A strong case can be made that Bobo Stenson is the greatest living jazz pianist born outside the United States. He is a poet of the first order. Stenson's spontaneous melodic and harmonic discoveries, his trajectories and distant departures, arrive at a breakthrough to lyricism that, once found, sounds like it has always been there.
As a sideman, Stenson has been indispensable to some of ECM's major albums, including recordings by Tomasz Stanko, Charles Lloyd and Jan Garbarek. Over the last 34 years, he has released four trio albums on ECM under his own name. Now there is a fifth, Goodbye, and it is the deepest, most fully realized recorded work of his career.
Stenson almost never plays popular songs. Here he segments Gordon Jenkins' title track into pieces, and reassembles them and adds revelatory details of his own, in a free yet definitive reimagining. The hush that descends over his "Send in the Clowns" will freeze you right in your chair. There is also material from a wide variety of sources-world music, his own trio, Ornette Coleman-unfolded with rapt, concentrated continuity. Goodbye feels like a single suite of feeling.
Xieyi, by Stenson's regular bassist of 12 years, Anders Jormin, belongs to that most rare, forbidding and hermetic of jazz genres: the solo bass recital. Jormin sustains interest because of his fluency, his sense for melody and narrative and his instinct for dramaturgy. In fact he does more than sustain interest. Jormin weaves his own songs through Scandinavian religious hymns by Sibelius and Soderblom and pieces by Ornette Coleman and Violeta Parra. At irregular intervals, there are six jewel-like miniatures for brass quartet, for textural contrast. Xieyi (rather like Goodbye, but in a different dark language) becomes a unity of creative atmosphere where you can lose yourself.