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Friends & Neighbors: Circles

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Friends & Neighbors: Circles
Even some 60 years after its birth, the free jazz of the American New Thing remains a fertile source of inspiration in 2024. On its sixth album, Circles, Norwegian quintet Friends & Neighbors continues to find rich avenues to explore in its updated repurposing of the naked expressionism of the 1960's avant-garde. An unchanged line up comprises some of the most in-demand players on the European scene in saxophonist Andre Roligheten (Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity and Supersonic Orchestra), trumpeter Thomas Johansson (Paal Nilssen-Love's Circus, Cortex), pianist Oscar Grönberg (Trondheim Jazz Orchestra), bassist Jon Rune Strøm (Frode Gjerstad, All Included) and drummer Tollef Ostvang (Trevor Watts, Joe McPhee).

Everyone contributes charts, resulting in a diversity of routes taken, while remaining true to the band's concept. Among the cuts paying the most explicit homage is Östvang's "Ghost March," which summons the spirit of Albert Ayler, with a bright ascending melodic line over a roiling bass and drum axis, and the slightly woozy "Hymn Infinitum," which recalls a Charles Mingus ballad.

Although titled "Cecil," the opener does not channel the presumed dedicatee, pianist Cecil Taylor, except in its energy. It does however showcase another of the unit's strengths in the way the thoughtful arrangement sets up varied spaces for each of the horn soloists. Roligheten's tenor wails like Archie Shepp atop an angular rhythm section, while Johansson's trumpet whimpers and spits in the company of a spacious rubato.

While both Östvang and Strøm avail themselves of the freedom from timekeeping that accrued during the 1960s, they manage the transitions in and out of vamps peerlessly. They invest the title cut with a soulful relaxed lope, which buoys up an anthemic horn unison and instigates a mercurial tenor and bass duet. Here and throughout, Grönberg's contributions intersect wonderfully with saxophone and trumpet, achieving a happy marriage of comping and commentary.

One of the high points amid an already elevated program, the bassist's "Son" both begins and ends with him in tandem with Roligheten's alternately tender and squalling tenor. A central segment in which a choppy piano trio takes on a Latin feel launches Johansson's finest feature, replete with a series of upper register moans. Typically, the final "Latin Phonetics" offers a swinging flagwaver, adorned by punchy unisons with a celebratory tinge and bravura spots for trumpet and saxophone. If there was a bar anywhere in the vicinity then Roligheten would undoubtedly be walking it.

With the customary blend of inventive compositions, accomplished playing and fine interaction, Friends & Neighbors delivers everything one might want from an adventurous jazz combo. And how!

Track Listing

Cecil; Circles; Ghost March; Son; Charles; Hymn Infinitum; Latin Phonetics.

Personnel

Friends & Neighbors
band / ensemble / orchestra
Andre Roligheten
saxophone, tenor

Album information

Title: Circles | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Clean Feed


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