147

Excess Luggage: Hand Luggage Only

Dave Wayne By

Sign in to view read count
Excess Luggage: Hand Luggage Only Given this Norwegian trio's two keyboards-plus-drums instrumentation, there may be the expectation of something avant-garde, or perhaps something reminiscent of '70s-era prog rock. However, on Hand Luggage Only, Excess Luggage's core values are firmly oriented towards aggressive, swinging modern jazz. This is clear from the CD's first track, the bobbing, weaving "Annoying You." The title may refer to the tune's mechanical-sounding, syncopated, repetitious melody—though nothing about it is truly annoying. Another thing that's immediately apparent is how well the instrumentation works, even in a relatively straight-ahead jazz setting. Steinar Nickelsen's Hammond organ provides bass lines throughout, while both keyboardists can comp during the other's solos, and the sounds are distinct enough to provide plenty of timbral contrast. Håkon Mjaset Johansen's driving rhythms tie the whole thing together. He's the sort of drummer who doesn't need to display formidable chops on every tune—his first priority is to support the soloists with crisp, beautifully executed fills and accents. Speaking of chops, the leader of the trio, veteran pianist Vigleik Storaas, is a world-class modern jazz player, known for his work fellow Norwegian Terje Rypdal, among others, who matches dazzling technique with an equally impressive stylistic range. Nickelsen is no slouch, either. His solos combine intricate, complex, ultra-modern lines with rousing, gospel-infused, Jimmy Smith-like rave-ups—a perfect balance of the intellectual and the sensual.

The program on Hand Luggage Only consists primarily of original tunes, most of them penned by Nickelsen. A couple of these ("Fast Swing," "Corrupted Minor"), like the aforementioned "Annoying You," have terse, almost crepuscular, melodies that nevertheless provide plenty of rhythmic and harmonic jumping-off-points for brilliant solos by Storaas and Nickelsen. "Kunming" is a dark, minor-key piece in 7/4 that comes closer to fusion than anything else on the CD. Storaas' "Jimmy's Thai Kitchen," by contrast, is a friendly blues based on the old chestnut "It Had To Be You." The set's lone standard—"If I Should Lose You"—is taken at a brisk walk, providing tons of space for extended solos by all. Though fast tempos and acrobatic improvisations are the trio's bread-and-butter, they shift gears quite effectively throughout Hand Luggage Only. "After All," is an atmospheric ballad with a lovely solo piano introduction and fine brushwork. "Laat" starts soft and slow, and is slowly urged to a simmering medium tempo by Johansen's splashy drumming. Here, the interplay between piano and organ is particularly sublime, with Nickelsen's thick, ropy lines curling around Storaas' piano like ancient vines on an old building.

Despite—or perhaps because of—its odd instrumentation, Hand Luggage Only is one of those rare CDs that surprises and delights with unexpected pleasures. The playing is first rate, the compositions are strong, and the whole concept just works. There's something for every taste here, yet there's no sense of artistic compromise. This speaks volumes for the players involved, in particular, and for the Norwegian jazz scene in general.


Track Listing: Annoying You; Jimmy's Thai Kitchen; Corrupted Mirror; After All; Fast Swing; Kunming; If I Should Lose You; Laat.

Personnel: Vigleik Storaas: acoustic piano; Steinar Nickelsen: organ; Hakon Mjaset Johansen: drums.

Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Parallell


Shop

More Articles

Read The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door CD/LP/Track Review The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 25, 2017
Read The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Rapture CD/LP/Track Review The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Rapture
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Coldest Second Yesterday CD/LP/Track Review Coldest Second Yesterday
by John Sharpe
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Chicago II CD/LP/Track Review Chicago II
by Doug Collette
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Follow Your Heart CD/LP/Track Review Follow Your Heart
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Over the Rainbow CD/LP/Track Review Over the Rainbow
by Paul Rauch
Published: February 24, 2017
Read "Motion" CD/LP/Track Review Motion
by Mark Sullivan
Published: March 11, 2016
Read "Parallax" CD/LP/Track Review Parallax
by Roger Farbey
Published: March 21, 2016
Read "Escualo" CD/LP/Track Review Escualo
by Duncan Heining
Published: November 24, 2016
Read "Columbia Years 1968-1969" CD/LP/Track Review Columbia Years 1968-1969
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: July 4, 2016
Read "It's The Peace That Deafens" CD/LP/Track Review It's The Peace That Deafens
by James Nadal
Published: March 17, 2016
Read "Illogical Harmonies with D’Incise" CD/LP/Track Review Illogical Harmonies with D’Incise
by John Eyles
Published: June 13, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!