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Theo Bleckman: Origami

Singers, often shoved to the tier of second-class musicians, regularly claim they want to be respected for their instrument, the voice, in the same way instrumentalists are praised for their horns, axes and keys. Theo Bleckmann’s voice is an instrument nonpareil.

The German-born singer and pianist often uses wordless vocals to create luminous webs of sound. He does not scat, for his music is far too delicate, deliberate and decorous to withstand that sort of verbal assault, but rather he sings airy tones with his three and a half octave range that evoke medieval chant, Bachlike chorale, Ivesian folk and minimalist drift.

On Origami he teams with frequent partner and guitarist Ben Monder, vibraphonist Matt Moran, electric bassist Skuli Sverrisson and drummer John Hollenbeck for a 13-song album of fragile ambiance. The title track leads off the CD and it sets the album’s otherworldly chamber-music tone. The song features a poem by Japanese writer Reiko Aoki, sung by Bleckmann in its original tongue, and the tune billows over its six-minute run-time, its geometric sound-shapes layering and building into something that sounds akin to how origami looks: delicate, contoured, beautiful.

Among the four cover songs, which include Guillaume de Machaut’s “Douce Dame Jolie,” Alexandra Montano’s “Like Brother and Sister” and Hanns Eisler and Bertold Brecht’s “An den Kleinen Radio-apparat,” it is Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger’s “I Remember You” that gets the most remarkable treatment. Bleckmann croons the song in a somewhat traditional manner (for him, anyway), but he incorporates digital glitches into the fabric of the piece so that it sounds like your CD is stuck for a moment, trapping you inside the song and its lovelorn narrator.

Bleckmann’s band is filled with players who have a light touch and who play with complete refinement. They, as much as their leader, are what make Origami a complete success.

Originally Published