Cantando marks the second time in as many albums that pianist and composer Bobo Stenson is making a personnel change in the drum chair of his trio. For many jazz artists this wouldn't even be a major consideration, as the transient nature of the music lends itself to such changes. But Stenson, along with longtime bassist Anders Jormin (20 years), has only made a total of six recordings in 37 years including this one, and former drummer Jon Christensen held that chair for 29 of them. Paul Motian stepped in for 2005's Goodbye and offered a different, mildly busier approach, though it too was rooted in the slow and deliberate spaciousness that has been at the heart of Stenson's music from the beginning. But 29-year-old drummer Jon Fält (Nordic Quintet) lends something else entirely to Stenson's brew as he may continue in Motian's footsteps as an elegant player but he is more physical dynamically, and more active in his sense of adventure. Another aspect of the change inherent in Stenson's approach to music-making would be the selection of material by other composers. Of the 11 pieces here, only one, "Pages," is an original; and it is a long improvisational work that sits dead-center on the album, compiled chop-up style from four demos by producer Manfred Eicher. It is credited to all three members. The other works here are by a highly divergent group of authors, from Ornette Coleman to Alban Berg, from Czech composer Peter Iben to the late Argentine nuevo tango composer Astor Piazzolla, from Don Cherry to Cuban vocalist Silvio Rodríguez. These choices are all impeccable. Rodríguez's "Olivia" opens the set with its insistent lyricism and tender melody line. The interplay between Jormin -- one of the greatest bassists ever to appear on ECM and one of the most technically gifted players in the music today -- and Fält, with his dancing cymbal work and beat-heavy brushes on the tom-toms, offers an uncharacteristically tight space for Stenson in the melody and in his solo. Of course he rises to the occasion with glorious ostinati and syncopated arpeggios. Cherry's "Don's Kora Song" begins with the rhythm section, in particular the held, clipped cymbal sound by Fält that accompanies the insistent, woody attack by Jormin in an insistent rhythm. Stenson begins by rumbling in the lowest register before gradually moving toward the center with a mysterious minor-key articulation of Cherry's lyric line and developing a solo of chords into the middle of that as Fält allows the cone of the cymbals to ring more with his attack. Jormin is dazzling as he propels the tune from underneath. Coleman's "A Fixed Goal" follows this, and the reading is wonderful. With its playful, staccato melody echoing a nursery rhyme ethos and decidedly marked harmonic lines and rhythmic shifts, it is the perfect number for this trio. Stenson's solo is dazzling. The real mettle of the trio is on "Pages," where the group plays freely -- for Stenson -- with time, space, and texture. Fält and Jormin are wonderful together, continually challenging and complementing, and Stenson's elastic melodic sense is given new elasticity. This is a stellar effort that announces -- hopefully -- an extended run for this trio.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek