Pannonia, a frontier of the Roman Empire that now lies at the geographical center of modern Hungary, evokes a historied landscape that flutist Christian Artmann’s Fields of Pannonia paints through jazz. You may not find yourself in accustomed jazz territory during this almost 60-minute mythical journey in sound, but there are references to familiar composers along the way, including Wayne Shorter, J.S. Bach, and Messiaen.
The opening title track is full of unexpected turns and modulations. It provides the album’s most memorable, almost folkloric melody, the kind you might hum to yourself walking down a long stretch of road as the day’s heat gave way to evening. Wayne Shorter’s “Fum-Fo-Fi” is the closest to a straight-up blowing session, with inventive bop-styled solos throughout.
The reworking of J.S. Bach’s “Sarabande” from the Partita in A Minor nests the famed melody quite dissonantly. It may charm some listeners with its lyricism and familiarity, but this reviewer found it somewhat out of place given the ambience of the album as a whole. “Garuda’s Song” sounds like an ornithological cousin to Messiaen’s Le Merle Noir, but here the bird flies funky, with Artmann’s improvisation thematically punctuated with flutter tonguing.
Two tracks, “Sunya” and “Atacama,” both free improvisations, show the depth of listening that this group possesses and are among the most successful pieces on the album. “Vortex” is unconventional and surprising in its construction and showcases Artmann’s full technical command of the flute, especially in the piece’s punchy chromatic climax. Finally, “August” features one of Artmann’s best solos on the album. The rhythm section of Gregg Kallor, piano, Johannes Weidenmueller, bass, and Jeff Hirshfield, drums, shines brightest on this feel-good track.
Hirshfield’s drums add color and texture to this album, whimsically painting rhythms while simultaneously supporting the band’s cool textures and strong sense of swing. Kallor’s playing is always surprising—he never settles for typical pianistic devices, and Weidenmueller’s creativity and confidence demonstrate why he is such an in-demand bassist in today’s international jazz scene.
If you are a fan of the lush sounds of the alto flute, buy this album—the instrument is featured throughout alongside the C flute. Artmann’s tone conveys unusual warmth and mystery, and his improvisations are as fertile as the fields of Pannonia themselves.