It has been 10 years since Mathias Eick released The Door and immediately became one of Europe’s most promising new trumpet players. Ravensburg, his fourth ECM album as a leader, reveals gradual, intelligent growth. His primary asset is still his trumpet sound, one of the purest, most radiant in jazz. His lyricism is still mysteriously provisional. No one plays trumpet lines like Eick’s. They are calls of hope and longing, streaks of light in the darkness. He still centers his albums, loosely, around unifying concepts. His previous recording, Midwest, was a journey toward home. Ravensburg is for those closest to him: family, friends, lovers.
But there have been incremental changes. His band now contains two drummers, Torstein Lofthus and Helge Andreas Norbakken. Eick does not deploy them for power but for shadowing, for three-dimensional depth of field. His last two albums have brought in a violinist, and on Ravensburg it is Håkon Aase. The trumpet/violin blend is organic yet not quite of this world, an eerie treble cry, outside of time. And in a new development, Eick actually sings. His wordless voice, as haunting as his trumpet, provides something perhaps not otherwise obtainable: a deepening of the music’s enveloping atmosphere.
Another step forward is Eick’s emphasis on composition and ensemble form. On tunes like “Family” and “Children,” he draws upon all of his band’s resources in texture and color, to create context for melodic emotion. His trumpet tone has always contained pensive melancholy, but the subject matter of Ravensburg often inspires Eick toward affirmation. “Friends” and “Girlfriend” both evolve into songs of celebration. A short, distilled, mesmerizing piece, “For My Grandmothers,” closes the album. Andreas Ulvo’s hesitant piano, Eick’s floating voice and Aase’s yearning violin are all caught up together in reverie, lingering over invaluable memories, unwilling to part with them.