Though Europe and Scandinavia are better known for their multitude of saxophonists, one should not overlook the remarkable number and quality of bassists hailing from the region. Though his greatest exposure arguably has come through his membership in the Scandinavian groups Atomic and The Thing, Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten is aggressively versatile in a wide array of contexts.
Townhouse Orchestra is Flaten in partnership with Thing cohort Paal Nilssen-Love
(drums), Sten Sandell (piano) and seminal British saxophonist Evan Parker
. At least format-wise, this group is reminiscent of Parker's work with Alexander von Schlippenbach's quartet. But an even earlier precedent was set with the Parker/Kowald/Irene Schweizer/Pierre Favre group of the late 1960s. Belle Ville
, named for the Oslo club from whence this live recording comes, sounds quite different from either, primarily through the sparse attack of Sandell. Parker, equally capable of squalls and stillness, operates more in the latter, with Flaten and Nilssen-Love restraining themselves for the most part. One of the best things about free improvisatory settings is that the "rhythm section" isn't cowed by playing with someone of Parker's stature and that the saxophonist is in discovery mode alongside his partners. An expansive, two-disc followup to this group's first album.
That same spirit is also prevalent on The Brewery Tap
, Flaten's duet record with Parker. Also recorded live at Belle Ville but six months later, Flaten has the delicious challenge of working with one of the masters of duo format. To draw a comparison between this album and Parker's long-standing partnership with British bassist Barry Guy (another excellent player) is misleading. The instruments may be the same but Flaten is a far more percussive, less melodic player than Guy, placing more of the lyrical emphasis, if it can be called that, on Parker. The 44-minute performance is broken up into three segments and the tone of the collaboration is slightly more combative. Whereas Guy might echo Parker's circular breathing, Flaten stabs at it, creating a wonderful three-dimensionality. Besides appearing together in Townhouse Orchestra, Flaten and Parker are new to each other and there is something compelling about hearing Parker adapt himself to playing with one of his musical heirs.
Trinity's Breaking the Mold
may be the most Norwegian-sounding of any of the discs discussed here. Another followup record, the group's name is no longer applicable since Kjetil Aster (reeds), Flaten and Thomas Stranen (drums) are joined for this album by the keyboards of Morten Ovenild. The punny title and track names "m Old," "mo Lded," "molD er" and "Breaking Them Old" refer to the 2006 Molde Jazz Festival where the group recorded this music. The sax-bass-drums lineup is a classic format in European improvised music and Trinity is certainly aware of both past work and future possibilities. They apply a dark sheen throughout, especially owing to the moody keyboards. Breaking the Mold
isn't quite as violent as the name might imply; the quartet often sound like they are pulling themselves back from a precipice.
During the mid-2000s, Flaten relocated to Chicago: Oslo and The Windy City have a fruitful musical alliance. The bassist's quintet is now primarily staffed by ChicagoansDave Rempis
(saxophones), Jeff Parker (guitar), Frank Rosaly
(drums)with violinist Ola Kvernberg the sole Norwegian holdover. The group's second album, The Year of the Boar
, is replete with the sort of brash funk for which the city is known. Some of the fusion elements from the earlier edition are retained, usually through Kvernberg, but the aesthetic has moved closer to that found on the Powerhouse Sound Oslo/Chicago: Breaks
album from 2007. This is Flaten the composer, bandleader and logistics manager. His job is to write music that gives maximum room for this new group of musicians and this live document, once more from Belle Ville, shows Flaten acquitting himself nicely. Europe had its own fusion scene back in the 1970s and The Year of the Boar
is a fine update to that tradition.
The aforementioned quartets, duets and quintetsimprovised or otherwisedo little to prepare listeners for Elise
. Recorded at a studio in a castle estate in the Swedish countryside, Flaten arranged a number of traditional Norwegian hymns to be played by himself and countryman Hakon Kornstad
(tenor saxophone and flutonette). In addition to that material, there is one co-composed song and an interpretation of Keith Jarrett's "Death and the Flower". There are few moments of genre recognition but primarily this is an introspective, beautifully conceived and executed album that displays a softer side to Flaten, one previously hidden. The tone is reverent and the close recording creates a feeling of church music or, appropriately, music sung in the Norwegian countryside. Flaten and Kornstad avoid stridency, allowing the exquisiteness of the melodies and their sparse arrangements to celebrate the memory of Flaten's titular grandmother.
Tracks and Personnel Belle Ville
Tracks: CD1: Belleville. CD2: Villebelle.
Personnel: Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; Sten Sandell: piano; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: bass; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums, percussion. The Brewery Tap
Tracks: Eroica; Fuggles; East Kent Goldings.
Personnel: Evan Parker: reeds; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: bass. Breaking the Mold
Tracks: m Old; mo Lded; molD er; Breaking Them Old.
Personnel: Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: bass; Kjetil Aster: reeds; Morten Qvenild: keyboards; Thomas Stranen: drums. The Year of the Boar
Tracks: Maxwell's Silver Demon; Green Wood; 90/94; Audrey (for Trea Fotidzis); Ceremony (For My Mother); Prayer (For My Father); George (For George Russell & Bjornar Andresen).
Personnel: Dave Rempis: alto, tenor, baritone saxophones; Jeff Parker: guitar; Ola Kvernberg: violin; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: bass, electronics; Frank Rosaly: drums, electronics. Elise
Tracks: Ak, Mon Jeg Staar I Naade (Performd By Elise Flaten); Ak, Mon Jeg Staar I Naade; Paa Hinside Arken; Etter Elise; Death And The Flower; Dagen Viger Og Gaar Bort; Skulde Jeg Min Gud Ei Prise; For Himmerigs Land Maa Man Kjempe.
Personnel: Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: bass; Hakon Kornstad: reeds.