Essential New Music: Theo Bleckmann’s “Elegy”

The modern vocal frippery of Theo Bleckmann is nearly unparalleled in its beautiful, bountiful oddity. Whether pasted before wonky wallpaper ambience, free classicism, klutzy cabaret or rubbery spacious post-bop jazz, Bleckmann is as much a wilding-out ham actor as he is a solace-seeking sound whisperer. For his ECM debut (he guested on the label’s recent albums by Meredith Monk and Julia Hülsmann), Bleckmann rope-a-dopes like a voice boxer between the wobbly punches of ambient jazz and chilly chamber tones with Blackstar guitarist Ben Monder, brush master John Hollenbeck and the subtly rhythmic likes of pianist Shai Maestro and double-bassist Chris Tordini making a sloe-gin fizzy sizzle behind the singer. Brave enough to allow instrumentals such as the elegant Satie-like “Semblance” to roost, Bleckmann takes his time and minds his pace through the dry, open theatricality of Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight” with some thrilling off-key trills. The fancifully flitting “Fields,” the mournfully wordy “To Be Shown To Monks At A Certain Temple” and the sonorously harmonic title track also amaze.

—A.D. Amorosi