Guardian review 10/2/17 4 Stars
Theo Bleckmann is a fascinating German-born cross-genre singer who has worked with Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass and John Zorn, and recently made a terrific album of Kurt Weill songs (A Clear Midnight) with the jazz pianist Julia Hulsmann. Elegy presents his own compositions, supported by an ideally attuned quartet including guitarist Ben Monder and drummer/composer John Hollenbeck, with the only cover being Sondheim’s Comedy Tonight (“Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight”), compellingly and very slowly delivered with a kind of stunned optimism.
The set builds from minuscule beginnings in fine pianist Shai Maestro’s soft chords and restrained flutters in the voiceless opener, through the pared-down Sondheim, and into the ghostly-chorister ascents of Fields, as Monder’s warm guitar emerges. The title track is stormy, dark and spinechillingly abstract; Cortege is a quirky funeral march; To Be Shown to Monks at a Certain Temple is spacious and poetic; Take My Life is a springy, Bach-tinged dance. Bleckmann’s subjects are mortality and hope, but his lightness of touch and the band’s independence (several pieces are instrumentals) ensure that startling music-making is the overarching theme.
Beyond being a vocalist of rare purity and daring, Theo Bleckmann is a sound painter who creates what JazzTimes has described aptly as "luminous webs" in music. The German-born New Yorker ? after appearing on two ECM albums by Meredith Monk and another (A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill and America) by Julia Hülsmann ? makes his striking label debut as a leader with Elegy.
This album showcases Bleckmann as a composer as much as a singer, with several instrumental pieces voiced by what he calls his "ambient" band of kindred-spirit guitarist Ben Monder, keyboardist Shai Maestro and the subtle rhythm team of Chris Tordini and John Hollenbeck.
Highlights include Bleckmann's sublime rendition of Stephen Sondheim's "Comedy Tonight" ("tragedy tomorrow? comedy tonight"), as well as the mellifluous vocalise of "Little Elegy" and achingly poetic "To Be Shown to Monks at a Certain Temple."
A jazz singer and new music composer of eclectic tastes, GRAMMY nominated and ECHO award recipient Theo Bleckmann has collaborated with musicians and composers, including Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Michael Tilson Thomas, John Zorn, the Bang on a Can All-stars, and, most prominently, Meredith Monk.
Personnel: Theo Bleckmann (voice), Shai Maestro (piano), Ben Monder (guitar), Chris Tordini (double-bass), John Hollenbeck (drums)