The use of sacred spaces has long been a feature of jazz recordings. Stan Getz
and Charlie Byrd
made their classic Jazz Samba
(Verve, 1962) album at All Souls Church, Washington DC, whilst a converted Greek Orthodox site played home to Miles Davis
' Kind Of Blue
(Columbia, 1959). Among similar stories, the Norwegian act Moskus
recorded at Risør Church, a cruciform wooden hall built in 1647. Now comes another Nordic band, who created their eponymous debut in the Maridalen church, a former mission house near Oslo.
Maridalen is a sax, trumpet and double bass outfit with a liking for Swedish jazz and French Impressionism. A noble threesome, they make good things happen slowly with a style that nods to finely sculpted film scores, high on atmosphere and low on theatrics. Given the recording location, it feels safe to consider Maridalen
as perhaps a spiritual suite too, shaped by serenity. But this is a daily service that swoons more than it swings, a tranquil refuge filled with the light of music.
An obvious point to mull over is the highly reverberant nature of any church or cathedral, especially when empty of worshippers. Too cavernous a venue might give a hollow or scattered sound with echoes careening uncontrollably. However this project draws on a natural reverb that enhances each performance with real life acoustics. So much do we hear the tap of fingers on brass, or creaking hinges, that the church's musty aromas almost filter through. The careful listener can pick up reflections here from all aspects of the chosen environment.
Opening cut "Koral" has a field recording of rushing water and twittering birds, before the air goes heavy with resonant boomy sax and trumpet notes. "Maridalen" then features a richly sustained bass under brass lines that wheeze beautifully like old organ pipes. "Blir det regn I dag tru" is another deeply spacious piece, where playful stop-start phrasing leaves the players open to all manner of sublime expression.
A united brass melody on "Inga" plays over the tick-tock bass motif, with a similar clockwork march prevalent on "Urverket." The rusty scrapings and bowings of "Svartoren" give way to an eerie quietude, whilst urgent piano trills on "Midt pa netten et sted" are answered by minimalist and majestic calm from the brass.
The aforementioned "Urverket" closes the album, as slow staccato keys and throbby bass enfold the brass into a hazy dreamy fadeout. Maybe this aims to bring us out of our reverie and back to reality, newly refreshed. Maridalen's soundtracks might seem solitary and meditative, but this band is very attuned to our worldly condition.
Koral; Maridalen; Blir det regn I dag tru; Inga; Svartoren; Midt pa netten et sted; Russisk landsbymelodi;
Vals fra Bjolsen; Pa gjensyn; Urverket.