Jarrett, have all explored their sedate sides under the auspices of the German label's polished production values. Israeli-born Anat Fort is the newest member of that sometimes-arctic sounding circle. It's easy to liken her levelheaded approach to the composer’s piano of players like Duke Ellington and George Russell, where individual fireworks and exhibitions of technical virtuosity are curtailed in service of erecting more egalitarian structures that emphasize collaboratively drawn lines and angles. Folk forms are a prominent part of the process on A Long Story, with fragments of Middle Eastern, Russian and Northern European melody and rhythm threading through several of the pieces. A prevalent Bley influence is audible in Fort's lyrical and spacious method of shaping and placing chords. Her balladic processional "Just Now", a somber tune with a mnemonic core that is vexingly familiar, works as recurring motivic signpost, serves as a centering agent at program's beginning, middle and end. "As Two" pits a pair of contrastive melodic strains against each other as a musical metaphor for the prolonged political conflict in Palestine.

Drummer Paul Motian is perfectly suited to the surroundings. His quiescent rhythms avoid ruffling the underlying probity of Fort's compositions, while still generating democratic ripples of propulsive syncopation. An exception is the four-fisted "Rehaired," where he spars with the pianist head on and strikes a swift succession of scintillating rhythmic sparks. Bassist Ed Schuller, a versatile veteran of countless chamber jazz sessions, is also well seasoned to the schematic, though the gelid amplification lacing his strings is sometimes a distraction. Perry Robinson's clarinet doesn't arrive until the third track and the contrastive tonalities of his reed are a welcome shot in the ensemble's arm. On "Lullaby," his fluid reed phrasings sound almost like a chromatic harmonica and his dialogue with the pianist on the surprisingly sharp-teethed "Chapter Two" banishes any previously encroaching doldrums.

The drowsiness that limns some of Fort's tunes is only a surface affliction, as closer listening reveals an ample amount of activity beneath the seemingly placid surfaces. Upon first exposure, it might appear tempting to dismiss her as another pianist numbingly in thrall of her label's contentiously pacific principles. Such an assumption would be a mistake. Fort exchanges seismic force and weight for a more insinuating and supple presence that is, in sum, just as powerful.

By Derek Taylor

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