He is the Zelig of jazz … and cabaret, vocal harmony, installation art and theatre: as comfortable opposite Laurie Anderson as he is Steve Coleman, and as skilled at exploring the louche vivacity of a Vegas floorshow as he is the bracing avant-gardism of Charles Ives. So it’s hardly surprising that vocalist Theo Bleckmann fits cozily within ECM’s sphere of artful ethereality. Indeed, the chameleonic Bleckmann has always maintained a beclouded sense of otherworldliness, though never as profoundly as here.
Backing Bleckmann is what he’s dubbed his “ambient” band, providing elegant accompaniment at once symbiotic and ghostly minimalist. The stellar foursome includes two of his longtime recording partners, guitarist Ben Monder and drummer John Hollenbeck, alongside keyboardist Shai Maestro and bassist Chris Tordini. The intent, says Bleckmann in the press materials, is to provide perspectives on death and transformation. Following a softly undulating instrumental prelude, he serves up an arrestingly somber reading of Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight,” suggesting entrée into a haunted hall of mirrors.