Rolf Lislevand: Nuova Musiche (ECM New Series)

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Rolf Lislevand: Passacaglia andaluz I
Rolf Lislevand: Nuova Musiche (ECM New Series)

The clue here is the record label, this is on a long-running subsidiary imprint within the famous ECM jazz label which is specifically for classical music, although not "classical music" as you might understand it.

The New Series' biggest hit was the pairing of jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek with the vocals of the Hilliard Ensemble. That album Officium crossed over between the jazz and classical worlds, and pulled in a number of listeners who probably had little interest in either. It made for nice dinner party music, in fact.

Other albums in the New Series have been more avant-garde (percussionist Pierre Favre, violinist Paul Giger, vocalist Meredith Monk) and some highly conservative (Keith Jarrett playing Bach). For many the ECM New Series was the next logical step beyond the more esoteric jazz on the label -- but I think you can take them or leave them individually as your taste dictates.

This album (which had international release last year) by guitarist and lute player Lislevand - with an ensemble which includes harp, percussion, organ, clavichord and so on -- is fascinating. The ensemble are part of a movement which insists on playing 17th century music on period instruments using techniques gleaned from close study of sources and based on original manuscripts.

Improvisation is allowed -- the musicians of the period did -- but only by those who know the music and the instruments intimately. If it all sounds damnably dogmatic the music is far from stiff: here are lively arpeggios, stately parlour pieces, a fraction too much folksiness for my taste in a couple of spots, and some vigorous (and yes, jazzy) interplay.

Doubtless you'll have a few pastoral scenes running through your head in places, but in others you may well be transported to some Italian drawing room as Raphael wanders past.

In others words music to take you Elsewhere.

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