There was a time, back in the '50s and '60s, when jazz musicians would regularly knock out half a dozen albums a year. That was when standards were all the rage and jazz was still largely codified. Today, such prolific production is reserved mostly for improvising musicians. Radio Bévort moves at a more leisurely pace, with BLIK just its fifth release since 2003, when award-winning saxophonist/composer Pernille Bévort birthed her ensemble. Quality, not quantity, appears to be Bévort's mantra. Here, the septet returns with another selection of Bévort originals that showcase the individual and collective strengths of this stirring little-big band.
Albums such as Perfect Organisation (Gateway Music, 2011) and Which Craft? (Gateway Music, 2016) cemented Radio Bévort's identity as a nuevo tango-influenced jazz ensemble, but the absence of bandoneon and of such pronounced tango rhythms this time round makes for a different aesthetic. Sure, long-time Bévort cohort Marie Louise Schmidt straps on the accordion for "Forundringsfryd," but this somber number, colored by Ole Visby's dark, bass clarinet lines, owes more to European church music than it does Argentinian folk. Elsewhere, Schmidt strays only occasionally from her piano, bringing deft Rhodes coloring to the gently lyrical "Apricot Blossom," and the rhythmically striding, harmonically rich "Tribal Dancing."
Bévort's lush woodwind arrangements are one of the music's three pillars. The blending of the leader's tenor and soprano saxophones, with Kasper Wagner's alto saxophone and clarinet, Mariane Bitran's flutes, and Visby bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, creates dynamics that steer a course between chamber elegance and big-band verve. There is also plenty of scope for improvisation, with all the musicians foregrounded, and the juxtaposition of form and precision with liberal doses of freedom is another defining characteristic of Bévort's compositions. Rhythmically, too, there is great elasticity within these tunes, with bassist Morten Ankarfeldt, Schmidt, and drummer Bjørn Heebøll displaying guile and panache in equal measure.
From the punchy miniature "Trefoil" and the slow-burning "Blaat i Blaat," featuring a wonderfully resonant solo from Ankarfeldt, to the episodic "8 March Anthem," with Bévort in commanding form on tenor saxophone, each tune has its own, well defined personality. The gorgeous, brushes-steered ballad "BLIK II" is as notable for the ensemble harmonies as it is for fine solos from Bévort and Schmidt. The pianist also grabs the headlines on the idiosyncratic "Det Kanon," her angular solo evolving from the preceding staccato rhythms. The feel-good "Call for Eddie" is an infectious, swinging delight, with Bitran's bluesy flute dance an album highlight. With the measured sophistication of "Gaar Gennem Verden ikjoler og Lys," the album's most pensive track, Bévort saves best for last.
These are handsome arrangements that embrace collective strength while showcasing the individual voices. Bévort's long years of experience in several of Europe's premier big bands has clearly rubbed off on her, but who needs twenty-odd musicians when seven will do the job so nicely?
Trefoil; Blaat i Blaat; 8 March Anthem; BLIK II; Tribal Dancing; Forundringsfryd; Det Kanon; Apricot Blossom; Call for Eddie; Gaar gennem Verden i Kjoler og Lys.
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