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Mai Jazz 2014

John Kelman By

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Culling music from recent recordings, In the Country's chemistry has become so profound that its performances have grown into events that, as illustrated at the 2012 Umeå Jazz Festival, are equal parts nuanced elegance and sinewy power. Hausken, in particular, has evolved into a player capable of simultaneously creating pulses of strength and subtlety while expanding his own sound world with a variety of different sticks, hand percussion—some played with his feet—and electronics. Arntzen, too, through his association with groups like Chrome Hill and Ballrog—whose Cabin Music (Hubro, 2012) represented an important step forward for the saxophone/double bass duo, now expanded to a trio with the addition of Huntsville guitarist Ivar Grydeland—has brought lessons learned from those projects back to In the Country, though he remains one of the country's most understated and unapologetically spare bassists, whose every choice seems nothing short of perfect.

Grytten utilized repetition to great effect, a technique that worked particularly well in its interaction with the trio. While some of In the Country's best moments were invariably the egalitarian ones, Qvenild nevertheless contributed some particularly fine solos, his hyper piano introducing everything from distortion to ring modulation while not neglecting the beauty of an unadorned piano, in particular during a mid-set solo redolent of gospel hints. There were even slight nods to rock and roll towards the end of the set, as the trio traveled to a place of greater power, leading to a set-closer where Qvenild, Arntzen and Hausken harmonized beautifully with wordless vocals—but not without the audience demanding an encore that turned out to be a ballad so slow as to be almost timeless, with pregnant pauses, long held notes and swelling bass lines. It was a lovely ending to a set that suggests this first-time collaboration with Grytten certainly deserves to be repeated.

While Spor 5 was packed for In the Country/Frode Grytten, it was unfortunately not so for NOCZ's 10PM set. NOCZ—its name based on the participation of musicians from both Norway and the Czech Republic—was a chord-less quartet that featured saxophonist Radim Hanousek, bassist Marian Friedl and drummer Václav Pálka (all Czechs) and the lone Norwegian, trumpeter Didrik Ingvaldsen, none of them particularly well-known but, based on their performance, all worthy of attention.

NOCZ's set began with the group entering the stage one-by-one: first, Hanousek on soprano, combining oblique lines with dissonant multiphonics, followed by Friedl and then Pálka, gradually bringing a pulse into the picture, and finally Ingvaldsen, whose playing was somewhat reminiscent of Dave Douglas in his approach to lyrical freedom and, in particular, when the entire group coalesced for a single-note theme that signaled the end of the opening piece.

A more distinct groove defined the second composition—all of the set's pieces seemed more like spare sketches rather than full-fledged composition, creating contexts for improvisation not unlike Ornette Coleman's early '60s Atlantic recordings. But if the writing was sparse, the performances more than made up for it; Hanousek a fountain of ideas and Ingvaldsen a virtuosic player who moved comfortably (and seemingly effortlessly) from low register growls to stratospheric screams. The third piece was another free bop excursion, where Ingvaldsen built his solos around repetitive motifs from which he briefly broke away, only to return to a slightly altered version of the same phrase.

NOCZ successfully married a more European approach to improvisation that began in the '60s and groups like Spontaneous Music Ensemble with an allegiance to the American tradition of collective spontaneity that began with Coleman and continued through Coltrane and others. But while its roots were clearly in acoustic music, NOCZ nodded to more contemporary concerns with Ingvaldsen's spare but significant use of electronics, sometimes using a harmonizer to create vertical harmonies that, bolstered with a wah wah pedal, created a chordal underpinning for Hanousek, who demonstrated a similarly broad range. Muscular solos from both Friedl and Pálka rounded out a quartet that may have only drawn about 15-20 people to Spor 5, but which will hopefully pick up steam through word of mouth for future performances.

Friday, May 9: E.S.T. Symphony / Jøkleba / Pixel

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