Featuring finely crafted compositions and precise, yet stirring performances, Countryside is an ambitious and lovely followup to Frøy Aagre Offbeat's debut album, 2004's Katalyze. The album sports varying moods, veering from stately elegance to moments of more delicate humor and whimsy.
Composed and arranged by the saxophonist/leader, each track has obviously been worked over with care. While the longest song clocks in at just five minutes, each work features a palpable sense of movement and development. Featuring groaning cello playing by Kari Ravnan (who adds richness to three of the nine tracks) and sparkling piano work by Andreas Ulvo, "Sold Gold spins and builds from languid solos into a grand restatement of the main theme in an admirably compact arrangement. Likewise, "Last Waltz progresses from a quirky, high-spirited trot to a suitably grand Old World waltz in a little under four and a half minutes. The title track (with fond clarinet interjections) is simply a perfectly peaceful reverie.
Countryside is dense but far from inaccessible, due to the sheer tunefulness of the writing and the pithy inventiveness of the playing. No instrumental star shines brighter than the others on the album. This unit truly functions as a band, each member playing off one other and, above all, serving the songs.
The Wheel; Solid Gold; Last Waltz; Rainy Afternoon; Canadian Rockies pt. 1; Canadian Rockies pt. 2; Fastball; A Nice Walk; Countryside.
Frøy Aagre: tenor and soprano saxophones; Andreas Ulvo: piano; Audun Ellingsen: double-bass; Freddy Wike: drums; Kari Ravnan: cello (1, 2, 7); Morten Michelsen: clarinets (1, 2, 5-7, 9).