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Young / Powell / Vespestad: Anthem

John Kelman By

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Public perception can often be misleading. Those only familiar with Jacob Young's ECM recordings, including the sublime Evening Falls (2004), inevitably think of him as a painstakingly lyrical guitarist, informed by Jim Hall's economical forward- thinking and penchant for the sound of a warm, organic hollowbody or steely acoustic instrument. But that's only part of the story. Prior to recording for ECM, Young released three albums on Norway's NORCD and Curling Legs labels, positing a closer affiliation to the American tradition, a little more electricity...even a bit of funk, albeit as soft- spoken as the guitarist was in his 2004 All About Jazz interview.

Young's earlier albums also demonstrated his taste for a larger sonic palette, something he brings to bear on Anthem, a largely simmering trio date with expat British organist Roy Powell, and fellow Norwegian, drummer Jarle Vespestad (Supersilent and Tord Gustavsen). With the exception of an ambling version of Cole Porter's minor-keyed "So in Love" and the brief, spontaneous composition of the collectively credited "Aqual," this set of Young and Powell originals hearkens back to organ trios long past, but with a modernist approach clearly rooted in trios like guitarist John Abercrombie's 1990s group with organist Dan Wall and drummer Adam Nussbaum.

The overall approach is loose and unfettered (but tempered by a collective focus and control), and the harmonies generally darker and more ambiguous, but if there's a single claim that Anthem lays to waste it's the fallacy that Norwegians can't swing. Vespestad may play more the colorist with Gustavsen, and he may have thundered heavily with Supersilent before leaving the improv collective he helped cofound in 1997, but he swings mightily on Powell's "Elegy," which also features an uncharacteristically effects-laden Young.

Powell's association with Vespestad dates back to 2003 and Solace, on the now-defunct Nagel Heyer label, though there he eschewed his Hammond for acoustic piano, on which he was (and is) equally fine. Here, Powell manages to combine the almost prerequisite hint of soulful groove (more than ably supported by Vespestad), with a more skewed harmonic sensibility. Young's opening "Time Changes"—with its gorgeous a capella guitar intro—alternates between the near-songlike melodism of its 7/4 section, a briefly boogalooing mid-section, and a 6/8 solo passage, all reminiscent of guitar icon John McLaughlin's mid-'90s Free Spirits trio, with organist Joey DeFrancesco, but with considerably more restraint—and lower testosterone levels.

That's not to suggest Young/Powell/Vespestad can't cook; they can, and they do on "Anthem (...For Our Troubled Time)." Young's grungy, low register, alt-rock chords and Vespestad's gradually intensifying pulse drive Powell's most energetic solo of the set, leading to an outro where the drummer roars in contrast to his whisper-quiet playing with Gustavsen.

To break the rules, you first need to learn then, and a particular strength of the Norwegian jazz scene is its ability to bust down the walls of tradition while, at the same time, respecting them. With Anthem, Young/Powell/Vespestad manages to lean closer than usual to its jazz roots, while never losing sight of the intrinsic need to push the envelope and bring a fresh voice along for the ride.

Track Listing: Time Changes; Wayward; Body of Memory; Advance With Caution; So in Love; Anthem (...For Our Troubled Kind); Aqual; Elegy; When Time is All.

Personnel: Roy Powell: Hammond B3 organ; Jacob Young: guitar; Jarle Vespestad: drums.

Title: Anthem | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: PVY Records Corp.


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