For a country isolated in the north of Europe, Norway has experienced a surprising number of musical waves. The first came in the early '70s, when producer Manfred Eicher and his fledgling ECM Records label brought the Scandinavian "big five"Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and, from Norway, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, guitarist Terje Rypdal, bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensento international acclaim. The second wave, at least internationally speaking, came in 1997-98, when artists like keyboardists Bugge Wesseltoft, Ståle Storløkken and Christian Wallumrød, trumpeters Nils Petter Molvær and Arve Henriksen, and guitarist Eivind Aarset also began garnering world stage attention.
Since then, it's not so much been new wave as much as it's been wave-after-wave of artists like In the Country, Eple Trio and Splashgirl, evoking rich and varied combinations of jazz and Norwegian folk traditions, equally informed by pop artists like Radiohead, Sigur Rós and Björk. Moskus is part of the latest wave and further demonstrates just how vibrant and active, musically, its native country continues to be, with unparalleled arts support engendering what others can often only dream possible. A piano trio comprised of three young musicians, all in their early twenties, who met and have participated in the remarkably creative scene surrounding the renowned Jazz Department of the Trondheim Conservatory of Music, Salmesykkel is its debut recording, the result winning the first annual Debut Artist Award from the Grappa Record Company in 2011. That just a year later, with plenty of critical acclaim and nominations for not one but two Norwegian Grammy AwardsBest New Act and Best Jazz Albummeans that Moskus is a group that, if nothing else, certainly merits some attention.
And it's attention well-deservedand well-rewarded. Unlike Splashgirl, whose sound continues to evolve increasingly towards more electronic environs, Moskus is a purely acoustic group. Its showcase at the 2012 Trondheim Jazz Festival's daytime Jazz Summit was a free improvisation of more esoteric concerns; Salmesykkel reveals a trio that's improv-heavy, to be sure, but one that also adheres to far more melodic tendencies. It also demonstrates a stronger disposition towards groove from the get-go, with bassist Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson and drummer Hans Hulbækmo's Afro-centric rhythms on the opening title track setting up a perfect context for pianist Anja Lauvdal, who may evoke images of Keith Jarrettas so many pianists dobut whose more patient motivic unfolding and overall sparer approach reveals equal interest in fellow Norwegian pianists like Wallumrød and Tord Gustavsen.
That's not to say Lauvdal sounds anything like any of these players, but she demonstrateson the opening track, but also on the gently majestic "Bibelbeltet" and, towards the end of "Ville Vesten"a clear love of gospel music that ties her to Gustavsen, even as her touch is largely firmer, and which helps render terms like "Nordic Cool," so often lazily used to describe everything that comes out of Norway, not just irrelevant but flat-out incorrect. If anything, Moskus' sound is warm, although it never reaches anywhere close to a boil.
Instead, Moskus demonstrates the kind of restraint often associated with the Norwegian scene but which is really just indicative of groups where the collective end is more important than individual virtuosic means. Hulbækmo is, for all his twenty-some years, already an extraordinarily active player, heard most recently on saxophonist Hanna Paulsberg Concept's more overtly swinging Waltz for Lilli (Ora Fonogram, 2012), but it simply goes to show that these players are often capable of far more than any one project reveals.
A slow backbeat drives the folkloric " Når det regne på presten dryp det på klokkarn," its form opening up to a closing vamp where the trio achieves one of its most transcendent collective moments of tension, before resolving and releasing into the chorus of what could easily be a song, were some lyrics written for it. The delicate freedom of "Dagen derpå og veien tellbaksjatt" slowly builds, with Hulbækmo's assorted hand percussion and Lauvdal's rubato two-chord ostinato gradually resolving into a lengthy theme doubled by the pianist and Dietrichson, its ascending notes feeling like they're about to fall off a cliff...but they never do. Dietrichson opens "Snorres Saga" with a combination of carefully placed harmonics and sustaining low register notes, Hulbækmo's mirroring cymbal harmonics the perfect complement until Lauvdal enters and he switches to a bowed saw to echo the pianist's rubato melody. The closing composition that gives the group its name is a song of quiet power, proving that volume isn't necessary to create drama; only careful control over dynamics is.
With some significant touring already under its belt, Moskus is beginning to stretch out to other countries, including Denmark, Portugal and the UK, where it performed as part of a night devoted to its label, Hubro. Hubro may only be entering its fourth year of existence, its first recordSplashgirl's superb Arborreleased in the late fall of 2009, but with a roster that also includes bassist Mats Eilertsen, Huntsville and Ballrogg, Hubro has quickly positioned itself as a label of note alongside more established long-standers Rune Grammofon, Jazzland and Smalltown Supersound/Superjazzz. With groups like Moskus joining the label and releasing records like Salmesykkel, it seems that Norwegian waves will continue, one after the other, as fresh young artists find new and innovate ways to stretch tradition into new and hitherto unheard of forms.
Track Listing: Salmesykkel; Kloster; Bibelbeltet; Når det regne på presten dryp det på klokkarn; Farlig norsk hengebru; Dagen derpå og veien tellbaksjatt; Creperie de Marie; Ville Vesten; Snorres Saga; Moskus.
Personnel: Anja Lauvdal: piano; Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson: double bass; Hans Hulbækmo: drums.
Record Label: Hubro Records