The Nordic Jazz sound has situated itself solidly at a distance from Jazz’s epicenter… introspective, austere, with drifting melodies, and rhythms that often eschew swing for drama. And as musicians from that fold push the envelope ever outward, it gets to where, perhaps, the music stops being Jazz at all. In the face of whether an album is of value, this genre philosophizing is a small matter.
What is of more compelling, though ancillary interest, is that by pushing the borders of Jazz outward, musicians who typically play other types of music are testing the waters of Jazz. Some, like Splashgirl, have actually built a foundation in one of the slight areas of fuzziness where genres cross over.
Combining elements of a Jazz piano trio, ambient electronica, and alt-classical new-schoolers like Nils Frahm, with Pressure, Splashgirl has created an intoxicating brand of music that may be tough to categorize, but very easy to enjoy.
Your album personnel: Andreas Stensland Løwe (piano, synths, electronics), Jo Berger Myhre (double bass, drone commander), Andreas Lønmo Knudsrød (drums), Juhani Silvola (guitar), and guests: Erik Johannesen (trombone), Martin Taxt (tuba), Lasse Passage Nøsted (tape feedback, field recordings), Mari Kvien Brunvoli (vocals).
The mood is incredibly consistent across the expanse of the album’s seven tracks. Though brooding, the music maintains a rapid pulse, displaying plenty of life for an album that acts as if it would prefer spending the entire day staring off into the horizon.
Piano is most at the forefront of this music, though the electronic effects sometimes wash over it with mixed results. The utilization of technology isn’t overdone, thankfully, but it does sometimes drown out the heart of the piano trio. But when that piano trio shines through, it’s something to behold.
Splashgirl uses the phrase “jazz drone” to describe some of its music, and that’s not far from the truth. The album’s opening track “Devata” brings the moody piano with some sparse guitar twang, which all gets washed away by song’s end with electronic drone and crackle. This effect isn’t unique to the opening track; fifth track “The Other Side” employs a similar format, though is heavier on piano, and a lighter touch on the effects and dissonance. And album closer, the title-track “Pressure,” uses the same format, but flips the equation on its head… the album opens with the volume and layered dissonance, which slowly gets stripped away until all that remains are the quietude of piano and odd bits of percussion.
One of the stronger album moments that pops up throughout is when Lowe’s piano flutters and shines, elevating the tone and tempo slowly skyward. Second track “Creature of Light” begins like this, eventually ceding way to the bass drum thump and guitar twang of the tune’s latter half.
“Alpha State of Mind” sets the table with a long low drone, while piano nibbles pensively at its meal. Tuba is the main course, grounding the tune with its steady patient tone.
Tracks like “Ravine” stray closest to the traditional Nordic jazz piano trio. Careful, studied, and economical in thought. A song made for self-absorption. Pretty, too.
“Concerning This Square” stands out at the high watermark of the album. Beginning with a full embrace of repetition a la Steve Reich, the trio scoots along at a frenetic pace. Through the repetition, the tune gains substance, thick like the same crayon repeatedly coloring over the same image. And then, suddenly, a low drone breaks through the clouds, of bowed bass, trombone, and tuba. It remains for a moment, disappears, then returns just as dramatically to bring the tune to its final passage, which ends with the drone’s fade, gently drifting piano notes, and the gallop of percussion.
Pressure is a decent album. By itself, it presents some interesting facets of what the trio is now, but also what could on the horizon. It’ll be interesting to track their development as individual musicians, but even more so, their positioning on the borders of jazz and other genres.
Released in 2011 on the Hubro Music label.
Jazz from Norway.