Rainy Day ECM

Photo by BennyLin0724 on Flickr.

An ECM record just seems so appropriate on a rainy afternoon. And all of a sudden here in the Bay Area, the last two days have turned rainy-looking: the cool wind, the big artistic clouds. Actual rain comes in tiny bursts, but it’s the sky that counts. It sets up that ECM mood.

So, I spun Jon Hassell late Thursday afternoon. I’d picked up his CD, Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (ECM, 2009) at the library the previous weekend, randomly stabbing through the shelves while waiting for the kids.

I don’t know Hassell from hamburger, but his photo makes him look like a veteran artist, with a style and purpose well weathered by years of honing, seeking, perfecting … You know, it’s just that black-and-white artsy photography. It turns me into the critic who wants to show off that he’s read Faulkner.

Anyway, I found the atmosphere I was looking for, in spades. Trumpet is a great instrument for setting up an indeterminate, spacey chasm of sound, and Hassell uses heavy reverb to that advantage. Behind him is a rustle of varying amounts of electric bass, guitar, synth washes, and samples, a backdrop that’s gray but in varying moods and rippling waves.

Quite a few trumpeters love to set this kind of floating, ethereal mood, with the crisp trumpet tones mixing into a brew of modern, tech-driven sounds. It’s mellow with an edgy undercurrent. From the label that also supports Enrico Rava and Tomasz Stanko, it’s hardly surprising. (Eric Truffaz’s early-2000s work comes to mind too, although that’s closer to a pop vein, IIRC.)

That doesn’t mean it lacks any unique touches. It’s just that sometimes, as much as I love to plumb new ground with music — sometimes even I just want to settle into a comfortable mood.

The tracks do feature different sounds, but the real uniquenesses lie in the little touches of the background — such as guitar by Rick Cox, of the Cold Blue label (a mellow drone/ambient cousin to ECM but from the more troubled, dangerous side of the family) or the warmth of Pete Freeman’s electric bass, especially in spots where it’s used sparingly. I love Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche’s violin, spinning Persian-sounding lines on the 12-minute “Abu Gil,” which is a terrific slow jam occupying a comforting space.

The album isn’t completely my cup of tea. The auto-harmonized trumpet sound starts to make me itch after a while. But as a dose of ECM, a remarkably consistent label, it certainly hit the spot.