Sweden has always seemed like the mellow sibling of Scandinavia. Nestled between the fjords of Norway, party-hearty Denmark and the Soviet/European culture clash of Finland, Swedes maintain a squeaky clean country while talking in a soft language featuring lots of "mmm," "rrr" and other smooth sounds.
So perhaps it's not surprising the Göteborg trio BarT, which occasionally teams up with keyboardist Jim Beard on this self-titled album, sounds a lot like a trip to the LA coast. Some of the musicians' strongest work as lead players exploits their sense of melody and relaxed stylings. Their promo copy is more elaborate, stating that "BarT's music can be characterized as melodic, but with a fundamental heavy groove, effortlessly bouncing along Stravinsky-like harmonies."
Either way, coasting down this audio road, there are more than a few passages that spark an abrupt "what was that!?" reaction, sort of like seeing punk hair on a member of the bikini team.
Songs like "Go Round" and "Pari Bar" are no-nonsense, upbeat, easy-cruisin' fusion, right down to slightly atonal solos by Beard and pianist Anders Persson that emphasize notes over chords. "Dr. Tom," the mellow side of this approach, is a questionable choice to open the album, since the rest of the tracks bear little similarity to it, and most of the following material is superior.
The first hint of more comes on "Silly," where Pearsson and drummer Terje Sundby stir the pot of discordance after keeping to a light calypso beat and steady vamp for most of the piece's five minutes. It's the first sense of the musicians playing off each other, and it pricks the ears for future possibilities.
It takes a few more songs (including the pleasantly meditative piano ballad "Bornholm"), but BarT eventually finds its stride with the nine-minute piece "In The Hat." Sundby breaks his mostly predictable rhythm cycles for long stretches, accelerating offbeat tempos and volumes around Persson, who steps up his note pacing and makes deviations sound more like innovation than a dash of safe seasoning. Beard also contributes here, as well as on two other pieces, but he's limited to providing background organ countertones.
A free jam during the second half of the five-minute "Vesterbro Bodega" is the most notable "huh?" moment, wedged into an otherwise low-key and unremarkable composition. It's intriguing and the concept deserves more exploration, although the group's potential for doing so is hard to gauge from limited exposure.
These musicians have done some outstanding work, but BarT's edges seem dulled instead of sharpened by the collaboration. Beard's presence does not assert itself enough to earn the "featuring" label he gets on the album cover, and anyone looking for his funkier grooves won't find them here. Those on the softer side looking for the ECM touch in players like Sundbyor Stravinsky, if one could possibly say such a thing about himprobably won't hear enough depth here to be satisfied. It's not a bad album, effortlessly listenable and sometimes a bit more throughout, but ultimately it doesn't capture the cast's potential.