To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t think of a headline for this piece. So I used the title of a composition from Jakob Bro’s new album, which features the Danish guitarist with the Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen and the Spanish drummer Jorge Rossy. I just liked the sound of it. Or maybe I liked the idea of what sort of music might appeal to black pigeons. And if you’re asking yourself, as I did, whether there actually are black pigeons, the answer is that the black imperial pigeon, Ducula melanochroa, also known as the Bismarck imperial pigeon, is native to the Bismarck Archipelago, a group of islands off the north-east coast of New Guinea.
The album is titled Uma Elmo and is a good example of the procedure developed by the producer Manfred Eicher early in the life of his label, ECM Records. He assembles a group of musicians from among his repertory company, puts them in a sympathetic recording environment and sees what happens. In this case the three musicians receive equal billing, displayed on the sleeve in alphabetical order, although the fact that all eight compositions are by Bro suggests that he is in some sense the leader of the session, or at least the agenda-setter.
I love Bro’s playing and the records he makes. He has an understated take on modern guitar-playing, more painterly than most. Thought goes into every note, which is why in the past he’s worked so well with the bassist Thomas Morgan, who appeared on Bro’s first four ECM albums. Morgan isn’t here this time, but Henriksen and Rossy (who is probably best known for his long tenure with the trio of Brad Mehldau) have a similar sense of economy and of the need to play only the right notes.
The pieces on this album are tone poems, more abstract than Bro’s usual creations. Each one floats in its own pool of texture, subtle in effect and gradual in momentum, but employing a surprisingly wide dynamic and emotional range. Exquisite but never effete, they invite the musicians to explore their individual instrumental vocabularies as part of a collective creation. Solos are not the point here. But all of them play at the top of their form: Bro making fascinating use of loops, Henriksen producing his most lyrical flights, and Rossy proving himself to be a master colourist in this largely tempo-free music.
Highly recommended, then, and not just to Bismarck imperial pigeons. Ducula melanochroa is not, I’m pleased to report, an endangered species. They flourish, just like these three exceptional modern musicians.
* Here’s a link to the promo clip for Uma Elmo: https://youtu.be/UZQZNF4qwwo