:: origami
Theo Bleckmann [vocals]
John Hollenbeck [drums, percussion, melodica]
Matt Moran [vibraphone]
Skuli Sverrisson [bass]
Ben Monder [guitar]

Songlines, SGL 1534-2


Downbeat Magazine

songlines "A songbook often without words and practically without borders, Origami is the latest report back from Theo Bleckmann on his continuing explorations into the unsuspected emotional and expressive possibilities of the voice in an unfettered group context. It is also a meticulously constructed, exquisitely detailed collection of songs that ranges across centuries, continents and musical styles for its inspiration. The ancient Japanese art of paper folding, origami, is a constant touchstone, unfolding (and enfolding the listener) in unusual ways. Building on his earlier collaboration with downtown New York instrumentalists Ben Monder, Skuli Sverrisson and Jim Black, No Boat (SGL 1516), he creates lush environments through overdubbing and live electronic layering, embedding his vocals in diverse rhythms and textures, shifting from song to sound and from composition to improvisation, developing a mercurial aesthetic that encompasses (at least) jazz, folk, minimalism, ambient, noise, and free improv.
Bleckmann's original compositions, combining jazz and American classical influences (Ives, Copland) often reference a chorale-like serenity. "Origami" (set to a poem in Japanese by Reiko Aoki) begins simply but becomes both fuller and freer as the group collectively embellishes it. "DNA" features a Latinish beat and intricate octave-displaced counterpoint; it is modeled after unit-origami, in which hundreds of geometric shapes are assembled into a larger unit. "Nova Scotia" layers folk-like melodies into ambient soundscapes, restlessly bringing in new lines over previously established chords; it could be a kind of ambient ghost story, a preternatural lullaby in which innocence and experience (or good and evil) contest with no obvious resolution. "Without Sky," written for long-time collaborator Ben Monder, evokes the plains of middle America; it's segued here with the group improv "Rhombiododecahedron," which fits Out critic Andrew Velez's characterization of Theo's music as an "aural Rorshach test" from "a singer who has only recently fallen to earth." Urban and rural melt together in the prayer-like improvisation "Alloy," in duo with Skuli and sung through a megaphone.
The four "standards" provide a historical perspective even as their completely personal treatment recontexts them in the present. Machaut's courtly love plaint "Douce dame jolie" takes on an obsessed, gently ominous tone, while Brecht-Eilser's anti-Nazi tribute "An den kleinen Radioapparat" is as embodied as direct testimony. "I Remember You" seems caught in some trip-hop psychedelic deconstruction of time, the singer himself eventually dissolving into the past and gone with the loved one; "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries" is autumnal retrospection and heartfelt hymn.
Layering and silence are as much a part of this music as surprise and reflection. With its subtle modulations between ethereality and pathos, sublimity and dread, knowingness and outright irreverence, ironic detachment and tenderness, Origami cultivates the art of musicmaking with and beyond language for the expression of life's fleeting, inchoate experience and its underlying connections."