Formed in 1998, Norwegian sextet Motif
celebrates its sixth release with My Head Is Listening
and its second on Clean Feed following Art Transplant
(2011). Bassist Ole Morten Vågan
, who co-founded the outfit with reedman Atle Nymo
, is once again responsible for all seven compositions. As well as Motif, he boasts some heavyweight credits with Joshua Redman
, Chick Corea
and Kris Davis
, and testament to his organizational skills, has also been appointed Artistic Director of the renowned Trondheim Jazz Orchestra until 2019. Vågan possesses a restless imagination, and nothing stays quite as it seems in his inventive post-bop constructs, which typically spool through a variety of moods, peppered by adventurous outpourings.
In an accomplished cast pianist Håvard Wiik
, best known for his similar role in Scandinavian supergroup Atomic
, stands out both for his exploratory expositions and raw-boned comping. On tenor and bass clarinet, Nymo contributes distinctive textures, mixing straight-ahead and strangled sonorities in singular flow, while on trumpet Eivind Lønning
evokes Freddie Hubbard
with his fast rapid-fire flourishes, but tempers that impression with liquid phrases and growls. Clarinetist Michael Thieke
constitutes a new addition, thickening the dense ensembles and alternately pastel-shaded and astringent in the spotlight.
Vågan himself remains largely out of the limelight, but meshes well with drummer Håkon Mjaset Johansen
to set up the flexibility needed for moving from the charts into free improv sounding exchanges. That's certainly an asset for the title track as it lurches in and out of focus, with first of all a series of fanfares separated by looser ad lib type exclamations, then a disorientating switch to a ballad feel, supplanted by a roiling rhythm churn, and then a sparse section for bucolic clarinet and isolated keystrokes, not to mention making space for a juddering tenor saxophone statement from Nymo.
Elsewhere Vågan calls on a Braxtonian wit in the writing and execution of "Beams, Dreams and Automobiles," in which darting interlocking lines congeal into a unison which goes out of sync to launch squealing clarinet. There's more asymmetrical contours on "Ballroom Glitch" which showcases Wiik, who sounds initially conventional, until his rapidly uncoiling runs spill over the notional bar divides like a madcap player piano.
"The Guns Of Amarone, Episodes 1 & 2" plays more to the tradition, with hot jazz excitement spiced by drum fills and horn trills, but still allowing Johansen to solo twice, as well as more controlled overblowing from Nymo and some vocalized trumpet gusts from Lønning, before finally returning to big band tropes vaguely reminiscent of the "Batman Theme." Like all the music here, the detail proves tremendous, but somehow it just doesn't quite gel into an engaging overall statement.