Following three consistently fine recordings as a leader2009's The Stars Are All New Songs Vol. 1, 2010's Balladeering and 2011's Time (all on the Danish guitarist's own Loveland imprint)in addition to international visibility gained through work with Paul Motian on the drummer's Garden of Eden (ECM, 2006) and trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's Dark Eyes (ECM, 2010), Jakob Bro takes a considerable detour with Bro/Knak, a collaboration with Danish electronic musician Thomas Knak. Bro's laconic and, perhaps, more to the point melancholic playing is fundamental to much of this two-disc collection, but the emphasis is largely on composition and, ultimately, recomposition, as Knak takes Bro's eight pieces on the first disc, and transmutes and transmogrifies them into altogether different "rebuilds" on the second.
That's not to say improvisation doesn't figure into the picture. Nearly one-third of the first disc's 51-minute running time is taken up by Paul Bley's "Roots Piano Variation," a stunningly lyrical, free-flowing piece of spontaneous creation that clarifies the debt owed to the expat Canadian in pianist Keith Jarrett's formative years. Bley's from-the-ether musings make a great deal out of Bro's relatively sparse source materiala gentle Dane-Americana miniature that reenlists guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan from Timebut the pianist's greater emphasis on the lower register lends a weight and strength entirely different from his more commercially successful progeny.
"Color Sample," the other lengthy contribution at over ten minutes, is more clearly composed, with Bro layering his voice into a gentle one-man choir, and a middle section that combines the guitarist's ambient and occasionally reverse-attack swells with cellist Jakob Kullberg's poignant arco and harpist Tine Rehling's delicate pizzicato. But it also allows for plenty of extrapolationcollective and singular; first from Kullberg, and later from Kenny Wheeler, whose flugelhorn solo is the perfect fit for Bro's dark-hued writing.
Frisell may have been an early influence, but the way he interacts with Bro on "Roots" and "Northern Blues Variation No. II" (which, with The Royal Danish Chapel Choir, feels like something out of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western), it's clearly less a matter of imitation and more a matter of inspiration, as the two wind their way through Bro's music with the epitome of anti-alacrity.
Knak's work ranges from the electro-tinged and considerably altered ("Northern Blues Variation No II Rebuild I") to the more ethereal "Rebuild II" that closes the second disc. In between, he turns Bro's rubato "Roots" into a surprisingly propulsive, repetition- centric "Roots Rebuild," with Bro layering some additional piano. Pianist David Virelles' lyrical "G Major Song" solo is re-imagined into curiously abstract form, while the oriental textures of "Izu" becomes a little less Zen, Knak's electronic percussion giving it a more fervent pulse than Anders Mathiasen's acoustic guitar on the original.
Ambitious in scope but introspective in delivery, Bro/Knak reveals another side beyond Bro's growing reputation as a guitarist. He's already proven himself a fine participant in a growing international network of musical performersd; here, with Knak, it's a different kind of collaboration, and one to which the guitarist/composer is clearly and equally well-suited.
CD1: Northern Blues Variation No. I; Color Sample; Epilog; G Major Song; Izu; Roots;
Mild; Roots Piano Variations; Northern Blues Variation No. II. CD2: Northern Blues
Variation No. II Rebuild No. 1; Roots Rebuild; G Major Song Rebuild; Izu Rebuild; Color
Sample Rebuild; Mild Rebuild No. I; Mild Rebuild No. II; Northern Blues Variation No. II
Rebuild No. II.
Jakob Bro: electric guitar (CD1#2, CD1#5-7, CD1#9, CD2#1-2, CD2#4-7, CD2#9),
vocals (CD1#2, CD1#5, CD2#4-5), acoustic guitar (CD1#7, CD2#7-8), piano (CD2#2);
David Virelles: piano (CD1#1, CD1#4, CD2#3); Kenny Wheeler: flugelhorn (CD1#2,
CD2#5); Jakob Kullberg: cello (CD1#2, CD2#5); Tine Rehling: harp (CD1#2, CD1#3,
CD2#5-6); Jakob Høyer: drums (CD1#2, CD1#5, CD2#4-5); Oscar Noriega: clarinet
(CD1#3, CD2#6); Pamelia Kurstin; theremin (CD1#5, CD2#4); Jonas Westergaard:
electric bass (CD1#5, CD2#4); Anders Mathiasen: acoustic guitar (CD1#5, CD2#4); Bill
Frisell: guitar (CD1#6, CD2#2); Thomas Morgan: double bass (CD1#6-7, CD1#9,
CD2#2-3, CD2#7-9); Jeff Ballard: drums (CD1#7, CD2#7-8); Paul Bley: piano (CD1#8);
The Royal Danish Chapel Choir: vocals (CD1#9, CD2#1, CD2#9).