NEW YORK TIMES, USA/Nate Chinen
"Mr. Bleckmann knows his way around a dreamscape. A vocalist of inventive instinct and assiduous musicality, he’s never more secure than when in reverie, plumbing depths at once familiar and strange."
But Kate Bush is a special fit for him. The arc of her career, uneasily abutting art-rock and alternative music, jibes with his own off-kilter profile. And she’s another transfixing singer with a penchant for careful diction and spooky connotation, and deep interest in the subconscious. “Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush,” Mr. Bleckmann’s new project, had its premiere this spring; he plans to record an album next year.
But Mr. Bleckmann was at his best when he slowed things down, fixing a cold stare on Ms. Bush’s lyrics. In this mode, “All the Love” assumed an otherworldly sadness true to the song. A wordless cry at the start of “This Woman’s Work” became a formal device, sampled and transformed into a drift of ghostly arpeggios.
Downbeat, USA/Zach Phillips
Vocalist Theo Bleckmann reinterprets the
British singer’s work through his own lens. It’s
a gutsy move. Bush’s idiosyncratic musicality
makes her difficult to cover, and tougher to reimagine.
What’s surprising about Hello Earth!
is how seamlessly Bleckmann pulls it off.
On many of these songs, Bush had originally
deployed an arsenal of vintage synth sounds
and effects, some of which could sound dated
to modern ears. Bleckmann, instead, relies
on the muscle of a spartan quartet—featuring
drummer John Hollenbeck—that leapfrogs
styles from straightforward vocal jazz to ambience
to thrash metal (“Violin”).
Like Bush, Bleckmann has a flair for oddball
harmonies and vocalese. His voice is
also supple enough to charge the most oftencovered
Bush numbers, particularly “This
Woman’s Work,” with deep empathy. It makes
for a generous collection, limited only by the
near-impossibility of its vision.
CHICAGO READER/Peter Margasak
"Vocalist Theo Bleckmann is one of the most flexible and uncategorizable figures on the New York scene; since the mid-90s he's been doing his thing in a niche of his own invention, somewhere between jazz, cabaret, classical, experimental, and improvised music. He's got a strong, precise voice and impeccable pitch control, and [...] I can't help but admire his range and curiosity. It's tremendously rare for a singer to realize the potential of the voice so thoroughly."
"[Bleckmann's] a gifted singer (and twister) of songs, his voice flexible and rich, his phrasing sensitive and clear…, which makes his precise articulation such a treat."
THE NEW REPUBLIC/David Hajdu
The Year in Jazz / Ten musical high points /
January 1, 2008 / Theo Bleckmann at Cafe Sabarsky
"Bleckmann is a singer with emotional range to match his chops and rare command of the darker hues in the emotional spectrum."
DOWNBEAT, USA/Shaun Brady
Theo Bleckmann Ben Monder Duo - At Night
“...so virtuosic and inventive a pair...the two share a subtle discipline that results in a focused, cohesive whole....For all its layered density, the album is about nothing so much as atmosphere. At Night is the intimate sound of being alone inside one’s own head. Bleckmann’s keening vocals flow over Monder’s cascading steel-string arpeggios, like a waterfall’s constant roar full of smaller ripples and eddies....Bleckmann never takes the traditional jazz vocalist’s approach to interpreting a lyric; he is much more of an instrumentalist, not just because of his frequent use of wordless vocals but because he distorts a lyric to conjure his own mood. Witness his haunting elongation of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Sunny Sunday’ or the way he strangles The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ into tense overtones while Monder’s distorted axe snarls and bashes underneath....Rarely have such individual musicians sounded so single-minded.”
The Village Voice/Francis Davis
Theo Bleckmann and Fumio Yasuda, Las Vegas Rhapsody—The Night They Invented Champagne (Winter & Winter).
"The most transcendent vocal album in many a moon (for my money, anyway) reminds me of Björk's Selmasongs. Bleckmann's voice and Yasuda's orchestrations have the same blissfully troubling emotional pull."
Citypaper, Philadelphia / Shaun Brady
The top ten jazz recordings of 2007
4. Theo Bleckmann/Ben Monder - At Night (Songlines)
"Aptly named, this atmospheric set layers the seemingly limitless vocals of Bleckmann over Monder's stormy, portentous guitar; whether transforming "Norwegian Wood" into a distorted howl, stretching Joni Mitchell's "Sunny Sunday" like mournful taffy, or setting Rumi poetry or even wordless exultations to an acoustic waterfall, the duo paint a portrait of enticing isolation."
Jazztimes / Brent Burton -
THEO BLECKMANN & BEN MONDER
At Night (Songlines)
"On At Night, the duo’s second recording, Theo Bleckmann and Ben Monder make the kind of music that critics often describe as genre-defying. Bleckmann, a vocalist who also contributes what he calls “live electronic processing,” sings in an off-kilter style that is reminiscent of Gastr Del Sol’s David Grubbs and Shudder to Think’s Craig Wedren, two of post-punk’s artiest crooners. And Monder, an electric guitarist, alternates between lighter-than-air melodies and distortion-rich atmospherics that suggest no one so much as John Abercrombie. Together, they sound otherwordly. It’s tempting to just say that this record is a beaut and leave it at that. But music this unusual requires a caveat. You see, for all of its gorgeousness—which is, on several tracks, bolstered by drummer Satoshi Takeishi—At Night’s vocals are an acquired taste. Bleckmann gives the lyrics odd shapes, and his higher-pitched moments make Joni Mitchell, whose “Sunny Sunday” is covered here, seem sort of butch. None of which makes this record any less good. It just makes it different—or maybe more mysterious. And the lyrics only add to the enigma. “No light and no land anywhere,” Bleckmann sings on the opener, “Late, By Myself.” “Cloud-cover thick/I try to stay/just above the surface/yet I’m already under/and living within the ocean.” As far as themes go, it’s a pretty good way to introduce a record that rewards unskeptical submersion. Knowing what to call this music doesn’t make it any more enjoyable. Sometimes it’s best just to dive right in." (November 2007 issue)
Acclaimed "downtown" jazz vocalist Bleckmann has covered everthing from Vegas standards to Charles Ives, but his decision to dissect the music of Kate Bush is truly a match made in alternative heaven.
The top ten jazz recordings of 2005
by Philip diPietro- - Jazz Journalists Association
"Is Bleckmann actually human? Does he eat people food? Can he really do this stuff? [best sideman performance: Theo Bleckmann,voice - Ben Monder, Oceana]"
JAZZTHING / Ralf Dombrowski
[about Las Vegas Rhapsody]
"And because his wonderfully flexible timbre, his emotional dedication and vocal competence go way beyond the usual measure of expression, the tribute to the entertainment's Eldorado became a champagne album to kneel down to."
NEW YORK MAGAZINE / USA / Alica Zuckerman Brilliant!
JAZZTHETIK / Guido Diesing
Las Vegas Rhapsody - The night They Invented Champagne
5 stars (out of 5)
"What is left at the end is only a yearning memory. When Theo Bleckmann sings about the dimming neon lights in the epilogue of "Las Vegas Rhapsody", and realizes that "now I see, that you and me would never be", it becomes a deeply moving swan song of a vocal-CD that hasn't been heard in a long time. Together with pianist and arranger Fumio Yasuda and the chamber orchestra Basel, the singer dives deeply into the world of of showtunes and early Musicals, sings to opulent and clever orchestra arrangements such evergreens as "you make me feels so young" or "smoke gets in your eyes". But thankfully, the Las Vegas that's being built here, musically speaking, has nothing to do with the superficial glow of lights and its emptiness associated with the gambler's paradise in the desert of Nevada. Melancholy is considered and part of it just as much as the knowledge that the promise of great happiness remains an illusion. In the orchestra warm strings dominate, which allow for Bleckmann to sing very delicately and at times almost shyly yet still achieving a sound that is full of pathos. His singing feels as light and natural as a dance scene with Fred Astaire: one knows how much craft and work goes into it, but never feels it. Sometimes, the experimental vocalist's refined techique and avant garde chops shine thru, in "Chim chim cheree" (from Mary Poppins) for example, or in "My favorite things", when he moves effortlessly through higher octaves and back, only to enforce the fact that, for variety's sake, everything is possible. In "Teacher's Pet", Bleckmann replaces an entire doo-wop-group; in "Gal in Kalamazoo" (from orchestra wives), he breaks speed records along with the hectic stride piano. It never gets monotone for one second, instead it becomes very moving, very often. Along with great orchestrations there are small ensemble pieces like "You Go To My Head" (only accompanied by marimba) and "Button Up Your Overcoat" (with swinging string pizzicato and piano). Through contrasts mainly one thing is achieved: the moments of pure beauty, in which Bleckmann's singing is so delicate that you stop breathing in order to not miss anything, become more beautiful for it. Avant gard-ists are the best romantics after all."
NEW YORK MAGAZINE
The Cultural Elite 2005 in ARts, Music, Literature...etc.:
Best Meredith Monk Tribute
Theo Bleckmann at the BAM Café
"In honor of her 40th-anniversary season, 2005 was studded with celebrations devoted to the avant-garde singer-composer-choreographer-filmmaker. But few were like the evening at the bam Café conducted by Bleckmann, a vocalist in Monk's ensemble and an odd and brilliant new-music and cabaret singer. His rendition of Monk's 1975 "Gotham Lullaby" was so beautiful it hurt. And his version of "Chewing Gum," a forties commercial jingle made famous by Monk's mother ("My mom gave me a nickel / to buy a pickle"), was adorable—and stuck in our heads for months."
ALLABOUTJAZZ / Phil DiPietro
"Bleckmann possesses technique so colossal, yet so meticulous, he can seem otherworldly, an android-like embodiment of sci-fi vocalisms, a bodily vessel for that voice. Still, whether accompanied by actual words or not, the sounds wrought are undeniably the product of the indissoluble bond of that magical, futuristic technique with the spectrum of suffering and celebration emanating from the soul of their maker."
JAZZTHING / Germany
"An unbelievable creature, a muse on wordless angels’ tongues that descends in spirals down to earth. The 38 year-old Theo Bleckmann, born in Dortmund and now a longtime New Yorker, has created loops that are not bound to time and layered them with his incomparable vocal artistry. The results are through and through spherical, never new age, but more like an accoustic Rorschach test."
NY NEWSDAY / USA
THE BEST OF 2004/CLASSICAL MUSIC
Vocalists stood out in myriad commanding performances that connected with audiences
BY JUSTIN DAVIDSON
STAFF WRITER; MARION LIGNANA ROSENBERG; Russell Platt
" This was a wonderful year for singing[...]Then there was the downtown vocalist Theo Bleckmann, whose slender, plangent coo gave Phil Kline's "Zippo Songs" and "Rumsfeld Songs" gentle eeriness. At Merkin Hall and on a Cantaloupe CD, Bleckmann gave a ghostly, deadpan dignity to the secretary of defense's memorable testimony: "As we know, there are known knowns, there are things we know we know."
TIME OUT NEW YORK / USA / James Gavin,
Unorthodox vocalist Theo Bleckmann takes a political stand at Joe's Pub
"We are the unwilling/led by the unqualified/doing the unnecessary/the the ungrateful. The are a soldier's words, but they weren't voiced in Iraq. They were scratched on one of the military-issued Zippo lighters that became tiny writing tablets for Vietnam servicemen, many of whom never came home. During the Iraq invasion last year, composer Phil Kline turned those angry, frightened, sometimes witty inscriptions into Zippo songs, an acclaimed antiwar song cycle. Its eerie floating quality evokes the hazy netherworld of the battlefield, a limbo between life and death, rebellion and defeat. Now available on CD from the Cantaloupe label, Zippo songs was written with one singer in mind: Theo Bleckmann, the angel-voiced muse of the avant-garde. German-born but a longtime New Yorker, the boyishly handsome Bleckmann, 38, is best known for singing ethereal, wordless and often improvised soundscapes that blend ambient music, art song and jazz. For his Joe's Pub solo debut on Saturday 28, however, he has organized a night protest: To greet the Republican convention, he'll sing Kline's Zippo Songs and Rumsfeld Songs (based on the defense secretary's spectacular malapropisms), as well as his own Weimar Kabarett, a set of surprisingly pretty German antiwar compositions. Bleckmann's cool unearthly singing, uncanny in its accuracy, registers everything from shell shock to calm defiance. Most of the Kabarett numbers feature words by Bertold Brecht, whose excoriation of the Nazis forced him into exile. "I feel that a lot of Americans are in exile in their own country," Bleckmann says. "A lot of my friends feel we've been estranged from the government and from everything that's going on. It's morphed into something very scary - which the Third Reich was too." Born in Dortmund, a coal-mining town in northwest Germany, then given up for adoption, Bleckmann felt "dropped onto this earth, drifting around without any sense of belonging." In his teens he became a junior ice-dancing champion, but he learned he could soar even more freely with his voice. An early teacher, veteran jazz singer Sheila Jordan, convinced the timid youth that he had something to say, even without words. Since then, Bleckmann has emerged as the hub of a brainy group of uncategorizable New York composer-musicians that includes Meredith monk (with whom he tours regularly), John Hollenbeck, Kirk Nurock, Ben Monder and Todd Reynolds. "I'm on the road all the time with the craziest music in the world!" the singer exclaims with wonder. Now, in a crucial election year, Bleckmann feels compelled to speak out. He's appalled at the attacks on performers like Linda Ronstadt, who have dared to air their liberal views onstage. In the world we're living in, he say, "silence is the biggest danger."
The Village Voice / USA / Kyle Gann
"A frequent Meredith Monk associate, Bleckmann is a jazz vocalist with an amazing ear, a thorough knowledge of bebop scales, and absolutely no inhibitions, as likely to wail like a monkey off an augmented 11th chord."
OUT Magazine / USA / Andrew Velez
"Theo Bleckmann is a singer who often sounds like he's only recently fallen to earth. Using his three-and-a-half-octave range, Bleckmann is as adept at exploring new possibilities for wordless sounds as he is at delivering a sparely elegant rendition of Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye." His utterances can seem like an aural Rorschach of Arabic tongue clicking, Japanese, machinery noise, and bird chirping, while still remaining unaffected and accessible."
THE NEW YORK TIMES / USA / Ben Ratliff
"One strangely memorable tribute came from the singer Theo Bleckmann, who often sings without words, and as if he's from another planet. His arrangements for voice, accordion and drums of songs from the very old "Sisotowbell Lane" to the contemporary "Borderline" were so concentrated that the performance approached a séance. Some people take their Joni seriously; Mr. Bleckmann is one of them."
NY PRESS / Molly Sheridan
"I FIRST ENCOUNTERED Bleckmann's pure vocal style and perfect intonation during a performance of Phil Kline's Zippo Songs earlier this year, and was so impressed I've been keeping an eye out for another opportunity to hear him. On Friday, that chance finally rolls around when Bleckmann (voice/loops) and John Hollenbeck (percussion/drums) bring their duo project to Barbès—a rare chance to hear them live in the city."It's going to be another Theo and John adventure, I guess," says Bleckmann of the upcoming show. As per usual with music I like, the description doesn't get much more specific than that. Even the artists themselves shy away from slapping a concrete genre label on it. "It's kind of ambient-free improv with a cinematic quality—very visual. I think in that way it's very accessible. It's not some two-hour-long masturbation of somebody just playing on and on and on."Both men have impressive road credits, including strong ties to Meredith Monk's ensemble. The duo is a happy outcome of that, born of their shared musical sensibilities and their touring connection. The history of collaboration allows them a certain measure of freedom on show night, since much of the preparation is already done. "We come with a full language that we can use or discard at any moment," explains Bleckmann. Part of that language involves the trunkload of plastic toys Bleckmann uses to further extend his own vocal techniques. Though he jokes about scouring the 99-cent stores for the cheesiest bits of plastic, he's quick to caution that ultimately it's an esthetic choice, not a gimmick. "I feel that they're really integrated into the sound structure. Everything is permitted, so a toy can have the same beauty as a human voice or a drum."It's just that kind of open thought process that makes Bleckmann such an intriguing artist. I have to admit that I skipped right over all the awards and accolades listed on his resume as soon as I noticed a film credit for developing a "space alien language."Yeah, I got a call to perform through some dialogue as if I was an alien. I had no idea what it was," Bleckmann recalls. "It sounded like a B- or even a cafe-movie, and I thought, 'What the heck is this Men in Black title about?'"
THE ARTS, ONE WORLD Magazine / Egypt / Nabil Baghat
“THE ALEXANDRIA CARRY-ON is a performance that captures universal human conditions. The slave, played with exquisite specificity by Theo Bleckmann, transcends the four walls of his room into a network of relationships (slave-master, slave-love, slave-ignorance, slave-desire to learn), and what he ultimately communicates is a desire for peace that can only come through knowledge. He reveals the basic human desire-- no-- the basic human need: to know. And to know one another. To live in peace with ourselves and the other. THE ALEXANDRIA CARRY-ON is a testament to the forgotten act of generosity.
Chicago Reader / USA / Neil Tesser -
"Vocal artist Theo Bleckmann provides a powerful incentive not only to attend but also to leave expectations at the door."