Denada, an album of big band compositions by the talented Norwegian trombonist/composer Helge Sunde, is amazingly complex and original music that brings to mind the work of Maria Schneider. In fact, had I encountered this album in a blindfold test, I would have said immediately that it was a new album by Schneider.
Sunde's music examines themes seldom explored by jazz. On the opening piece, "IO," for instance, the pontillistic opening salvos gradually give way to a swinging counterpoint. This piece is followed by the hauntingly beautiful "Requiscat in Pace," a ballad featuring Schneider-like dense chords and a tremendous, mournful solo by tenor saxophonist Atle Nymo.
The title piece is a hard-driving composition with a Latin underbeat, featuring excellent solos by Petter Wettre (alto) and Borge Are Halvorsen (baritone). Sunde explores Norwegian folk music on "Om Kvelden" ("At Dawn") and follows this with "Small Landscape," a tour de force for percussionist Marilyn Mazur.
Denada is so good that it deserves to be experienced in toto. The various compositions have an overarching flow that gives them a conceptual unity which one seldom encounters in jazz. Helge Sunde and his band have produced an album that is both thought-provoking and forward-looking, but never loses its will to swing. Denada is by far one of the best albums of big band jazz of the last decade.