Martina Almgren Quartet: Unden (2003)
Swedish drummer Martina Almgren declares that she wants to combine strong rhythms with ”expressive melodies.” On Unden, with a quartet of sensitive musicians, she achieves that goal. She has also been a flutist, and while she plays it here on only one tune, its influence is felt on all twelve of the album’s pieces, most of which are Almgren’s. The beats are typically light and Latin-tinged, and the melodies are clearly stated, usually by saxophonist Björn Almgren.
The bubbling, lyrical mood starts straight away on “Rumsla Samba,” M. Almgren spicing up the Southern hemisphere lilt with inflections of new Orleans second-line drumming. B. Almgren sets a jerky cadence with soprano sax on “Glader,” hinting at the ultra-nasal buzz of North African double reeds, and as the group builds up steam, bassist Owe Almgren’s busy, understated funk gets more and more active.
Yet even when the group pushes the intensity, like on the abstract drums-piano duet “Duo” and the brief “A Family Business,” the marriage of beat and melody are never far off. “Mr. Quentin” again has a snappy, swaying beat and a strong melody. Pianist Tommy Kotter strings together an ornate solo and O. Almgren improvises tastefully, yet the head and core rhythm are present throughout. (O. Almgren does make one unfortunate choice: he harmonizes his solo, and its sounds like he’s moaning more than singing.)
”Ciao Bello!”, with its jaunty two-beat, kitschy title and schmaltzy melody, encapsulates the light-hearted tones of Unden, where deft playing and a relaxed atmosphere prevail. The group’s drive for simplicity does lead them into some dead ends, like the generic “Gospel,” which sounds as unimaginative as its title. But overall, Unden offers a set of honest, unpretentious tunes interpreted with clarity and precision.
Track Listing: 1.Rumsla Samba 2.Miros 3.Glader 4.A Family Business 5.Unden 6.Duo 7.Mr. Quentin 8.Ciao Bello! 9.Balladien 10.Beloved 11.Gospel 12.Maya