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All Over the Map with Losen Records

Geno Thackara By

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Here's a quick trivia tidbit for the day: Losen is the Norwegian word for 'pilot.' See, you never know what you're going to learn clicking around the web. This Oslo-based label is so named for its forward-thinking dedication to exploration, and the stream of offerings only seems to get more wide-ranging and inventive every year.

John Faxe
I Am Awake
Losen Records
2018

It's hard to know what to think at first glance: the cover is worthy of the loopiest stoner rock, while the band's name invites inevitable confusion along the lines of "which one's Pink?" Cue up this irresistibly fun blowing session, however, and that stuff doesn't matter. John Faxe is actually a young group (in both senses of the phrase) enjoying a chemistry that sizzles from start to finish. Børge—Are S. Halvorsen probably could have put his name on the affair as leader—the busy saxophonist already has quite an extensive CV to build on and composes almost every track here—but the magic comes from the band as a whole.

The gang's debut is fun and spirited enough that its 70-minute track list almost seems to fly by in half that time. Halvorsen's reeds and Martin Sandvik Gjerde's piano duel all over the place like a pair of tireless volleyballers, while the rhythm players cook and swing with gusto. Halvorsen's pieces give the group room aplenty to stretch their improv muscles: most of them caper with youthful abandon, while the dreamy "Unspoken" hints at expanding their range with a rare breather amid the fireworks. With a rapport that creates such sparks and flows so effortlessly, it feels like they could just keep playing off each other for days.

Alina Rostotskaya & Jazzmobile
Flow
Losen Records
2018

There's a fine line to walk between cute and twee—and to be honest, Flow does test the listener's tolerance for saccharine in spots—but Alina Rostoskaya's cheery singing is sincere and passionate enough that it's worth giving her the benefit of a doubt. You don't have to understand the words to catch the feelings underlying her songs. They're accompanied by a mix of piano and strings that bestride the realms of jazz, chamber music and Russian folk, while the pieces evoke pictures of their subjects with zest. "Birth" seems to be all about the carefree feel of new possibilities, for instance, and the wordless scatting of "Oh, You My River" careens all over the place with churning twists and turns. Flow's unusual mix of sophistication and whimsy makes a balancing act that's rare and often refreshing. Her voice (literal and otherwise) is that of someone leaving self-consciousness behind and singing purely for the simple joy of it.

Oslo 14
Improvisation * Composition II
Losen Records
2018

If you've ever heard an group of actors doing vocal warmups before a show, the mostly-wordless drones and flutters of Oslo 14 will be familiar from the start. Whether that's something to soak in for a solid 46 minutes, though, will have to depend on a person's taste for the offbeat and avant-garde. Improvisation * Composition II puts its fourteen unaccompanied voices through an abstract marathon as demanding for the listener as it must have been for the singers. The sharpness and discipline of the performance is impressive to no end: a pair of wide-ranging compositions shows them stretching the possibilities of vocal sounds in swooping arcs and often surprising structures with remarkable endurance. This one is a ready challenge for anyone eager to seriously stretch their minds and ears.

Nypan
Big City
Losen Records
2018

Like so many others, Oyvind Nypan has always felt the indefinable allure of New York City even from halfway around the world. Due to practical logistics, his longtime dream of a Big Apple recording had to be a whirlwind affair knocked out in a single-day session. The leader thoroughly knows what he's doing, however—the project was planned around a hand-picked cast of top-shelf pros, and they were able to tackle his charts on the spot in fine style. It's the nature of the job, after all, and the crazy workday pace couldn't have been more perfect for the sound of Big City.

From Taylor Eigsti joyfully going nuts across the keys (particulary in "Close to the Sun") to Ben Wendel's complementary saxophone acrobatics throughout, the members superbly handle their individual feature spots while never forgetting it's a group endeavor. Nypan's guitar is the star in the end, as it should be—check his wild flight on the highlight of "Shallow Water"—though his vibrant and pun-happy songs are no less important. The sum of the two makes a recording full of the life, romance and myriad colors of the city itself.

Eirik Svela
Bits & Pieces
Losen Records
2018

If Nypan saw New York as a destination for one particular outing, his fellow guitarist Eirik Svela sounds like he'd be happy to live there, particularly if he could travel back to the golden age of Blue Note Records in the '60s. Bits & Pieces simply oozes with smooth charm and classic cool. It probably helped that this session was also recorded in Brooklyn; the cast may be mostly European, but that doesn't lessen their affection for the proper urban East-coast vibe in the least.

In contrast to the frenetic side of the city, this session leans toward the quiet of the late hours; even brisker spots such as the toe- tapping "Shame (on) Us" busily simmer rather than turning up the heat too much. Sam Yahel shades in the spaces on Hammond organ with the same calm that Dave Edge creates in his unhurried saxophone lines, both twining with Svela's guitar like dance partners most cozily in step. With such a consistent tone, it's sort of surprising that there's only one standard in the set; if we can't actually revisit those days of classic bop, Svela's light-swinging pieces and excellent bandmates happily provide the next best thing.

Tracks and Personnel

I Am Awake

Tracks: Lift Off; Atlantis; Unspoken; My Sentiment Exactly; Jazzvals; Gara; Tatja Jeans; Navigare Necesse Est; Science Fiction Jazz.

Personnel: Børge—Are S. Halvorsen: sax; Martin Sandvik Gjerde: piano, Rhodes; Alexander Hoholm: bass; Henrik Håland: drums.

Flow

Tracks: Morenika; At Night; Wonderland; Birth; Evening in Berlin; Oh, You My River; Lullaby for Agafya.

Personnel: Alina Rostotskaya: vocal, melodica (5), okarina (6); Evgeny Lebedev: piano; Andrey Krasilnikov: saxophone; Maxim Shibin: guitar; Anton Revnyuk: double bass; Ignat Kravtsov: drums; Vladimir Nesterenko: flute (2, 3).

Improvisation * Composition II

Tracks: Improvisasjon 1; Kjærlighet, Penn og Papir; Improvisasjon 2; Hvorfor er Vi Så Redde for a Føle, Vet Du Det?; Improvisasjon 3.

Personnel: Bendik Sells, Birte Slettevoll, Caroline A. Bakke, Eline H. Åsbakk, Eva B. Storrusten, Giuseppe Creazzo, Ingrid V. Henriksen, Karoline R. Albrightsen, Lisbeth-Anita Grimsø Olsen, Live S. Schulerud, Petter H. Bermingrud, Sean Bell, Seshen, Vemund G. Kjelstad, Andreas Backer: vocals.

Big City

Tracks: The Greeting; You Old Tasmanian Devil You; Close to the Sun; Come What May; Kung Kong; Shallow Water; Starfall; Grasstopper.

Personnel: Øyvind Nypan: guitar; Ben Wendel: sax; Taylor Eigsti: piano; Joe Martin: bass; Justin Faulkner: drums.

Bits & Pieces

Tracks: Bits & Pieces; Next Time We Meet; Shame (on) Us; End of Days; New Arm Rash; n/a; In Awe Of; T.E.; I'll Be Seeing You.

Personnel: Eirik Berg Svela: guitar; Sam Yahel: Hammond B-3; Dave Edge: tenor sax; Tore Thorvaldsen Sandbakken: drums.

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