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Losen Records' Winning Formula?

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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The only thing that remains constant from release to release on Norwegian label Losen Records is the fact, that no album will sound anything like the last.
No formula at all. The only thing that remains constant from release to release on Norwegian label Losen Records is the fact, that no album will sound anything like the last. Home to young talents, such as the Icelandic pianist Ingi Bjarni Skúlason or the Russian saxophone virtuoso Masha Art, as well as old hands along the likes of Anders Jormin, the label works as a foundation for the artists' imagination and lets them have complete creative control over their work. The resulting diversity in style doesn't come at the cost of quality or coherence. A dedicated focus on sound and quality of the recordings—at times not dissimilar to the "ECM aesthetic" for which Manfred Eicher's Edition of Contemporary Music is reputed—and a keen ear for talent on the part of label boss Odd Gjelsnes have created an impressive roster of releases that keeps on surprising. A fact that is even more impressive, considering the relatively high frequency of roughly two releases a month.

But not all music over at Losen Records testifies to minimalism and sophistication. Besides the more serious stances of maturity, youthful lust for experimentation is given space to unfold as well. Upbeat and bold, exhibitions of the latter complete the label's colorful pallet of jazz—at times expanded to the broadest sense of the genre—to form a resemblance to the one of the fauvistic world of painters.

With the following releases, the last quarter of the year reveals at least as exciting, if not even more so, than the preceding ones.

Sverre Gjorvad
Voi River
Losen Records
2019

The drummer Sverre Gjorvad's third outing for Losen Records features a cast of musicians who turn his melodic compositions into little exercises of restraint. Made up of playful exchanges of glances, the resulting minimalist images are able to illuminate dark rooms with shimmering timbres and experimental tones. Besides the intricate percussive play on drums, keyboard layers on top of gentle electric guitar strokes capture a unique spirit that reveals as joyful as it does fragile. Kristian Olstad's guitar effects are reminiscent of his Danish neighbor Jakob Bro's approach to the instrument and further enhance an already elaborate experience.

Johnsen Sahlander Moen
1+1=3
Losen Records
2019

Pianist Bernt Moen is back for a second round on Losen Records in 2019. Compared to his first outing of the year, Dualistic, 1+1=3 discards the hard-hitting metal infusion and draws on a number of standards for loose and fun interpretation. Dualistic bassist Fredrik Sahlander returns while this time around Geir Age Johnson joins on drums. J.J. Johnson's "Lament" is treated to a gentle run through the changes that doesn't stray too far from the core composition, whereas Naima's essence is barely alluded to—merely two chords and their being altered forming one long crescendo as a mirror to the original. The main melody off of Bill Evans' "Interplay" is built on top of a riff-based ostinato that guides this take from beginning to end. Moen's fingers dig deep into the blue notes on this one and soar with determination. The Moen-penned ballad "When All is Said and Done"—the sole original on the record—bookends the set in a soothing yet elegiac way. Some of these takes could have profited from the warmth of a double bass instead of an electric one. The quality of the musicianship on display however is undeniable and makes for a highly enjoyable listen.

Marstrander Trio
Old Times, Beautiful Boy
Losen Records
2019

Echoey guitar plucking stands in strong contrast to the organic tone of the double bass throughout this debut trio album by the young Norwegian guitarist Mathias Marstrander. The drums play an important percussive role that heavily relies on the high frequencies of cymbal dashes and some rough snare blows. The set of tunes finds sound manipulation via effects dominating music that spans from rock over jazz to ambient experiments and works as one long stream of consciousness. The music doesn't seem to come to a halt until the very end and engages the listener with vast sonic landscapes. When Marstrander cuts back on some of the reverb and delay, as demonstrated in the first few minutes of the closer "Final Soldier," he proves a soulful blues guitarist. Maybe a sound he'll want to pursue more in-depth in the future?

Welo/Welo Quartet
Harvest Time
Losen Records
2019

Father and son working side by side for more than two decades sounds like a fantasy most family relationships can't sustain. Pianist Tor Welo and his son, saxophonist Ola Welo, are the protagonists in question and prove that their relationship applies to music just as well, if not even better. Harvest Time finds them performing eight self-penned originals and one cover in quartet formation—together creating a mellow set of mainstream jazz. The organ-driven opener "Fresh Start" is steeped in American jazz language before follow-up "Doxy For Lasse" displays Tor Welo's piano chops over a cool bossa rhythm. Ola Welo's tenor sways with a warm and round tone throughout the album and finds comforting lines for the changes. The cover of Danish composer Bernt Fabricius Bjerre's "Norwegian Sunset" turns out to be a highlight. Nothing revolutionary but a fine exhibition of quality workmanship.

Frode Kjekstad
In Essence
Losen Records
2019

"In Essence" opens the album of the same name to a whirlwind of cunning guitar lines. The guitar's tone is dry, the attack sharp and Frode Kjekstad's pick cuts through the harmonies like a scissor through paper. Even though the Norwegian guitar wizard has been in the business for several decades, this outing represents his first in the traditional guitar trio formation. The packaging of the CD reveals that the guitarist has been wanting to record a trio set for a long time and this album sounds accordingly: bursting with energy and a multitude of ideas, his swinging drive finds confirmation in the rhythm section and is temporarily elevated to a state of ecstasy. The original compositions are equipped with the same amount of depth as sass and give all three musicians the ideal foundation for tasteful interpretation and soloing. Pat Martino or Jimmy Bruno are only some of the names that come to mind when Kjekstad takes off for flight and refuses to descend until the show is over. A marvelous recording of traditional jazz guitar with an individual spin to it.

Tracks and Personnel

Voi River

Tracks: Vi ser; Here Comes The Sun; The Year Of The Lemmings (That Ruined Everything); Halver; Do The Math; Tinkle; Håja With A Tablecloth; Langt igjen.

Personnel: Herbert Rundberg: keyboards, bells, voice; Kristian Olstad: guitar; Dag Okstad: bass; Sverre Gjørvad: drums, xylophone, voice.

1+1=3

Tracks: Isotope; lament; Naima; Interplay; Things Ain't What They Used To Be; All Blues; When All Is Said And Done.

Personnel: Geir Age Johnsen: drums; Fredrik Sahlander: bass; Bernt Moen: piano.

Old Times, Beautiful Boy

Tracks: Opening; Window Song; Building Towers; Inside A Head; Perspectives; A Long Story; Old Times, Beautiful Boy; Thoughts; Final Soldier.

Personnel: Mathias Marstrander: guitar; Arne Toivo Fjose Sandberg: bass; Sigurd Steinkopf: drums.

Harvest Time

Tracks: Fresh Start; Doxy For Lasse; Earlybird Special; The Comeback Kid; If You Remember; Ingelin; Norganic Remix; Readers Ballade / Norwegian Sunset; Cruise Control.

Personnel: Tor Welo: piano, organ; Ola Welo: saxophone; Lars Tormod Jenset: bass; Martin Wister: drums.

In Essence

Tracks: In Essence; The Dark Hour; Hot Gloves; Leaving; The Golden Apple; A Walk In The Peacock Park; Blues For J.D.; Rude Waltz.

Personnel: Frode Kjekstad: guitar; Frode Berg: bass; Magnus Stefaniassen Eide: drums.

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