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Tore Brunborg: Lucid Grey

John Kelman By

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Amongst the many surprises of the 2008 JazzNorway in a Nutshell trip was a performance—on a boat trip through the Bokna Fjord and Lysefjorden—by saxophonist Tore Brunborg and his trio, featuring bassist Ole Morten Vagan and drummer Erik Nyander. It was a brief but engaging performance, made all the more compelling with the knowledge that the trio was planning to head into the studio to record. Lucid Grey is the result, and it's a strong representation of what was heard on that boat, but with some notable differences as well.

While the performance on the CD matches, at times, the kind of energy heard live, the ability to better hear each other (especially since they were playing over the boat's engine) in the studio makes the interplay more profound, and provides the trio greater ability to explore the nooks and crannies of every note. With so many saxophonists coming out of the Jan Garbarek mould (not that there's anything wrong with that), Brunborg's tone has always been warmer and less sharp, though he pays the same careful attention to the timbre of each note, aiming for quality over quantity even as, on occasion, he proves he has chops to burn. Melody is paramount here, whether it's on the lyrical ballad, "Lucent," the bluesy swing of "Vossa, the Latin-esque title track or more simmering "Apal.."

Vagan is emerging as one of Norway's busiest and most diverse bassists, working with everyone from pianists Maria Kaanegaard and Havard Wiik to Motif, Maryland and Bugge Wesseltoft's New Conception of Jazz. Here he's more exposed, working in tandem with Brunborg to act as contrapuntal partner and builder of vertical harmonies, along with a more traditional role as rhythmic anchor. Along with the slightly more subdued nature of the recording, Vagan is equally more restrained, leaving greater space, at times allowing his robust bass to resonate and fully decay.

Nyland is the relative newcomer, although he's been rising quickly on the Norwegian scene. Here he's a singular colorist, dark cymbals creating a sonic wash behind the sparer sounds of the bass and sax. He's also a strong listener, along with his trio-mates; his in-tandem duo with Vagan on "Exposed" is one of the disc's clear highlights.

The material is all written by Brunborg with the exception of Vagan's "PB," a moody tone poem that begins with dissonant arco harmonies from Vagan, showing a remarkable technical ability to retain a harmonic on one string while playing a non-harmonic on the adjacent string. When Brunborg and Nylander enter, it becomes a rubato exploration, introspective and dark-hued, with Brunborg's spare choice of notes still creating an unexpected juxtaposed energy.

While Brunborg will be known to ECM fans for his work with pianists Misha Alperin and Jon Balke, as well as bassist Arild Andersen, his own work, released on smaller Norwegian labels, is lesser-known and harder to find. Still, he's an artist worth exploring, with Lucid Grey another fine entry in his small but substantial discography as a leader.

Track Listing: Ablehnung; Apal; PB; Lucent; Markens; Lucid Grey; Exposed; Vossa; Fidel; Poem.

Personnel: Tore Brunborg: saxophones; Ole Morten Vagan: bass; Erik Nylander: drums.

Title: Lucid Grey | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: DRAVLE Records

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