Ecstasy

The "Ecstasy Pieces" were written in 2006 by composer Jonathan Besser for his musical ensemble of eight years, Bravura.

Bravura is made up leading New Zealand musicians who are equally at home playing world and classical music. Their performances combined structured compositions with free improvisation, and after so many years performing together they have a palpable musical rapport that consistently give audiebces great concert experiences.

The compositions that make up the "Ecstasy Pieces" reflect the lover’s quest for the beloved – a quest that is both personal and mystical, and that is also present in the ancient Jewish love poems of The Song of Songs, and the mystical love-inebriated poetry of the ancient Persian Sufi, Jalal al-Din.

9 tracks. 43 minutes. Six page booklet. Cardboard slipcase. $NZ20



"Touches of jazz float by, the modern classical feel is never so heavy as to alienate casual listeners and the playing is exquisite. In a decade of listening to Besser’s various projects this is my favourite so far – here’s hoping it achieves a wider audience." Gary Sweetman, North and South

"With their minor-ish modes and Moorish melodies, “Doubt” and “Atonement” conjure up a dark and ancient East. But there are sunny, playful moods as well, such as the delicious “Promise”, in which Besser drapes a beautiful folk tune across the type of rolling irregular rhythm that his group plays as naturally as breathing." Nick Bollinger, NZ Listener


"Brilliant, restful, enchanting, moody, raucous, sweet and romantic. It's like Rumi and Hafiz got together for a stroll and ended up in a cafe where they started with figs and ended with plum brandy." Tom Ives, photographer

The music is varied: solos and group crescendos contrast with moments of great stillness. Overall the music has a lively rhythmic drive related to the rhythms of Sufi poetry and the spinning of the whirling Dervishes.

Musically, the Ecstasy pieces combine European and Middle Eastern sounds and forms. Israeli drummer Yair Katz performs on both Western kits and traditional Middle Eastern percussion, while virtuoso guitarist, Nigel Gavin, uses a range of string instruments to produce his soulful sounds.

The music’s sweet diatonic melodies are performed by the inimitable Miranda Adams on violin and Tatiana Lanchtctikova on accordion – the women often weave together in a simple counterpoint. Double bass player Peter Scott warmly rounds out the low frequencies, gently propelling the music forward, while Jonathan Besser subtly underscores the harmonies on piano.

Producers: Jonathan Besser, Keith Hill. Composer: Jonathan Besser. Music production: Steve Garden.

SAMPLE TRACKS

Longing
Glimpse
Doubt
Despair
Temptation
Promise
At-Onement
Lostness
Return

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REVIEWED BY GARY STEELE, METRO, APRIL 2008

On the face of it, this album looks a lot like those 1980s New Age albums that were full of twinkling synthesizers and whale song. But Ecstasy - a celebration of the love poetry of thirteenth century mystic Rumi - is more about introspection and transcendence than calming yourself after a hard day at the office, and it's a quiet gem.

Jonathan Besser has been chipping away at his singular projects for 30-odd years, while Ecstasy was entirely composed in an eight day period. This intense compositional process, rendered with great delicacy by the (mostly) six-piece largely acoustic Bravura, has resulted in an album of spectacular beauty. This is chamber folk with a blending of Jewish/Middle Eastern elements that, for once, lives up to its cover blurb as a "unique sounding and passionately engaging album."



REVIEWED BY SIMON SWEETMAN, NORTH AND SOUTH, MARCH 2008

Prolific American-born, New Zealand-based composer, Jonathan Besser returns with Ecstasy – a beguiling mix of classical musical forms and world music. Bravura is a unit that evokes the gypsy spirit one minute, touching on the minimalism and after-midnight delicacy of Mike Nock the next. This nine-track cycle (inspired by the love poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi) is not at all impenetrable.

The music wafts from the speakers, Miranda Adams’ haunting violin playing the lead one moment, master guitarist Nigel Gavin twisting the mood at times; Tatiana Lanchtchikova’s accordion and Besser’s own piano provide the glue. Touches of jazz float by, the modern classical feel is never so heavy as to alienate casual listeners and the playing is exquisite. In a decade of listening to Besser’s various projects this is my favourite so far – here’s hoping it achieves a wider audience.


REVIEWED BY NICK BOLLINGER, NZ LISTENER, DECEMBER 15, 2007

Titled Ecstasy, inspired by the words of an 800-year-old Persian poet and adorned in abstracted images of water, this album has the appearance of a New Age relaxation record but is much more exciting than that. The latest offering from Auckland-based Besser and Bravura is as colourful, emotional and tempestuously musical as anything the New York-born Jonathan Besser has presided over since he arrived here in the early 70s.

Bravura, the musical unit he has led since the turn of the decade, live up to their name, bringing their rich instrumental palette – accordion, guitar, violin and a deft jazz-inflected rhythm section – to nine Besser instrumentals, written in honour of the poet-mystic Rumi.

With their minor-ish modes and Moorish melodies, “Doubt” and “Atonement” conjure up a dark and ancient East. But there are sunny, playful moods as well, such as the delicious “Promise”, in which Besser drapes a beautiful folk tune across the type of rolling irregular rhythm that his group plays as naturally as breathing.