Charming Stories

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On this album, the Swiss avant-garde jazz trio Nadelohr performs pieces inspired or set to short stories by Daniil Charms (also spelled Kharms). It is the pen name of a Russian absurd poet, Daniil Ivanovitch Yuvachev, who died in 1942, abandoned in a psychiatric ward as the Nazis occupied Leningrad. Little-known in America, his works have enjoyed some success in Europe, where they have been translated in many languages. Here, violinist Christian Strässle reads four very short texts in their German translation. But the appeal doesn't reside in the words; non-German speakers need not avoid it. The music is the key: bright and extroverted, it shifts from exuberantly swinging moments to passages of great romanticism and melancholia, with a touch of cartoonishness. The compositions are undoubtedly jazz but follow their own rules and logic, much like Charms' stories. Forays in contemporary classical music and rock add to the scattered patterns, but stability in the instrumentation (violin, saxophone, piano, and drums or vibraphone) holds things together very well. Highlights include "Gigue," pianist Mathias Gloor's "Ballad of a Lonely Man," and "Arabeske." Some would say Charming Stories is typical Swiss jazz: cerebral, technical, and uninvolved. But the strength of the melodies, the quirky arrangements, and the atmosphere set by Charms' embedded personality push it at least one step higher.