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Chants, Hymns and Dances
Georges Ivanovitch GURDJIEFF (1877-1949)
Original piano transcriptions of Gurdjieff by Thomas de Hartmann, arranged for this edition by Anja Lechner and Vassilis Tsabropoulos: Chant from a Holy Book; Bayaty; Prayer; Duduki; Interludes I and II; Assyrian Women Mourners; Armenian Song; No. 11; Woman's Prayer; Chant from a Holy Book, Var.1
Vassilis TSABROPOULOS (b.1966)
Trois morceaux aprs des hymnes byzantins; Dance; Chant
Anja Lechner, cello
Vassilis Tsabropoulos, piano
Recorded at the Festburgkirche, Frankfurt, December 2003.
ECM NEW SERIES 9819613 [72.19]


"There are Christian mystics who claim Gurdjieff's teaching is exposed Christian Mysticism. There are Sufis (Islamic mystics) who claim that it is essentially a Sufi teaching." John Shirley, in The Shadows of Ideas: A Distant Glimpse of Gurdjieff.

This latest ECM foray into the soundworld of the Caucasus proves to be a real winner. The label already has a track record with the music of Greek-Armenian mystic G.I.Gurdjieff, previously releasing a recording by no less an artist than Keith Jarrett. Here, arrangements for cello and piano of Gurdjieff's haunting but accessible sounds are juxtaposed with new compositions by the Greek pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos. The latter are very much in keeping with the older composer's muse, while injecting a sense of more urgent but benign modernity into the proceedings. Tsabropoulos's Dance is the centrepiece of the disc, succeeding in combining the almost hummable with the numinous.

Long time ECM stalwart Steve Lake contributes an excellent essay (Facing East) to the booklet and it is instructive to read about Gurdjieff in a wider context either before or, perhaps, during the first listening. Anyone familiar with the recent ECM advocacy of the music of Tigran Mansurian (especially the Komitas transcriptions on Hayren) will quickly feel at home, although those in search of the steely intensity of a Kancheli may be better served elsewhere. Armenia prides itself on being the oldest Christian nation on earth but Gurdjieff, born on the Turkish border, was something of a religious polyglot, whose thoughts and writings transcended the dominational/sectarian as a matter of course (see above quote). However, for all the supposed Sufi influence, the music, to these ears, does not show a massive amount of near or far-Eastern or subcontinental influence but displays more of a kinship with Balkan models. This takes us, full circle, to the strong Greek-Armenian connection, both historically and up to the present day, the latter exemplified in the premise of this recording. In terms of its definite "more is less" approach, I am almost put in mind of an east European Mompou, albeit a rather more animated one, or a jazz/improv tinged Prt.

The Gurdjieff pieces do, in some cases, directly invoke near-Eastern folk models, as in Duduki (after the mournful sound of the Caucasian rustic oboe) and the Assyrian Women Mourners for example. However the abundance of genuine rhythmic freedom sets this disc apart from mere imitation. Lechner's cello and Tsabropoulos's piano sing the music's praises at every opportunity, the typically superb ECM recording doing full justice to composers and performers alike. The join lines between the Gurdjieff and Tsabropoulos works are barely visible, which is a great tribute to the latter, as Gurdjieff was a figure of dimensions far too multifarious to do justice to in a review of this type.

Although this is a CD of music free from grand gestures, I feel that its "crossover" potential is actually quite good. Anyone who has a soft spot for Keith Jarrett's more experimental/spiritual efforts for the same label should investigate, as should listeners with an ear for the so-called Baltic minimalists. It is a typical ECM release and has far more in common with many of the label's European jazz discs than with the mainstream classical repertoire. Hopefully, it goes without saying that from this listener it comes very highly recommended indeed - a little epiphany.

Neil Horner

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