'All my life I've heard / one makes many.' So wrote Charles Olson at the beginning of The Maximus Poems (Cape Goliard Press, 1960). If one makes many, then many make one. One, many: two primal words, or concepts, which cut to the heart of the mytho-poetic music which is Deeper Green. Solo acoustic voice and looped electronic wash, ritualistic pulse and quicksilver ensemble dynamics; ad libitum meditation and funky yet freshly turned riffs: all blend as fruitfully as tropes of jazz history (hear the combination of back-beat drive and swing-touched elegance in Damian or the haunting rubato reading of Ornette Coleman's Lonely Woman) and that unclassifiable yet essential element of “something else” which clearly marks out this compelling music as contemporary in nature (albeit recorded in 2009).
The latest release from the German multi-instrumentalist, improviser and composer Christof May, Deeper Green establishes and sustains a potent language, inflected but not circumscribed by jazz. May has spoken of his interest in what for him are key aspects of the poetics of music, closely related to world-bridging shamanic ideas of creativity: the densely worked (e.g., the polyrhythms of much African music) and the limpid or translucent (e.g., Keith Jarrett's Köln Concert or Rainer Brüninghaus's Continuum albums). Both qualities are in plentiful evidence here, in music which can speak (or rather, sing) of that mercurial confluence of shape-shifting power and regenerative tenderness, of shadow and light, which so exercised the English writer Emily Jane Brontë, exemplified by the “darkness and glory” of her poem High waving heather, 'neath stormy blasts bending. It is appropriate that several tracks here feature lines from Brontë, given suitably charged interpretation by Susanne Abbuehl, the acclaimed Swiss-Dutch vocalist whose wide-ranging ECM albums April and Compass featured May.
Born in 1970, in his early teenage years May began improvising with like-minded friends. Between 1992 and 2002 he studied jazz and classical clarinet at The Royal Conservatory of Den Hague, from where he graduated with a Master's Degree in Music. Today, his playing evinces a refreshing blend of improvisational verve and classically touched discipline, embracing the widest of registers. Over the past two decades, May's genre-dissolving creativity has been stimulated through a diversity of work with such notable figures as Michel Portal, Dave Liebman, Trygve Seim and Florian Zenker – the last-named the innovative German guitarist and composer of music for film, who offers here a rich mix of lines and sounds as reflective as they are energising, enhanced by the excellent contributions of Bob Wijnen (keyboards), Jens Loh (bass) and Eric Hoeke (drums and electronics).
The leader's spacious yet incisive, subtly probing figures are complemented by the surpassing sound and song-soaked phrasing of renowned Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, whose exhaled breath alone closes out the album's final piece, This Moonlight. Long a favourite of May's, Molvaer's exquisitely pitched post-Miles musings and more propulsive accents now float high above, now emerge from deep within the scrupulously realised yet poetically open textures which distinguish Deeper Green.
This music was generated from some seven hours of spontaneous improvisations, with Eric Hoeke's various prepared loops unheard by all the other musicians until the sessions. May's widely cast clarinet mastery on the album might lead one to think that the track Eric is a homage to Eric Dolphy. However, the piece was in fact titled in tribute to drummer Hoeke's multivalent contributions to the music. They join the fluid creativity of all here in helping the lyrically gifted May offer us potent stimulus to rethink – and perhaps revision – our sense of the relations of improvisation and composition, the historical and the contemporary, the archetypal (or ancestral) and the new: darkness and glory, one and many.
Dr. Michael Tucker was Professor of Poetics at the University of Brighton until his retirement in July 2012. A regular reviewer for Jazz Journal and a contributor of sleeve-note essays to ECM albums by Jan Garbarek and Eberhard Weber, his publications include Dreaming With Open Eyes: The Shamanic Spirit In Twentieth-Century Art And Culture (Aquarian/HarperCollins, 1992), Jan Garbarek: Deep Song (Eastnote/University of Hull Press, 1998) and essays in Alan Davie: The (Wild) Eye Of Wonder (Alan Wheatley Art, 2014) and Frans Widerberg: The Art Of Re-Enchantment (Northumbria University Gallery, 2014).