When I first saw that the Anat Fort Trio’s new album Birdwatching (CD, digital) featured alto clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi alongside double bassist Gary Wang, drummer Roland Schneider, and Fort on piano, my first thought was that it would probably sound like the wonderfully evocative albums Currents and Post Scriptum by the similarly configured Wolfert Brederode Quartet. And while it does at times, the overall tone of Birdwatching actually sets this album apart.
Recorded in November of 2013, Birdwatching is a decidedly mellow affair. Which, admittedly, is a rather obvious thing to say about a jazz trio joined by an alto clarinetist who record for ECM Records. After all, ECM did release 1961 by the Jimmy Giuffre 3, the grand daddy of clarinet-led mellow chamber jazz albums, not to mention the aforementioned Wolfert Broderode Quartet discs and the clarinet-led but world music-infused albums Thimar, Astrakan Cafe, and The Astounding Eyes Of Rita by Anouar Braham (all of which, by the way, rank among some of my favorite albums).
But while all of those albums are played slowly and methodically, with their respective clarinet players sounding like they’re sad saxophonists who picked up the wrong instrument or never heard of New Orleans-style jazz, Birdwatching takes it to another level. Sure, “It’s Your Song” has Fort easing into a relatively peppy line on the piano, as does the ironically-titled “Meditation For A New Year,” while “Jumpin’ In” lives up to its name, but most of the album has a far more mournful tone about it, most typified by the songs “First Rays,” “Song Of The Phoenix, Pt. 1,” and the especially Giuffre-esque “Earth Talks.”
Though it helps that Trovesi isn’t just a guest here. Sure, Schneider and Wang are part of Fort’s regular trio — the threesome previously recorded the album And If together — and Trovesi is M.I.A. on “It’s Your Song” and “Meditation For A New Year.” But on the rest of Birdwatching, these four sound more like a quartet than a trio with a guest. Be it the lament that is “Murmuration,” the stark “Inner Voices,” or the dramatic, almost overture-esque “Not The Perfect Storm,” it never feels as if Trovesi is an interloper here, or someone who came in after the fact and threw some clarinet over the top of what the trio recorded earlier. All of the songs sound as if they were written for a foursome…save, obviously, for the “It’s Your Song” and “Meditation For A New Year.”
Of course, the price of Birdwatching being such a mellow affair is that it could make some people bored, or just sleepy. I wouldn’t recommend listening to it while operating heavy machinery. Which is why it’s probably good that the album clocks in a relatively lean forty-nine minutes; by comparison, Wolfert Broderode Quartet’s Currents is sixty-six minutes long, while Anouar Brahem’s Astrakan Cafe cracks the seventy-seven minute mark. But if you’re in the mood for something mellow, even mellower than you might expect, Birdwatching may be a bit familiar sounding, but it’s also beautiful and evocative.