Pannonia, a frontier of the Roman Empire that now lies at the geographical center of modern Hungary, evokes a historied landscape that flutist Christian Artmann’s Fields of Pannonia paints through jazz. You may not find yourself in accustomed jazz territory during this almost 60-minute mythical journey in sound, but there are references to familiar composers along the way, including Wayne Shorter, J.S. Bach, and Messiaen.

The opening title track is full of unexpected turns and modulations. It provides the album’s most memorable, almost folkloric melody, the kind you might hum to yourself walking down a long stretch of road as the day’s heat gave way to evening. Wayne Shorter’s “Fum-Fo-Fi” is the closest to a straight-up blowing session, with inventive bop-styled solos throughout.

The reworking of J.S. Bach’s “Sarabande” from the Partita in A Minor nests the famed melody quite dissonantly. It may charm some listeners with its lyricism and familiarity, but this reviewer found it somewhat out of place given the ambience of the album as a whole. “Garuda’s Song” sounds like an ornithological cousin to Messiaen’s Le Merle Noir, but here the bird flies funky, with Artmann’s improvisation thematically punctuated with flutter tonguing.

Two tracks, “Sunya” and “Atacama,” both free improvisations, show the depth of listening that this group possesses and are among the most successful pieces on the album. “Vortex” is unconventional and surprising in its construction and showcases Artmann’s full technical command of the flute, especially in the piece’s punchy chromatic climax. Finally, “August” features one of Artmann’s best solos on the album. The rhythm section of Gregg Kallor, piano, Johannes Weidenmueller, bass, and Jeff Hirshfield, drums, shines brightest on this feel-good track.

Hirshfield’s drums add color and texture to this album, whimsically painting rhythms while simultaneously supporting the band’s cool textures and strong sense of swing. Kallor’s playing is always surprising—he never settles for typical pianistic devices, and Weidenmueller’s creativity and confidence demonstrate why he is such an in-demand bassist in today’s international jazz scene.

If you are a fan of the lush sounds of the alto flute, buy this album—the instrument is featured throughout alongside the C flute. Artmann’s tone conveys unusual warmth and mystery, and his improvisations are as fertile as the fields of Pannonia themselves.

Flautist Christian Artmann’s work seems to be rooted in the notion that art can and will stretch as far as the imagination will take it. And in his case, that’s quite a distance. With Fields Of Pannonia, Artmann presents an album-length fantasia, bringing jazz language, baroque influences, impressionistic ideals, swing, straight-eighth grooves, open-ended thoughts, and solidly-structured songs into contact with one another.

Part of the charm of this music is in the way that Artmann and his band mates manage to paint with a specific intent that’s then tempered with another. Noticeable directional beacons find their way into the most feisty and far-out offerings, headstrong ideals are delivered with a delicate touch, and dreamy gestures are ballasted by the bottom-end players. Artmann, as the architect of this project, can be seen as the figure who’s largely responsible for juxtaposing these elements against one another, but the credit really deserves to be spread around: Gregg Kallor is a chameleon, placing calming harmonic cushions, piano droplets, outré rejoinders, and in-the-tradition comping beneath or against his comrades; bassist Johannes Weidenmueller gives the music firmness and presence, locking things into place and delivering downy tones that add warmth and weight; and drummer Jeff Hirshfield is a model of taste, working with a light touch and strong rhythmic conception. Together, these men make for a colorful ensemble that’s capable of stretching Artmann’s music in fascinating ways.

The album opens with the amiable title track, a piece with a pleasant disposition that serves as an easy entry point into the leader’s universe. From there, Artmann and company shift toward swing with a nod to Wayne Shorter (“Fum-Fo-Fi”) and look back to J.S. Bach with a number that uses his Partita in A Minor (BWV 1013) as a leaping-off point (“Sarabande”). Improvised material (“Sunya” and “Atacama”), funky fare (“Garuda’s Song”), sunny suggestions (“August”), and outside offerings (“Vortex”) all follow, furthering the diversity in Artmann’s artfully crafted musical portfolio. By the time the album comes to an end with a warm and inviting cradle song (“Lullaby For Julian”), Artmann has established himself as a composer with great vision, a performer with a strong creative streak, and a collaborator who works with open ears.

The notes emanating from jazz flutist Christian Artmann’s flute resembles the distinct musical language heard in some of the classical music repertoire’s greatest works. It’s no wonder since Artmann was raised on a heavy dose of J.S. Bach and other giants of classical music. On Fields of Pannonia (Sunnyside Records, 4023) he is joined by drummer Jeff Hirshfield, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and pianist Gregg Kallor and together they communicate an impressive program consisting of 10 original compositions composed by Christian Artmann and Gregg Kallor.

Opening with the title track, “Fields of Pannonia,” the ensemble revisits the sounds of Christian’s musical roots in Germany and Austria. His playing exudes the kind of passion that demands your undivided attention. Its generous spirit of sound envelops you and bathes you in vivid, dynamic trills and splashes of color and textures that only a masterful flautist can deliver. Exceptional solos from Christian Artmann’s bandmates add calming caresses that are not merely involving but virtually embrace the listener’s senses.

“Fum Fo Fi” also exudes the immaculate execution of Artmann’s countless twists and leaps, lulls and bursts that project his distinctive traits that his listeners can feel and relate to. He pushes his ensemble to answer with the same details as if each part was written especially for them. The challenges continue on “Sarabande” a beautiful piece that acts as a kind of quiet interlude before the even more intimate sound of “Sunya.” You can certainly feel the intimacy and relate to this very personal music.

It is apparent that Fields of Pannonia is music to be experienced and absorbed entirely. “Garuda’s Song,” is intriguing with piano, bass and drums weaving together – toying with one another, locking in the pocket before Christian Artmann enters with some very profound and speedy trills. He really makes his instrument sing in all registers.

“August,” which was written by Gregg Kallor is a pure jazz piece that provides just the right amount of cinematic sonics to convey the summer month. Artmann’s ensemble presents this song with special emphasis on the colors and textures that are both exciting and blissful to the listener.

Overall, Fields of Pannonia is as brilliant as it is different. It contains music that is exciting for the heart, mind and soul.

Christian Artmann is a New York based flautist and has started to make waves in the jazz scene the last few years. His first album as a band leader, Uneasy Dreams, was released in 2011. His new album Fields of Pannonia is now available on Sunnyside Records.

The quartet features the aforementioned Artmann (flute, alto flute), Gregg Kallor (piano), Johannes Weidenmueller (bass) and Jeff Hirshfield (drums). The music on Fields of Pannonia is mostly softly played but don’t let that fool you as even in their quietest moments there is much to take in. These are superb players exhibiting exhilarating chops and a tremendous attention to detail and dynamics. Songs like the gentle and breezy title track with its adventurous flute lines and outstanding bass solo and the bopping “Fum-Fo-Fi”, featuring a swinging rhythm section and excellent flute and piano, demonstrate stellar musicianship and interesting song dynamics. The tranquil “Sarabande” has a peaceful easy vibe as the flute sets a dreamlike atmosphere whereas “Garuda’s Song” showcases fine piano playing and more outstanding flute trills. The percussion based “Atacama” has a more minimalistic approach and is followed by the pastoral “August”, a pretty piece with softly hued flute, subtle drums, lovely piano work and another excellent bass solo from Weidenmueller. At times the music gets more chaotic with the improvised “Vortex” heading the list as Artmann’s flute takes some unexpected twists and turns. If you appreciate jazz leaning towards the mellower side of the spectrum, Fields of Pannonia should provide much to enjoy. As for me, this is another four star release.

Flutist Christian Artmann was on a fast track to becoming a classical performer in his native Germany when he had his jazz epiphany as a teenager at the Aspen Music Festival. Since then he’s been striking a balance between jazz improvisation and composition, and does so seamlessly on his first New York recording. Whether he’s swinging forcefully alongside drummer Jeff Hirshfield, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and pianist Rubens Salles, as on “Next Steps”, or creating mesmerizing counterpoint, as on “Kafka”, his vision is one of confidence. He sets a pensive mood on the sparse trio piece “Dark Slate Blue”, underscored by Hirshfield’s sensitive rubato brushwork and Weidenmueller’s interactive basslines. “On a Sentimental Flute” is a clever extrapolation on an Ellington theme. The title track is a daring excursion that demonstrates the chemistry of the core trio while showcasing the leader’s stunning virtuosity. And “Aria de Opereta”, featuring mezzo soprano Elena McEntire, encompasses all of Artmann’s musical tendencies, from classical to straight-ahead to avant-garde.

Flautist and composer Christian Artmann studied classical music intensely before hearing the call of jazz. Mixing modern jazz with different musical influences from around the world, the band makes for an intriguing sound. The group specializes in unusual textures and contextualization, like on the tracks where wordless vocals and flute combine to create a beguiling and different sound. The appropriately named “Kafka” is a short blast of disjoined flute and vocals that leaves one with an uneasy and unresolved feeling. The music is woven together in a textile like manner on “Dark State Blue” where Artmann’s flute plays against soft brushes in an interesting manner, developing a mellow meditative sound. The group uses shorter pieces like “Nymph,” a duet of flute and percussion, to break up the flow of the sound and offer interesting commentary on the music. On “Bebe-Vale da Ribeira,” the music moves through several dynamic sections of a surreal mini-suite, anchored by locked-in flute and percussion. Putting the light, nimble drums together with the agility of Artmann’s flute makes for a deeply haunted feel on some of the songs including the concluding “Easy Dreams.” The band has a unique sound that stands out amongst contemporary jazz by incorporating flute and voice on the front line. Artmann has developed his own voice and sound on the flute, combining classical and ethnic influences into the jazz flute tradition.