As exciting as Norway's annual Punkt Festival always is, there's inevitably one group that stands out as the sleeper hitunexpected and lesser-known, perhaps, but delivering an especially memorable performance. Splashgirl's show was the hands-down sleeper hit of Punkt 08, and its debut disc, Doors. Keys., further bolsters its reputation as a group to watch. A piano trio at heart (though augmented with a pedal steel guitarist at its Punkt performance), its expansion to a sextet on selected tracks only clarifies the innate classicism that informs Splashgirl's unique approach to composition and improvisation.
Pianist Andreas Stensland Lowe is the group's primary composer, and while his virtuosity is rarely in plain sight, he does hint at it on "forsok." Based on a knotty, cued theme, the tune opens up into a gradually intensifying free-for-all that hints at Paul Bley, but with raucous support from bassist Jo Berger Myhre and drummer Andreas Lonmo Knudsrod, Splashgirl makes clear that the iconoclastic pianist is only one of the group's many reference points. "Leo" is a quasi-majestic piece with a lyrical, serpentine melody that unfolds slowly, with violinist Sebastian Gruchot, saxophonist Joel Wastberg, and violinist Lars Holmen lending it a chamber music vibe, even though Myhre's soft but turbulent underpinning keeps things on edge throughout.
As little as there is to reference the American jazz tradition, Splashgirl is part of a new wave of piano trios that, while conceptually grounded in some aspects of that tradition, look farther afield for inspiration. There's a repetitive aspect to the group that's a clear nod to minimalist composer Steve Reich, but unlike Swiss pianist Nik Bartsch's Ronin, who performed the evening before Splashgirl at Punkt 08, it's less about hypnotic iteration and more about something a little more dangerous. Despite the maelstrom created by Myhre and Knudsrod's sawing arco on "Headpiece," Lowe combines a cautious approach to improvisation over a core theme, with persistent repetition and a block chord harmonic sensibility that references the more oblique side of classical composer Erik Satie.
Splashgirl may sport a generally serious disposition, but it does possess a dry sense of humor. The brooding "Shut Up and Dance!" shifts time throughout, from 3/4 to 4/4 to 5/4, making it about as danceable as a Christian Wallumrod compositionanother clear Splashgirl root with the downbeat completely obscured by the sextet's contrapuntal interweaving. Shifting tempos make "Haplosning" equally wry, even as it breaks from its quirky theme into brief improvised passages.
Doors. Keys. leans towards the cerebral, but its occasional forays into fiercer territory ("Tre veckor i en lada") give it a physicality that belies its overall dark nature. Party music it isn't, but Splashgirl's debutas with other Norwegian piano trios including Eple Trio and Maria Kannegaard Trioposits a new direction for an overburdened format, keeping it fresh, innovative and, most of all, thoroughly modern.
4 is 3 is 2 are one; Leo; forsok; Shut Up and Dance!; Haplosning; Tre veckor i en lada; F.M.S.; Headpiece; Hals.
All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.
You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.
Ambient / New Age Beyond Jazz Big Band Blues Brazilian / Bossa Nova / Samba Classical / Chamber Electronica Free Improv / Avant-Garde Fringes of Jazz Funk / Groove / Acid Jazz Fusion / Progressive Rock Jam Band Modern Jazz R&B / Soul Reggae / Ska Straight-ahead (Bop, Hard bop, Cool)