"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.
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.
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 Pärt.
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.
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.