emerged from the friendship between Finnish trombonist Antti Rissanen and American bassist Ted Trimble. It was recorded in 2002, during a trip Trimble and drummer Gene Calderazzo made to Finland. With veteran Finnish pianist Jarmo Savolainen, they recorded the album’s eleven original compositions in single takes. The pieces, therefore, emit a bubbling freshness and relaxed pleasure, musicians playing for their own enjoyment, hoping it rubs off on the listener.
The album showcases the compositions, most of which come from Trimble and Rissanen, which makes the solos economic studies in harmonic exploration. Most are swinging, up-tempo, modernist takes on bebop, with knotty chord sequences, crafty head melodies, rapid group dialogues, and even some wry humor. Calderazzo and Savolainen play a supporting role here, but it is an active one. Savolainen feeds in bright, complex chords and adorns Rissanen’s elegantly patient solos with rich counter melodies. Calderazzo never wavers in his rhythmic pulse, showing a feathery, yet propulsive touch on the ride and swift snare fills.
Trimble and Rissanen both possess a masterful technique. Trimble’s ”Bass Melody” slithers on a simmering sway from Calderazzo, as Trimble first puts down a thick groove, then unleashes a barrage of melodic phrases, and finally makes a unison melody statement on arco with Rissanen. From there Rissanen gradually builds a solo that plaintive solo that weaves in and out of the shifting rhythm, his articulation sharp and clear.
The two also display versatile composing styles. Rissanen’s “Eaglets Lament” is a slow-burn ballad with a mournful theme, whereas “Wondering” swings brightly, with some clever stop time arrangements in the head. His “Spaced” reaches for more abstract territory. Trimble also tries his hand at exuberant and introspective styles. “Unity” is vintage late-'50s hard bop, while “Troll Bridge” broods darkly, giving Savolainen space to stretch out delicate pearls of notes behind Rissanen’s growls and smudges.
Each quartet member is also an educator, and Rissanen has done extensive research on trombone technique. This might be why the music feels scholarly and intellectual at times, and lacking in earthy punch. Rissanen’s ”Changes to Come,” with its jaunty melody and his athletic solo comes across as generic bebop, albeit with moments of comping flare from Savolainen. In contrast, Savolainen’s ”Mood Swings” rides Trimble’s funky bass vamp, and the melody sounds like an update of Eddie Harris’ ”Freedom Jazz Dance.”
Nordic Project is like a loving valentine from the quartet to the music. They revel in the space a quartet provides, yet show an abiding respect for, and a mastery of, some of jazz’s traditional elements: robust chord progressions, simple melodies, tight solos and swinging, elastic pulses. There may not be many surprises on the record, but its quality is undeniable.
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