Twenty-one-year-old British drummer Jon Opstad's full-length début is a remarkably accomplished effort, heavily indebted to the ECM soundatmospheric, evocative, sparingbut nevertheless supremely listenable and full of promise.
Beginning with the introspective and melancholic "Fjord Song," the five tracks meld and blur into a unified sequence of sonic scenes and moods, fading and shifting like a photographic slideshow. Opstad's drumming here is delicate and often restrained, and his bandmates tend to follow suit. Soprano saxophonist Simon Cosgrove takes the song's only brisk flight during his solo, tossing a few notes into the air before catching them and winding down.
Replacing Chris Hill on upright, electric bassist James Opstad joins his brother and pianist Tom Rogerson for "Three Words." At just sixteen, the younger Opstad demonstrates a solid command of his instrument, supporting and accentuating Rogerson's melodic piano line, one which moves from noir-ish, foggy street corner cool to a glimmer of romantic optimism. James Opstad also creates an exotic, textural intro with overdubbed cellos on the title track. On this original chart (all tracks are in fact Jon Opstad's own) the horn sectionCosgrove and David Gangeattempts to fool the ear by pushing off in one direction and then subtly changing tack. It creates a deliciously bittersweet effect.
Opstad puts his drum kit aside for "Quiet Place," making use of congas, cymbals and shakers to lay down vibrant pockets of percussion instead of maintaining the firm and steady presence drums seem to call for. "Athabasca," the final track, defies all concepts of motion. The song does not progress so much as it revisits the same place with a changed perspective, endlessly shaping and reshaping itself and its context. More than any other song on Still Life , this one seems to capture something fragile and fleetingan experience remembered, a rarefied feeling, the poetry of existence. Despite Gange's occasional hesitancy on flügelhorn, the performers are at their best.
Although the compositions on Still Life never fully emerge from under the shadow of Opstad's acknowledged influences (Jan Garbarek, Kenny Wheeler, Herbie Hancock), this album is strong enough to stand on its own and reward repeated listens. It heralds the arrival of an intelligent and gifted young talent who, if there is an ounce of pioneering spirit in him, looks set to make quite a name for himself at home and abroad.
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