When We Leave is trumpeter/composer Mathias Eick's fifth leader outing for ECM and his first since 2018's acclaimed Ravensburg. Recorded over two days in November 2020, his sidemen include violinist Håkon Aase, pianist Andreas Ulvo, bassist Auden Erlien, drummers Thorstein Lofthus and Helge Norbakken, and pedal steel guitarist Stian Carstensen. All but the steel player -- who has also worked with Eick before -- appeared on Ravensburg. The trumpeter composed all seven pieces here; they are each identified by a single-word title.
Fans of Jaga Jazzist, Eick's other band, will need to adjust their expectations. These compositions reflect the trumpeter's long-held preoccupation with the murky spaces between folk music and modern European jazz. Opener "Loving" offers a drifting, moody piano playing elegiac chords that introduce a lithe lyric line played by trumpet and violin. The two lead instruments circle one another and gradually, as the drummers begin to exchange phrases and time signatures as accents for the frontline players, engage major and minor modes before Aase delivers a sumptuous solo complemented by fills from Ulvo. "Turning" is introduced by plucked violin and bass before piano, violin, and trumpet cascade in a languid, vamp-like melody. Eick's lyricism offers staggered cadences for doubled brass and string harmonies. They add levels of depth and dimension that resist easy classification. The trumpeter's solo, while brief, elevates the tune's entire dramatic premise. While "Flying" appears improvised initially, it opens to express a sparse, even skeletal piano melody that Carstensen and Eick hover over and dole out in single lines for the other players to improvise on. "Arvo," obviously inspired by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, commences with a wispy Gregorian chant feel as Eick's trumpet, wordless vocals, and Aase's spectral violin exchange phrases, lines, and a mode. The drummers then enter one at a time, followed by Erlien and finally Carstensen, who adds sweeping chord voicings and canny pedal work to elevate the entire proceeding texturally and dynamically. It actually approaches the orchestral until the drummer's snares engage in staggered, nearly martial breakbeat rhythms. "Playing" follows logically. Carstensen controls the tune's body as the two drummers speak in a somewhat urgent processional language. Eick and Aase converse along the economically notated lyric line. Closer "Begging" sounds like a benediction or an exit hymn. It's slow, atmospheric, and at once pastoral and regal. The delicacy in Eick's aching melody expressionistically weds the sacred and the natural worlds while the pianist walks out the changes as an affirmation, and both drummers employ brushes in painting the backdrop with whispering cymbals and snares. Carstensen and Aase speak directly to Eick's lyric solo, embellishing it with textured phrases and elongated octave notes. Eick's composing on When We Leave is muted yet rich, lovely, and sophisticated. He understands exactly how to write to this particular ensemble's strengths, and draws them out individually to express, along with him, longing and vulnerability.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo