Born in Minnesota (1955), raised in St Louis,
educated at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston (graduated in 1978),
relocated to New York in 1978,
reed player Marty Ehrlich (mainly clarinet, saxophone, and flute)
a veteran improviser who had played
in the Human Arts Ensemble (1973), Anthony Braxton's Creative Orchestra (1978), George Russell's Big Band (1978), Roscoe Mitchell's Creative Orchestra (1979), Leo Smith's Creative Improvisers Orchestra (1979), Leroy Jenkins' Mixed Quintet (1979) and Muhal Richard Abrams' Orchestra (1981),
was initially influenced by Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill on The Welcome (march 1984) for a trio with bassist Anthony Cox and drummer Pheeroan AkLaff.
However, he bridged the worlds of traditional jazz, creative improvisation, melodic music and avantgarde classical music on Pliant Plaint (april 1987), with Bobby Previte on drums, Anthony Cox on bass and Stan Strickland on sax, and especially Traveller's Tale (june 1989),
with a similar quartet
(Lindsey Horner replacing Cox on bass),
elegant and eccentric, linear and imaginative, and
Side by Side (january 1991), in a quintet with Wayne Horvitz on piano,
Frank Lacy on trombone, Cox on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums.
At the same time Ehrlich was among the most ubiquitous members of the
big bands of of the 1990s (Bobby Previte, Wayne Horvitz, Butch Morris, John Zorn).
His proximity to chamber music was emphasized by the
trio with cellist Abdul Wadud and Horner
on Emergency Peace (december 1990),
and by Just Before the Dawn (april 1995), in a quintet with Vincent Chancey on French horn, Erik Friedlander on cello, Mark Helias on bass and Don Alias on drums.
His specialty was probably the lyrical cello-tinged "song".
The jazzier side of Ehrlich, in which improvisation prevailed over composition,
basically constituted a parallel life:
the quartet with Strickland, Previte and bassist Michael Formaniek of Can You Hear a Motion (september 1993);
the quintet with Strickland, Formanek, Michael Cain on piano and Bill Stewart on drums of New York Child (february 1995);
the duo with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams of Open Air Meeting (august 1996);
the trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Andrew Cyrille of C/D/E (october 1998);
the trio with Formanek and drummer Peter Erskine of Relativity (may 1999).
The piano-based quartets with bassist Formanek and drummer Billy Drummond
of Song (october 1999), featuring pianist Uri Caine,
and Line On Love (december 2002), featuring pianist Craig Taborn,
made up yet another artistic avenue, confessing his passion for melody.
The chamber-jazz program was continued
on Sojourn (february 1999), which added guitarist Marc Ribot to the trio of cello (Friedlander), bass (Helias) and reeds,
and by the
Traveler's Tales, a quartet of two horns (Ehrlich and saxophonist Tony Malaby)
and rhythm section (bassist Jerome Harris and Previte),
on Malinke's Dance (december 1999).
The project was given an almost baroque format on
The Long View (april 2002), a seven-movement suite that managed to display both neoclassical and jazz overtones, with orchestrations ranging from the ten-piece unit of the first movement
to the chamber ensemble with reeds, strings (Helias, violinist Mark Feldman, Friedlander), piano (Horvitz), trombone (Ray Anderson) and drums (Pheeroan AkLaff) of the fifth
to the quartet with Horvitz, Dresser and Previte of the fourth to the duet with Horvitz of the seventh.
It got stretched to the limit on
News On The Rail (november 2004), one of his most erudite studies on timbral counterpoint (for a sextet with three horns, piano, bass and drums).
Marty Ehrlich was both the natural heir of Eric Dolphy as a multi-instrumental stylist, and a composer in the vein of Charles Mingus.
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Cresciuto nella promiscua comunita' musicale di St Louis (fu Oliver Lake
ad introdurlo per la prima volta in sala d'incisione) e nella fertile comune
artistica di Boston (in quella citta' nel 1978 si laureo' in musica),
e trasferitosi a New York nel 1978,
Marty Ehrlich (1955) si affermo' presto come clarinettista, flautista e sassofonista
prodigio, conteso da George Russell, Anthony Braxton, Jaki Byard.
Il suo eclettismo si mise in luce soprattutto nelle collaborazioni con il
quintetto classicheggiante di Leroy Jenkins, con le produzioni d'opera di
Anthony Davis, con l'orchestra di Richard Abrams, esperienze fra le piu' diverse
ed eccentriche. Dopo un'esperienza europea al seguito di Leo Smith, e un album
dal vivo in coppia con il bassista John Lindberg, Unison (january 1981 - Cecma, 1982),
Ehrlich incise il primo album,
The Welcome (march 1984 - Sound Aspects, 1984), accompagnato da basso e batteria,
in cui e' evidente l'influenza di Braxton:
improvvisazione e composizione coesistono in brani come Dark Woods Bright
Stars e Hybrid.
Ehrlich trovo' la giusta misura nell'album
Pliant Plaint (Enja, 1988),
con Bobby Previte alla batteria, Anthony Cox al basso,
e Stan Strickland al sassofono, e composizioni melodiche come
Celebration In Capetown,
Willie Whipporwill's Back Slidin' Heart Throb Two-Step.
Nel frattempo suonava con Julius Hemphill e John Carter.
Ehrlich giunse al capolavoro con Traveller's Tale (june 1989 - Enja, 1990),
accompagnato da Previte, Strickland e dal bassista
Qui i temi spiritati dei due fiati (in generale
il clarinetto caldo, limpido e controllato vibrato di Ehrlich e il tenore scuro
e minaccioso di Strickland), che spesso suonano assoli "duali", non propriamente
in contrasto ma quasi indipendenti (esemplare Melody For Madeleine),
i cambi repentini di tempo (quando non l'assenza stessa di un tempo,
come nella caotica Plowshare People) e una dovizia di eleganti citazioni
(l'intermezzo di clarinetto swingante in
The Short Circle In The Long Line, la square dance del contrabbasso sul
ritmo da marcetta della grancassa in March, soprattutto il lamento
spiritual e il lento "notturno" alla Pork Pie Hat di
The Recosidered Blues)
sono gli elementi portanti del jazz elegante del nuovo corso.
La title-track e' la composizione piu' spettacolare: inizia con un
tribalismo sottovoce battuto dal contrabbasso (!), poi il sax alto si lancia
in un zigzag melodico che viene interrotto dall'assolo di contrabbasso fuori
tempo e dissonante, e da qui in poi il quartetto si immerge in una piece
Nonostante l'evidente influenza esercitata su Ehrlich dai quartetti di Braxton
e di Coleman, la musica di Traveller's Tale e' al tempo stesso originale
After playing in
Wayne Horvitz's The New York Composers Orchestra (january 1990 - New World, 1990)
a collaboration with bassist Anthony Cox, Falling Man (november 1989 - Muse, 1991),
Ehrlich formed the Dark Woods Ensemble, a trio with cellist Abdul Wadud and
bassist Lindsey Horner,
and released Emergency Peace (december 1990 - New World, 1991), recorded in 1990,
an album of elegant chamber music
that displays his melodic and arrangement skills.
Ehrlich's clarinet and Wadud's cello engage in a whispered dialogue in
Emergency Peace before the clarinet soars in an undulating,
The Painter replaces the clarinet with a flute and the Middle-eastern
accent with a festive Latin tempo.
Clarinet and cello duet again in Unison, taking turns at simple melodies,
in what amounts to a sophisticated, almost Bach-ian geometry of harmony. The
tempo dilates, gets slower and slower, until each instrument is merely moaning
to the other.
The trio's skills at populating a sparse soundscape are on display in
Circle The Heart, the animation orchestrated with a flute.
Dusk opens with Muhal Richard Abrams's aching piano lines, soon met
by Ehrlich's and Wadud's romantic melodies. The dissonant strumming of the
piano accompanies the ever louder meditation of the saxophone. That strained
relationship leads to a cacophonous contrast before they both relax in a
This was followed by the Marty Ehrlich Group, an ever changing jazzier group
that released the effervescent
Side by Side (january 1991 - Enja, 1991), played by Horvitz on piano, Cox on bass,
Frank Lacy on trombone and Andrew Cyrille on drums
(The Adding Song, Silent Refrain, Side By Side,
Sugar Water, the long Time's Counsel),
Can You Hear a Motion (september 1993 - Enja, 1994), played by Stan Strickland on sax and flute, Michael Formaniek on bass and Bobby Previte on drums
(busiest on the long The Black Hat, The Welcome,
North Star, One For Robin, while
the short Pictures In A Glass House is again pure chamber music),
and the inferior New York Child (february 1995 - Enja, 1996), with
Strickland, Formanek, Michael Cain on piano, and Bill Stewart on drums
Tell Me This,
On the other hand, the Dark Woods Ensemble released
Just Before the Dawn (april 1995 - New World, 1995), featuring
Vincent Chancey on French horn, Erik Friedlander on cello, Mark Helias on
bass, Don Alias on percussion (it contains some of his most challenging
and lyrical compositions, such as Underground Overground, Mudpie Anthem, Thickets,
Dance No. 1,
Live Wood (april 1996 - Music & Arts, 1997), a live performance by the trio of
Ehrlich, Helias and Friedlander,
and Sojourn (Tzadik, 1999), which adds Marc Ribot on guitar
and generally offers a lighter program
(heavier being The Open Return and The Secret Of Light).
Light at the Crossroads (january 1996 - Songlines, 1997), with clarinetist Ben Goldberg (I Don't Know This World Without Don Cherry, Dark Sestina,
Light At The Crossroads),
Open Air Meeting (august 1996 - New World, 1997), with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams
(which includes Dark Sestina, The Price Of The Ticket,
Relativity (february 1998 - Enja, 1999), with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Peter Erskine,
C/D/E (october 1998 - Pao, 2000), a trio with drummer Andrew Cyrille and Mark Dresser,
Yet Can Spring (march 2000 - Arabesque, 2001), with pianist Myra Melford, another
testament to his romantic soul but dominated by the piano,
The Waiting Game (july 1999 - Naxos, 2002), with pianist Nick Nock (mostly Nock's
Marty Ehrlich's Traveler's Tales, a quartet of two horns and rhythm section
(Tony Malaby on saxophones, Jerome Harris on acoustic bass, Bobby Previte on drums),
released Malinke's Dance (december 1999 - OmniTone, 2000), featuring the impressive
The Cry Of,
Line On Love,
while the Marty Ehrlich Song Quartet (pianist Uri Caine,
bassist Formaniek, drummer Billy Drummond) released Song (Enja, 2001),
the ultimate confession of his passion for melody
(The Price Of The Ticket, Fauve) despite the ominous
Blue Boye's Blues.
The Long View (Enja, 2002) is one of his major works,
a seven-movement suite that runs the gamut from
symphonic (Movement I, Movement III, Movement VI)
to chamber music for strings (Movement II) or piano (Movement IV, Movement V), but always with the strongest jazz overtones of his career.
Line On Love (december 2002) featured a quartet with pianist Craig Taborn, Formanek and Drummond, basically a continuation of Song.
News On The Rail (november 2004), one of his most erudite studies on timbral
counterpoint, was scored for a sextet with three horns
(Ehrlich on alto or clarinet, James Zollar on trumpet or flugelhorn,
Howard Johnson on baritone, bass clarinet or tuba), piano
(James Weidman), bass and drums.
Spark (2008) is a collaboration with Myra Melford.
Ehrlich's Rites Quartet
(James Zollar on trumpet, Erik Friedlander on cello and Pheeroan akLaff on drums)
was documented on Things Have Got To Change (2009),
basically a tribute to Julius Hemphill.
Fables (january 2010) documented
a quartet with Marcus Rojas (tuba), Jerome Harris (bass) and Hankus Netsky (piano and accordion).
The Rites Quartet with James Zollar (tenor sax), Hank Roberts (cello) and Michael Sarin (drums) released
Frog Leg Logic (january 2011).
Jason Robinson (tenor & soprano sax, alto flute), with JD Parran (alto & contrabass clarinet, tenor sax), Marty Ehrlich (alto sax, bass clarinet, flute), Marcus Rojas (tuba), Bill Lowe (tuba and bass trombone), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Drew Gress (bass) and Ches Smith (drums) recorded Tiresian Symmetry (february 2012).
Marty Ehrlich's A Trumpet in the Morning (New World, 2013)
was his first album on
which he didn't play, but only conducted. It contains versions of
the 23-minute A Trumpet in the Morning (2004)
and the 20-minute Rundowns and Turnbacks (2007) for large ensemble.
pianist Diane Moser's Quintet
Marty Ehrlich also played on
45-minute suite Music For The Last Flower (october 2011), originally composed in 2004,
with Ben Williams (trombone), Mark
Dresser (contrabass) and Gerry Hemingway (drums).
Trio Exaltation (april 2017) was recorded with
bassist John Hebert and drummer Nasheet Waits.
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