Hanna Paulsberg Concept: Eastern Smiles

Ian Patterson By

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Hanna Paulsberg's tenor saxophone voice is increasingly in demand for a wide variety of projects, from the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra to collaborations with Ellen Andrea Wang, Jon Balke, Andreas Ulvo, Erland Dahlen and veteran Knut Rissnaes. Yet her standing as a composer and leader of one of Norway's most outstanding young quartets has been firmly established with releases such as Waltz for Lili (Ora Fonogram, 2012) and Song for Josia (Ora Fonogram, 2014). Eastern Smiles, her third release, and first on Odin Records, continues the course established on her previous two releases, with six original compositions highlighting the dual melodic and rhythmic pulses that drive her music.

The explorative title track is built upon Paulsberg's mellifluous lines and Hans Hulbaekmo's continually scurrying rhythms over spare bass figures, though pianist Oscar Gronberg's angular, off-kilter improvisation steers the music momentarily into unexpected terrain. Paulsberg returns to impose her strong musical personality with a fine solo. A two-note piano mantra announces "Hermulen pa byn," a curiously schizoid track that flits back and forth between sunnily infectious groove and pockets of searching abstraction.

Even at the music's most angular, Hulbaekmo's polyrhythmic bustle seems to act as compass and engine room at the same time. The versatile drummer impressed with Moskus at 12 Points 2015 and Nena and the Butterfly Fish at Nutshell 2015, and plays with Atomic, amongst other bands. The hard-working rhythmic provocateur illuminates any context of which is part, and HPC's Eastern Smiles is no exception. Bassist Trygve Waldemar Fiske plots a far sparer course and this contrast between rhythmic industry and restraint is one of the key elements of HPC's sound. Fiske's warm, earthy tone is foregrounded on his unaccompanied intro to "A Hundred Years," his probing pulse going on to underpin gutsy, extended solos from Paulsberg and Gronberg, with Hulbaekmo all the while whipping up a devilish storm.

Paulsberg is also an original balladeer; her lyrical ruminations that bookend "Hotel Papa Charlie," rather than define the tune, instead serve to frame sympathetic improvisations from Fiske and Gronberg of lingering beauty. The infectious calypso of "Catalan Boy" provides a joyous finale, its dancing rhythms and breezy melody proving utterly seductive. Hulbaekmo delivers a lively solo—only slightly more accentuated than his usual effervescent approach—before Paulsberg restates the concluding head.

Stylistically, Eastern Smiles falls into suit with HPC's previous recordings and a strong hand is certainly building, as witnessed in HPC's compelling performance at Vossa Jazz 2016. Paulsberg's musical evolution, for now, is all about polishing a diamond, but with this splendid quartet you suspect she still has more than a few aces up her sleeve.

Track Listing

Eastern Smiles; Hermulen pa byn; Ayumi; A Hundred Years; Hotel Papa Charlie; Catalan Boy.


Hanna Paulsberg: tenor saxophone; Hans Hulbaekemo: drums; Oscar Gronberg: piano; Trygve Waldemar Fiske: bass.

Album information

Title: Eastern Smiles | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Odin Records



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