There are a number of different stories woven into Our Story, flautist Christian Artmann’s first offering since 2015. Quotations in the liner notes from Zen sages Thich Nhat Hanh and Yasutani Roshi point to Artmann’s Buddhist faith, but the fifth cut of the record, “Amazing Grace,” makes a bit of room for the Christian narrative as well. And the album’s cross-pollination of musical styles, from Brazilian inflections to funk to straight-ahead jazz, suggests that Artmann’s ultimate purpose here is to draw as widely from the myriad cultural and musical resources at his disposal, in the process arriving at a perspective beyond boundaries—a singular “story” capable of including us all. 

With a fine band on hand, including bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and drummer Jeff Hirshfield, both of whom have worked with Artmann before, there’s plenty of talent to weave the various threads of the music together. Pianist Laszlo Gardony shares Artmann’s stylistic adventurousness, and his rhythmic flexibility is crucial to “The Noctambulist,” which pivots sharply from relaxed swing into a more assertive odd-meter groove that allows Gardony the chance to stretch out. And the addition of vocalist Elena McEntire breathes extra life into three of the cuts, including the aforementioned “Amazing Grace,” where her steady, unadorned delivery is perfect in conveying the emotional power of the piece, and “Earthling,” where her wordless vocals float airlessly atop the track’s funk-based foundation. 

The music is solidly jazz-based, but Artmann’s classical training remains apparent, particularly through the disciplined rigor he brings to his instrument. He unfurls an especially well-crafted solo within the disarmingly tricky structure of “Quixote,” and even when he climbs to his most intense emotional peaks, as on “Pan’s Blues,” he never loses control or succumbs to self-indulgence. In keeping with his overarching vision to find unity amidst diversity, Artmann’s warm, ingratiating sound and broadminded concept should expand his audience.

A densely layered yet totally accessible album by flutist Christian Artmann. His compositions are as epic as a Midwestern landscape, yet each of the album’s solos are engaging and warm. “Resilience” is perhaps my favorite among many wonderful ones, with its enhanced and muscular flute. Artmann’s interaction with the piano (Laszlo Gardony), drums (Jeff Hirshfield) and bassist (Johannes Weidenmuller) belies the complexity of the songs. “Pan’s Blues” and “Earthling” make you wish for more. Christian Artmann’s album exposes a need for flute-driven jazz that I didn’t know I had.

Usually music that comes with a line or so in explanation tends to distract from the purest experience of the music but this is not so in the case of Christian Artmann and his music on Our Story. One reason – an important one – is that Mr Artmann is a virtuoso flutist of the highest order and not only does the instrument itself – when played as well as he does – mesmerise the listener; the music itself is quite hypnotic. Moreover we find that Mr Artmann is a practicing Buddhist and the kind of relative stasis that the music produces on its players and its intended audience (ourselves) makes the descriptors under each title function as a kind of guided meditation for the listener.

Add to that the cascades of tumbling notes such as we hear (especially) on “Earthling” which are played with the use of a phaser, and which when combined by the leaping, wordless vocals of Elena McEntire produce an almost beguiling and magical effect on the mind. Of course “Earthling” is no fluke. Even on “Quixote” – obviously inspired by the mystical character from Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century epic El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha – we hear much of that beautiful lilting, yet firm swing in the music, the momentum of which has already been created by bassist Johannes Weidenmüller and drummer Jeff Hirshfield as well as by the inimitable pianism of Laszlo Gardony. Meanwhile Mr Artmann takes it all up several notches once he enters the musical narrative.

Mr Artmann also plays alto flute on several titles and his facility with the lower reed is just as magical as it is with the concert version. One hears the same kind of masterful expression that the great Jean-Pierre Ramphal brought to the orchestral performance and in Mr Artmann’s contrapuntal exchanges with Mr Gardony we are reminded of the immortal classic Suite for Flute and Jazz PianoTrio (Columbia Masterworks, 1975) which M Ramphal recorded with Claude Bolling. Mr Artmann does, however, take the instruments several leagues ahead in his arrangements for flute and piano with Miss McEntire’s extraordinary vocalastics and the rhythm team of Mr Weidenmüller and Mr Hirshfield as well.

But make no mistake Mr Artmann is no classicist who appears at a masquerade ball cast in the role of a jazz flutist. His virtuosity and innate sense of when to swing enable him to bestride both worlds with authentic bonafides. Just listen to the oblique tribute to Wayne Shorter on “Tropic of Capricorn” It also pays to reiterate that this magical ensemble is considerably enhanced by the addition of Miss McEntire whose wraith-like vocals raise the music to a rarefied realm.

This is Christian Artmann’s third CD, following his well-received 2011 debut album and 2015’s excellent Fields of Pannonia. He is a flutist gifted with fluidity and a highly imaginative approach to the instrument, and his recorded output has evolved towards a more spiritual approach, partly reflecting his Buddhist faith. The result is an enjoyable and varied album right from the opener “The Noctambulist” through the very end.

The quartet is a tight unit, benefitting in particular from pianist Laszlo Gardony’s many solos, in which each note is distilled and savored within a rhythmic approach. Bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and drummer Jeff Hirshfield, both on Artmann’s earlier recordings, provide tasteful yet essential contributions that go beyond traditional supporting roles. Last but not least, vocalist Elena McEntire is more than an addition to the quartet, the haunting rendition of “Amazing Grace” being a case in point.

There is a peaceful yet joyful mood, even in more lively pieces such as the opening track, modal-flavored “Quixote”, which is also characterized by shifting pace, or the more intimate “Resilience”, with Weidenmueller’s only solo. In “Earthling”, a funky bassline sustains the unison between flute and voice stating the dreamy, bossa nova-flavored melody. The title track showcases Artmann, whose solo builds slowly, leading to an equally engaging piano solo. “Tropic of Capricorn” is the most complex piece, with a dreamy introduction sustained by Weidenmueller’s arco followed by a bouncing theme, Artmann’s solo, which grows in intensity as it progresses, and Gardony’s crisp intervention, leading to a repeat of the theme and a somewhat dramatic reprise of the introduction. “Elena” has a very appealing melody, leaving the listener the impression that the group is not only performing at the top of their game but also having quite a bit of fun in the process; Gardony’s solo is a gem in this respect. “Pan’s Blues”, while not sharing a canonical approach to the blues, captures its very essence largely thanks to Weidenmueller’s deep sound. Of note is also Hirshfield’s coloring around, instead of sticking to, the blues pattern. Finally, “Always Here” closes the proceedings as a ballad delivered in unison by flute and voice, a beautiful ending for an excellent recording.

Review in German, English translation below.

Der typische Jazzmusiker ist er nicht. Als Teenager kam Christian Artmann erstmals in die USA und brillierte dort als klassischer Flötist – erst später entdeckte er den Jazz für sich. Inzwischen lebt er in New York und veröffentlichte 2011 sein Debütalbum als Jazzer. Sein klassisch geschultes Flötenspiel ist natürlich technisch frappierend, der stimmungsvolle Einsatz der dunklen Altflöte bezaubernd. Artmanns visionäre Stücke überspannen ein stilistisch weites Feld zwischen Claude Debussy, Edeljazz und sanftem Funk. Sein wichtigster Partner auf Our Story ist der Pianist Laszlo Gardony, ein Alleskönner, der schon 1983 den Schritt von Europa nach Amerika machte. Johannes Weidenmüller (Bass), seit 1991 in den USA, und Jeff Hirshfield (Drums), ein echter New Yorker, komplettieren das Quartett. Als Gast in drei Stücken ist die Mezzosopranistin Elena McEntire mit dabei. Ob es nun an der europäischen Herkunft liegt, an der Verwurzelung in der Klassik, an buddhistischer Philosophie oder dem Instrument Flöte: Artmanns Musik hat auf jeden Fall etwas sehr Eigenes, Beherrschtes, Virtuos-Kontrolliertes – eine besondere, gewollte Ästhetik. Zuweilen erinnert die Kombination Flöte/Klavier bzw. Flöte/Stimme sogar an alte Aufnahmen von Chick Corea. ****

English translation:

Your typical jazz musician he is not. Christian Artmann came to the U.S. as a teenager and at first excelled as a classical flutist before discovering his passion for jazz. Now at home in New York, he released his debut album as a jazz musician in 2011. Artmann’s classically trained technique is dazzling, and the dark tone of his alto flute casts a spell. His visionary pieces transcend stylistic borders, connecting Claude Debussy, refined jazz and laid back funk. His most important partner on Our Story is can-do-it-all pianist Laszlo Gardony. who made his move from Europe to the U.S. already in 1983. Johannes Weidenmüller (bass), in the U.S. since 1991, and Jeff Hirshfield (drums), a real New Yorker, complete the quartet, with mezzo soprano Elena McEntire appearing as a guest artist on three pieces. Whether as a result of his European origin, roots in classical music, Buddhist philosophy or instrument of choice, Artmann has a highly unique musical voice – a controlled form of virtuosity paired with a very personal aesthetic. The way he combines the flute with the piano and the voice is at times reminiscent of some of Chick Corea’s classic recordings. ****

 

On his third offering as a leader, Christian Artmann’s Our Story (Sunnyside) showcases the flutist’s crystalline tone, fluid technique and engaging compositional style. Indeed, Artmann’s 10-song set is easy on the ears without sacrificing layered depth. The sprightly opener “The Noctambulist,” the funky “Earthling” and the beautifully sentimental closer “Always Here,” feature Artmann’s alto flute doubled an octave higher by Elena McEntire’s wordless vocals. As for technique and velocity, Artmann’s improvising presents a barrage of creative ideas that nearly overwhelms. To his credit, he knows when to release and give his empathetic rhythm section (pianist Laszlo Gardony, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and drummer Jeff Hirshfield) ample room to present their inspired interpretations.

Christian Artmann was raised in Germany before moving to the United States as a teenager. While his parents encouraged him to take up the piano he focused on the flute and has not looked back since. He released his 2011 debut titled Uneasy Dreams followed by the excellent Fields of Pannonia, reviewed on this site. He’s back with his third album Our Story.

This is another top notch band with superb playing by all members. Often the spotlight is on Artmann’s flute for good reason. He’s an exceptional player, dynamic, fluid and highly imaginative. The piano work of Gardony also deserves special mention as he provides fabulous solos throughout the disc. Check out the flute and piano solos on the first track “The Noctambulist” to hear what I mean. On “Earthling” the flute and vocal lines in unison sound great, as does the inspired flute solo. On the title track an extended flute solo takes up the entire first half and it’s a real treat for the ears. Then the piano returns the favour. Really stunning stuff. One of my favourites is the haunting “Tropic of Capricorn”. Sweeping waves drift through the soundscape before the flute takes hold with another excellent solo. Before long the band get into a light and airy groove before ending with more beguiling flute work. Score:

Christian Artmann plays both flute and alto flute on this sublime album with Laszlo Gardony/p, Johannes Weidenmueller/b, Jeff Hirshfield/dr and vocalist Elena McEntire. Ms. McEntire is featured on three pieces, bopping along with Artmann on the funky “Earthling,” pastoral with Weidenmueller’s bass during “Always Here” and placid along with Gardony’s piano for a contemplative “Amazing Grace.” Artmann makes the woodwinds get fluffy like cirrus clouds on “Tropic of Capricorn” while flexing some muscle for the modal “Quixote” which has the rhythm team bear down with a vengeance. A pretty side is reflected on the cheerfully bopping title track and the gracefully galloping “Resilience.” A breezy morning!

December 12, 2019 – Consulate General of Germany, NYC

7:30PM show at the Consulate General of Germany with Philip Weberndoerfer, Lars Haake and others. 871 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017.
 

December 17, 2019 – Berklee College of Music, Boston

As special guest with the Laszlo Gardony Trio at the David Friend Recital Hall, 7.30pm. Click here for more information. 

June 4, 2019 – The Kitano, NYC

With Laszlo Gardony (piano), Johannes Weidenmueller (bass), Jeff Hirshfield (drums) and special guest Elena McEntire (vocals). One of the “best jazz clubs in New York City” according to the New York City Jazz Record, The Kitano is located at 66 Park Ave., East 38th Street in Manhattan. For reservations, call 212-885-7119. 

Recent Performances

August 1, 2019 at the Salt Lake City Symphony Hall – Gala Concert of the National Flute Association. With Laszlo Gardony (piano), Johannes Weidenmueller (bass) and Jeff Hirshfield (drums).

August 2, 2019 Late Night Jazz Feature at The National Flute Association Convention, Salt Lake City.

June 20, 2019 at The Kitano, NYC with Laszlo Gardony (piano), Johannes Weidenmueller (bass) and Jeff Hirshfield (drums).

May 26, 2019 at The Lilypad, Boston with Laszlo Gardony (piano) and special guest Elena McEntire (vocals).

February 27, 2019 at The New York Buddhist Church: Solo Improvisation

October 18, 2018 at The Kitano, NYC: The Christian Artmann Quartet

October 6, 2018 at The Buttonwood Tree, Connecticut: Duo with Laszlo Gardony (piano)

September 29, 2018 at ShapeShifter Lab, NYC: The Christian Artmann Quartet

June 20, 2018 at Spectrum, NYC: Duo with Yago Vazquez (piano)