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.
The ECM catalog is filled with piano trio albums of austerity and minimalism. For a piano trio to approach an album with a Doing More With Less minimalism is a daring venture, because the high risk is a drowsy album that ends up sounding flimsy and thin or, worse perhaps, lounge music for the late night dinner set. It’s not an easy thing to do, the peaceful piano trio recording.
The choice of notes has to be impeccable, since there ain’t gonna be as many to offer the listener. Honor has to be paid to the silence, and used as effectively as the sound made from the black and whites. Bass and drums have to be more than just tools of accompaniment, but in the framework of the quiet piano trio, they need to be sure to only use their Inside Voices. And then there’s the compositions themselves… it makes for great drama to witness the pianist furrow the brow and grimace and fire the inner core in the search for the perfect notes, but on a studio recording, none of that is gonna translate to the listener through the speakers if the tunes don’t have some spark of life, and all that dramatic minimalism will get drowned out by snores.
The music of multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick should be much busier. Bouncing from guitar to strings to keyboards to horns (to name a few), and shifting from folk to classical to indie pop to ambient drone (to name a few), the expectation is that the end result would be music with so many moving parts that its main appeal would be as a spectacle of incomprehension. But the thing of it is, he finds a way to fuse all of these disparate elements into a cohesive cloud of serenity. And those disparate elements? They’re all there, but masked in subtlety and hinted at just enough for the ear to pick up on them without ever feeling overwhelmed. This is beautiful music, with a densely packed emotional center.
Marking Anders Koppel’s first solo Hammond organ release, Everything Is Subject to Change is an intriguing mix of atmospherics and organics. Pianist Kenny Werner and saxophonist Benjamin Koppel imbue the music with an austere elegance, whereas Anders Koppel’s organ and Jacob Andersen’s percussion brings an earthy element to the music. The balance between the two makes for an album that equally engages head and heart.
Your album personnel: Anders Koppel (organ), Benjamin Koppel (saxophones), Kenny Werner (piano & Fender Rhodes), and Jacob Andersen (drums & percussion).
Don’t believe the opening notes of Lama‘sOneiros… they’re a lie and they’ll steer you the wrong way. The pronounced bounce and charge of trumpet and bass is like a doorway into a confused Ringling Bros. tent. It’s the opening statement to both song and album. It says, hey, this is what it’s all about. But it’s a lie. Because after the first 30 seconds, the carnival packs up and leaves town, and all that remains are long beautiful trumpet calls, low and serene, over a sea of electronics and gentle rhythms. It’s a dramatic moment on a dramatic album.
The last time Bill Frisell recorded an album with the 858 ensemble, things were a bit noisier. The 2002 recording Richter 858 had Frisell substituting jet engines for amps, and let the compositions not so much speak for themselves as growl and roar. Sign of Life shows that there was a heartbeat just behind all the fury and fuel of Richter 858.
Different sound; same ensemble. Bill brings his incomparable voice on guitar, and long-time collaborators Jenny Scheinman on violin, Hank Roberts on cello, and Eyvind Kang on viola.
As with any inventive musician, Frisell’s sound has evolved over the years. His current phase is often referred to as Americana Jazz, a blending of jazz aspirations and conventions within a folk framework. Sign of Life fits snugly into that label, comparable to other recent releases like the excellent Disfarmer, the perfectly acceptable Beautiful Dreamer, and the under-the-radar All Hat. It’s an album of languid back porch tunes, of foreboding compositions echoing over desolate Appalachian trails, of lush stringed instruments that is alternatingly soothing, threatening, and transcendent.
In which we learn about Storms/Nocturnes, Toadswart d’Amplestone, and Bea.
STORMS / NOCTURNES – VIA
Names have power. It gets to where it’s difficult to distinguish whether the name is derived from identity or if identity is formed from the name. Storms/Nocturnes, the ensemble name taken by the trio of Geoffrey Keezer (piano), Tim Garland (reeds), and Joe Locke (vibes) illustrates that fuzziness of origin. They have created an album awash in dreamy melodies and rhythms like the fall of rain.
Places have power, too. They have their own identity, which can alter our perceptions just as we affect them by our presence. The album VIA is a recognition of that geographical interaction. Within the liner notes of the album are photos and reminiscences by the artists of places that each tune drew inspiration from. It is a guided tour of the album’s music, just as the music colors the perception of each location’s photo. It creates an odd circle of interpretation, but it’s a logical approach to such an unconventional album.
A trio of piano, vibes, and reeds isn’t the typical jazz line-up and the compositions themselves don’t evoke daydreams of 1940s Minton’s Playhouse, and yet the end result is an album of sublime jazz music. Seven years since their last album, the trio’s ears show no rust to the receptiveness of one another’s sound. Locke’s vibes light the path with bright runs, while Garland’s sax soars overhead and bass clarinet burrows beneath Garland’s fluttering piano. A beautiful album by jazz vets at the top of their game. Released in 2011 on the Origin/OA2 label.