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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.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.