There's something a little otherworldly about Swedish jazz-rockers Oddjob. While there's an unmistakably retro feel to Sumo, its third release and first to receive widespread distribution, there's a strange, futuristic skew to its groove-happy roots in '60s and '70 soul jazz that keeps the music slightly off-kilter.
The members of Oddjob have clearly done their homework. Drummer Janne Robertson opens the album with a New Orleans Second Line-style solo, "Kingston," before the group enters for the breezy, waltz time "The Big Hit," Per "Ruskträsk" Johansson's flute meshing with Goran Kajfeš' trumpet to recall late-'60s/early-'70s CTI albums like trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's First Light (CTI, 1972). The same orchestral approach is there, with pianist Daniel Karlsson creating a dense, sometimes jagged backdrop over bassist Peter Forss' unshakable groove and layers of added percussion. But the slower, sleazier groove of the organ-centric "Golden Silver" feels more off-center, a combination of a simple, three-chord organ pattern with a serpentine trumpet/sax frontline, and a drum pattern that keeps the groove but feels somehow displaced alongside guest Stoffe Wallman's odd synthesizer textures, which periodically percolate to the forefront.
The instrumentation fits the time, especially Karlsson's electric piano, which creates a Hancock-like abstraction on the insistent "Sewerside Blues" where, despite a clear form, there's the feeling that chaos is just around the corner...or over the edge. Johannson's saxophone and Kajfes' muted, wah wah trumpet solo in tandem, acting like an island of general calm before the move towards anarchy resumes. The result is music that grooves hard, often rocks hard, but in its pursuit of outré expressionism and occasional impressionism, never compromises.
The gentler, melodic "Småland," with its elastic sense of time, references early Weather Report, but is more direct, with clearer construction. Assorted instruments, including zither, vibraphone and glockenspiel, contribute to a soundscape of a time while also feeling grounded in a possible musical future. Karlsson's tremolo piano, along with Robertson's behind the beat kit work and heartbeat pulse, suggest a bluesy kind of Americana, except that the horn lines, clearly rooted in soul jazz, twist things on their edge, taking it to another place entirely.
There are plenty of solos, especially for Kajfes and Johansson, whose opening duet with Robertson at the start of the irregularly metered yet funky "Punch" is a set-up for one of Karlsson's most concise and compelling features of the set. "The Day TV Stood Still," on the other hand, is more modernistic and progressive, with a persistent pulse and layers of sound; something Sigur Ró might come up as a musical interlude.
A clear case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, everyone in Oddjob is a fine player, but together they possess a curious musical conception that coexists simultaneously in two very different placesthat of retro soul jazz group and futuristically textural explorers. It's a winning combination that gives Oddjob a distinctive voice, making Sumo one of 2008's most unusual electric releases.
Personnel: Goran Kajfeš: trumpet, cornet, glockenspiel; Per " Ruskträsk" Johansson: saxophones, flutes, clarinet; Daniel Karlsson: piano, organs, vibraphone; Peter Forss: bass, Moog; Janne Robertson: drums, percussion, zither; Stoffe Wallman: synthesizer (3, 12).