Anders Ahlen Unit: Lines and Dots

Dave Wayne By

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I hope it's not too silly to say that Lines and Dots, the new album by guitarist and composer Anders Ahlen Unit, is really cool. But it is; both in the colloquial sense and in the jazz sense. The music goes down with nary a wasted note, the cover art is hip and minimal, and it comes-self-produced on the artist's own label- from Sweden. The vinyl is heavy and luxurious, and if you miss the limited-edition LP, there's also a CD. The whole package just reeks of... cool.

Stylishness aside, the music on Lines and Dots is subtle yet tough, sinewy and risky in all the right ways. Splitting the difference between free jazz and post bop, Ahlén and his crew manage to sound distinctive without resorting to gimmicks. On guitar, Ahlén has an edgy yet understated sound. Though he uses distortion, his approach is like that of a master chef when dealing with a strong, exotic spice: just enough to make the flavors distinctive. He doesn't play totally effects-free, but he doesn't go all out bonkers with the whammy bar and pedals either. His approach is percussive and hard-edged; contrasting with the horns and standing out over the drums. He rarely comps during others' solos, and when he does interject something it really stands out. His compositions balance pensive, chill Euro-Jazz with the sort of approach that characterizes that mid-1960s wave of boldly adventurous post-bop / pre-fusion jazz. Not that Ahlén is consciously aping that sound, or has his concept stuck in some 50-year-old recordings, but the inspiration of mid-60s avant-jazz in the young Swede's music is quite palpable.

Accompanying him are trumpeter Niklas Barno, perhaps best known in the US as a member of Fire! Orchestra. He also leads his own band, Je Suis. Saxophonist Niklas Persson has worked with Kvintetten Som Sprängdes. For Ahlén and the others, Lines and Dots is their debut recording, or so it would appear from what I can glean from the Internet. That noted, these fellows play like cagey, seasoned veterans; necessarily because of the way Ahlén's music balances composition and free improvisation. "Dots," which can be sampled at Ahlén's website, has that classic Euro-Jazz sort of sound. The angular, laconic melody, pleasantly at odds with the loping, minimalistic rhythm, sets the stage for a playful collective improv by Persson and Barnö. "Penguin Dive" alternates a pithy, swinging 4-note phrase with a mournful rubato section. Here, Persson's solo, accompanied only by bass and drums, gradually gets spun up into an Albert Ayler-esque froth. "Hemvändarångest" is pure, hard-swinging post-bop which is stopped in its tracks for a spacious, well-paced group improv. Ahlén is more prominent throughout Side 2; he steps out-as does bassist Emil Skoogh-for a beautifully-paced, emotive solo on "Floating," and takes a harder- edged, percussive turn on the energetic "Curved Line." My favorite track, however, is the closer, "Trip," which welds a tough rock beat to an off-balance, bar-violating melody reminiscent of King Crimson. The ensuing drum-guitar duel is most impressive, as is the way Skoogh and Persson follow it up without letting the energy flag even slightly.

Filled with fresh, fascinating sounds, Lines and Dots is an impressive debut!

Track Listing: Penguin Dive; Dots; Hemvändarångest; Floating; Curved Line; Trip.

Personnel: Niklas Persson: saxophones; Niklas Barnö: trumpet; Anders Ahlén: electric guitar; Emil Skoogh: contrabass; Andreas Axelsson: drums.

Title: Lines and Dots | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Signal And Sound Records

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