Downtown Ann Arbor has not had a dedicated jazz club since the Firefly closed almost two decades ago, though bars such as Old Town Tavern and the Ravens Club have weekly jazz shows. This month marks the start of a new chapter: Blue LLama Jazz Club and Restaurant on Main St. is hosting a soft opening March 23, with a show by the Norwegian quintet of composer-trumpeter Mathias Eick.
Eick is an eclectic, well-trained musician who has performed in many styles and on various instruments, collaborating with a broad array of Norwegian musicians. His approach to the trumpet is lyrical, sparse, and melancholy, with some roots in the playing of Chet Baker but with a broader, more spacious sound, like that of Freddie Hubbard. The music he plays, however, is quite different from theirs.
Like many Norwegian musicians, Eick enjoys and plays a wide variety of contemporary styles, from progressive and psychedelic rock to folk, pop, and classical music, as well as mainstream and avant jazz. But whatever the context, he retains his individuality. He is immediately identifiable even on rock band recordings, sticking to his lyricism no matter how rambunctious the music gets.
In his own group, Eick has a determined and premeditated compositional approach; the instrumental textures, backgrounds, lead melodies, and solos are all of one part. Even when the music begins to burn, it is still permeated by a smudge of pensive sadness.
His musical progression can be traced through four albums released on the elite German ECM label. On the latest two, the overall timbre is dictated by the sound of his trumpet, but he leaves plenty of space for the piano and violin, while drums and bass play riffs and repetitive patterns underneath. Indeed, melodic and rhythmic repetition are characteristic of his music, often used to build tension and change the mood of a piece, which can shift from a soft ballad to an expressive rock-beat tune and back again.
This month he is touring the U.S. with a quintet in support of his just-released CD, Ravensburg. Crucial to this group is Eick’s interaction with the violinist Hakon Aase. A young musician of equally omnivorous musical tastes, his sparse melancholy is perfectly suited to Eick’s style.