Jazz collective NYNDK's The Hunting of the Snark takes its title from a Lewis Carroll poem that inspired Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim's contemporary composition, written for the 1994 Winter Olympics opening ceremony.
Formed in 2003, the band, led by trombonist Chris Washburne, saxophonist Ole Mathisen, and pianist Soren Moller, is a transcontinental collective from New York (NY), Norway (N), and Denmark (DK). They have released two prior recordings, Nordic Disruption (2007) and their self-titled 2004 debut, both on Jazzheads. Here they are joined by bassist Per Mathisen and drummer Tony Moreno to explore contemporary classical music by American, Danish, and Norwegian composers.
That said, NYNDK is primarily a jazz ensemble. The musicians leave their tailcoats in the closet. The writing might be contemporary classical, but the playing has a jazz emphasis. Their interpretations of Charles Ives' "The Cage," "1, 2, 3," and "Remembrance" are decidedly post-bop with a swinging attitude. Washburne's trombone mixes with Mathisen's saxophone on the opener and the two other short Ives tracks, collocating angular sounds with swing to great effect. The quintet plays the part of a mischievous classical chamber ensemble whose instructor has left the practice room on Carl Nielsen's "Symphony No. 2 (2nd Movement)" and Per Nørgård's "Voyage into the Golden Screen," turning the formal into the people's jazz.
NYNDK's original jazz pieces likewise are influenced by the snarky contemporary themes. The saxophone/bass/trombone improvised piece "Carl" is a whispered meditation of long lines and the frenetic "George" is a chamber call-and-response crossroad of jazz and classical that barely keeps its tight lid fastened. It morphs into George Perle's "Scherzo No. 2 (from Sinfonietta No. 2)," balancing a tightrope between the two genres, plucking energy from jazz and discipline from classical. The title track opens with the growling Washburne 'bone, before it pokes and prods into eccentric modern pathways that teeter on the avant-garde, yet always retains a jazz ensemble's swing.
The music is modern, and classical, but jazz audiences can certainly dig it.
Personnel: Ole Mathisen: clarinet, saxophones; Chris Washburne: trombone; Per Mathisen: bass; Soren Moller: piano; Tony Moreno: drums.