Havard Wiik Trio: The Arcades Project (2007)
Wiik, Vågan and Johansen are also members of Motif, a quintet whose forthcoming third album (first for Jazzland) Apo Calypso, is already on the short list for one of 2008's best. But here the focus is on Wiik the writer and democratic bandleader. As plainly virtuosic as Brad Mehldauand with a voice that's equally comprised of a multiplicity of stylistic markersThe Arcades Project is how Mehldau might sound were he to be a considerably freer thinker, attentive to time and changes, but more prepared to dispense with either or both in the pursuit of collective, spontaneous creation.
Wiik's writing covers a lot of territory. The blocky and complex theme of "Arcades" nevertheless leads to a solo section of unadorned beauty before bursting into trio interaction possessed of an aggressive pulse but feeling somehow distanced from it. It also features a solo of characteristic abandon by Vågan, who demonstrated similar panache with saxophonist Tore Brunborg at JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2008. "Malachi"'s theme may be brief, but its idiosyncratic enough to create another unique context for Vågan's relentless invention, supported by Johansen's astute brushwork and Wiik's responsive yet provocative interplay that almost imperceptibly assumes increasing dominance.
Wiik and the trio aren't averse to sparer work, where the decay of a note and the texture of a scraped cymbal are as fundamental as busier collaboration. The bleak "Weisengrund" is downright dirge-like, though its sense of time is more elastic as Wiik creates brief cascades to contrast with the tune's oblique sense of space. "Enology" may reference ambient guru Brian Eno, but the free play that begins in the etherwith Vågan's bowed harmonics leading to Wiik's skewed but unmistakable melody, Johansen's textural brushwork and ultimately greater powerhas more to do with the demanding spontaneous composition of Paul Bley and his pinnacle of piano trio improvisation with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian, Not Two, Not One (ECM, 1999), than any kind of environmental backdrop.
Still, unlike the chart-averse Bley, The Arcades Project is an outstanding example of modernistic, line-blurring, form-meets-freedom writing that could only work in the hands of a trio as widely versed as Wiik, Vågan and Johansen. Regardless of the setting, these are three young Norwegians to keep an eye on.
Track Listing: Arcades; Malachi; Wiesengrund; Odradek; W.f.W.; Enology; Portbou; Italics.
Personnel: Håvard Wiik: piano; Ole Morten Vågan: double-bass; Håkon Mjåset Johansen: drums.
Record Label: Jazzland Recordings
Style: Modern Jazz