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A jazz singer and new music composer of eclectic tastes and prodigious gifts, Grammy-nominated THEO BLECKMANN makes music that is accessibly sophisticated, unsentimentally emotional, and seriously playful. His work provokes the mind to wonder, but connects immediately with the heart.
Bleckmann has released a series of gorgeous and irreverent albums on Winter & Winter, including recordings of Las Vegas standards, of Berlin kabarett, and of popular “bar songs” (all with pianist Fumio Yasuda); a recording of newly arranged songs by Charles Ives (with the improvisational jazz/funk collective Kneebody); and, most recently, Solos for Voice and Toys, where Bleckmann brought just his stunning vocal technique, his emotional commitment, and his suitcase full of oddly evocative voice-altering gadgets to the project of recording delicate songs and poems alone at a monastery in the Swiss Alps.
In addition to his work as a soloist, Bleckmann loves to mix it up with other musicians. He maintains an ongoing creative relationship with guitar phenomenon Ben Monder, generating a series of performances and a pair of albums that wreak beautiful havoc with standard expectations of jazz and rock. With John Hollenbeck and Gary Versace, he makes up Refuge Trio, a project exploring and reinventing the work of popular singer-songwriters as well as generating provocative original work. With singers Peter Eldridge, Kate McGarry, Lauren Kinhan, and Luciana Souza, he forms Moss, a collective that plays in the sandbox of jazz, folk, and rock, building new ideas and compositions for voices. Bleckmann has additionally collaborated with a remarkable roster of contemporary musicians and composers, including Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Sheila Jordan, Michael Tilson Thomas, John Zorn, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and, most prominently, Meredith Monk, with whom Bleckmann worked as a core ensemble member for fifteen years. His uniquely flexible and colorful voice has also inspired compositions by, among others, Michael Gordon, Phil Kline, David Lang, Ikue Mori, Kirk Nurock, and Julia Wolfe.
Bleckmann’s joyous, mischievous sensibility is also manifest in his compositional work, which leaves listeners feeling as if their usual chair had been moved over a few inches when they weren’t looking – familiar things look fresh and strange again for a moment. He has composed for a range of instruments from piano, violin, and kalimba to chimes, glockenspiel, toy microphone, and sewing machines, setting exquisite poems by Rumi, Emily Dickenson, and Kurt Schwitters as well as building ineffable soundscapes with just his voice and a loop pedal. His most recent compositional achievement is an evening of original work for voice and the JACK String Quartet, commissioned by the Slought Foundation.
Bleckmann’s approach to music and performance is unusual and provocative. His taste for risk-taking, coupled with rigorous technique, is clear in his unusual and varied ability as a sound improviser – an ability that is sufficiently in demand that he was commissioned to create the space alien language for Steven Spielberg’s Men in Black. Bleckmann confesses a love affair with performance art that informs his playful approach to music-making. Concerned that all senses be honored, he crafts each aspect of stage presentation (including expressive physicality and fabulous clothing choices) to create a context that completes and highlights the music. His thoughtfulness and articulacy about music and performance have led to recognition in unusual quarters, including a Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross and an article on vocal technique solicited for John Zorn’s Arcana series, Volume III. Bleckmann’s adventurous and extravagantly beautiful choices have led his work to be described as “from another planet” (New York Times), as “magical, futuristic,” (AllAboutJazz), “limitless” (Citypaper, Philadelphia) “transcendent” (Village Voice), and “brilliant” (New York Magazine), and left one critic wondering, “does he eat people food?” (AllAboutJazz). He has a gift for creating sounds listeners have never heard before, but pine to hear again.
In 2010, Bleckmann received the prestigious JAZZ ECHO award from the Deutsche Phono-Akademie in his native Germany.