Jacob Young: Lyricism and Elasticity

John Kelman By

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Pieces of Time

For Young's next project, '97's Pieces of Time, released on the Norwegian Curling Legs label, he recorded with a group that he had been playing with on a regular basis, and the difference is palpable. The same sense of melodicism is evident, but there's a stronger sense of interplay and unity about the record that makes it a more compelling listen. The group features saxophonist Trygve Seim, who has gone on to record his own albums for ECM, keyboardist Vigleik Storaas, Per Oddvar Johansen on drums and bassist Mats Eilertsen, with whom Young continues to work to this day. "That was a working band," says Young. "We had done a few tours in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. We were all about the same age and knew each other, so Pieces of Time was definitely more of a group record.

"Trygve Seim was an old friend of mine from high school," Young continues, "and we've had some of the same influences and steps in our careers. I went to New York and he studied in Norway at the Trondheim Conservatory. He was a very familiar person to have in the group, both professionally and socially. Mats Eilertsen was very young when we started playing, I think he was only nineteen, and he was still a student at the conservatory. From '96 to '97 I had a gig every Thursday at a club in Oslo called "The Young Market," which was basically a session where I invited different players to play, ending with a jam session. But for the first hour we would prepare material for musicians that had basically never played together before. We would play songs, not just free improvisation. I was playing with this Norwegian drummer in a group called the Young Love Trio, and he had heard about Mats, and we flew him over for this gig with [trumpeter] Nils Petter Molvaer, and we went on and played some groove-oriented free, energetic music and he locked in right away.

While there is still stylistic diversity on Pieces of Time—including "Wonder Why," on which Young pays homage to one of his influences, Keith Jarrett's European Quartet, and "In a Subtle Way," with it's swinging hip hop-informed rhythm, songs including "When We're Talking" and "The Promise" demonstrate a stylistic approach that could have easily fitted into the ECM aesthetic. Young also began to augment his warm, clean electric tone with acoustic guitar, another foreshadowing of Evening Falls, where the record is split almost fifty-fifty between the two instruments.


For his third record, '01's Glow, also on Curling Legs, Young chose to use a more experimental approach, with a broader palette of sounds, including a three-piece horn section, resophonic guitar and more. " Glow is an album that I worked on much more," explains Young, "it was more arranged, heavier in a way. Pieces of Time is more about tunes we played as a group and we arranged them partly on tour, partly in the studio, but with Glow it's more mixed. It consists of three tracks for septet, recorded live at Rainbow Studio in Oslo, but the rest of the album was done in a smaller studio, where we did the rhythm tracks and then overdubbed additional elements. The initial tracks were recorded live as well; the four of us would play on a tune like "Cartoons," for instance, and then we'd record the four of us again on top of the first set of tracks, playing with or against each other. Then we would cut out some things, use others, and work a lot with effects; it was a very time consuming process."

But while Glow is more of a studio concoction, Young's compositional priorities remained. "The writing has always been the most important aspect of my records," Young says. "The melodies and tunes are what I look for when I listen to music and also when I write and make my own albums. That's the most basic and important thing."

Karin Krog and Where Flamingos Fly

In '02 Young received a call from Norwegian vocal legend, Karin Krog, to work on a project of mainly standards, in a stripped down duo context. "She had heard something I'd done on Norwegian radio from one of my records," Young explains, "maybe from Pieces of Time, and she liked it, called the radio and asked who it was playing, and they gave her my name. Coincidentally we'd met in a store and just said hello to each other, but then, later, she called me. She'd been thinking about doing something with a guitarist for a long time and she called and suggested we do a radio show together, for Norwegian Public Radio. And I was thrilled; in Norwegian jazz she's a big figure, hers was the first group that Jan Garbarek played in and she was the door-opener for Norwegian jazz musicians before ECM, and also for that ECM generation.

"It was very hard," continues Young, "very challenging, and in a way it was great because I hadn't really been working with standards since coming back to Norway. We spent a lot of time trying to find the material. And I had to dig into that kind of area that I had been taught a bit at school and more in the jazz scene in New York; it was a big challenge to make a whole album with basically just guitar and voice. In some ways it was terrifying but it was fun too, because I got to do all the arrangements and I could spend time working out chord substitutions. And what I tried to do most was not think so much as a guitarist, because it can be so limiting, it can limit your sound somehow. My idea was to try and imagine in my head that I was a pianist. As if I was one of those stride piano players that would play the bass, but of course pianists can play the bass on every beat and impose chords and melodies; that is, of course, impossible on guitar. So you have to play only so much of the bass and then come in with some chords and some counterpoint, and then go back to the bass so that you superimpose it, so the listener will hear what's not been played, they'll hear the missing bass notes. We rehearsed a lot before we did that album."

Where Flamingos Fly, on the Grappa label, was produced by Krog's long- time partner, British reed player John Surman. "John would listen," explains Young, "he would intensively listen to what we were doing. He would occasionally come up with suggestions about the tempo, or try to get us to relax more. He's a great musician, and a great guy, he can be hilarious, he's really good at putting people at ease. But he was strict too—he would have to kick me in the ass sometimes. I'd be struggling with something and he'd say, 'you have to get it together for tomorrow!' So he had a mix of being very friendly and humorous, and also making sure I knew he was depending on me. It was very comforting to have someone that I trusted. When you're in the studio it's always difficult because you've just been performing and it's hard to say if it's any good. I mean sometimes you can instantly feel it's not a good take, and then two months later it turns out it was a good take. So that's why it's good to have a producer."

Throughout '02 and '03 Young toured the world with Krog. "We toured the year the album came out," Young explains, " all of last year we also toured a lot. Around the world—Japan, India, Poland, Austria, the US and other places. It was a concept that was easy to travel with, just the two of us. And I learned a lot performing with her, because in the same way that Jim Hall taught me about melody and trying to be clear in my statements, she would be an exponent for the same kind of way of delivering. I think she really delivers a song and a message; and her interpretations, even though English is not her native language, give me no reason to doubt her."
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