Review Summary: A motion picture of no dialogue... and all the better for it.
If you look at the tracklisting of Ravensburg
, you’ll notice that most of the songs have only one-word titles. But let me tell you, the material within is anything but simple. In reality, Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick likes to let the music speak for itself, and the titles are simply there to provide a small basis for what the music elaborates on. Isn’t that the job of song titles though? Ideally. However, consider the fact that this is a completely instrumental jazz album, one that relies on imagery and delicate little touches to get its point across. Are you looking for a bombastic jazz record that’s showy and grand? You’re not going to get that here. These are quiet, meditative, hypnotic pieces of smooth jazz that benefit from turning small shifts in tone into a cinematic picture you can get lost in. In fact, this really does
play out like a soundtrack to a movie that has yet to exist; it fills us in on certain details, while leaving enough to the imagination for us to keep returning to speculate on its mysteries.
is largely driven by homely piano chords and melodies, which straddle the line between comfort and melancholy. Eick might be defined by his trumpet work (as it is his main instrument), but the band dynamic is what shines in this experience. The piano and drums are just as important in fleshing out the wordless vignettes that mark Ravensburg
’s identity, one which does its best in describing the meaning of each spare song title. If anything, the trumpet acts as the “voice” of the recording, as the sentimental melodies pop out of the solid framework the rhythm section establishes. Eick essentially sings through his instrument, coloring in any of the story elements that the other instruments missed. And believe me, you need repeated listens to get the most out of Ravensburg
. Whether it’s the progressive and subtly-shifting drum beats of “Children,” the strange mood swings of the piano in beautiful opener “Family” (which has one of the most emotionally potent intros I’ve heard in a long time), or the percussive and stacotto-driven drum/piano pops of the more sprightly “Girlfriend,” there’s a decent amount of stuff to absorb here. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the graceful violin performances that arch over the record to strengthen its unique tone, especially on the aforementioned “Girlfriend” and the relaxing title track. There’s something to be said for an album and a group that can exude such poetry without even singing or saying a damn thing, but the instruments are there to provide all the descriptions you need to get a picture going in your mind. Just listen to the way “Parents” swings between moments of sadness, uncertainty, and solemnity, and you get the general sense the possible darker moments of Eick’s upbringing. Just listen to the nostalgia and sense of ease that illuminates out of the simple piano melodies and wordless vocals of closer “For My Grandmothers,” which (I’ll admit) brought me back to my old Christmas vacations with my grandparents because of its powerful depiction of sentimental home life.
What’s amazing about Ravensburg
is that, while it does seem very personal to Mathias Eick himself, the way he portrays this material can just as easily apply to many of our personal experiences we’ve had growing up. Presenting it as a soft, understated jazz record with many intricate details is just as brilliant, as you can dive right back in to hear whatever small touches you missed the first time around. And it’s not like being soft doesn’t make it engaging either. It isn’t super flashy, but the beautiful sense of instrumental storytelling is what makes
it so engaging. This is a man who’s able to tell a story without even telling the story. Impressive, isn’t it?