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Arne Torvik: Northwestern Songs

Friedrich Kunzmann BY

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Arne Torvik: Northwestern Songs
A vibrant modern jazz hub, Norway is famous for having introduced the likes of Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Jon Christensen and Arild Andersen to the international jazz landscape—all of whom had brought something fundamentally new to the jazz tradition in the '70s. As chance would have it, each of the mentioned heavyweights were also mainly at home with the Munich-based ECM label, whose head and main director Manfred Eicher knew then and continues to know today how to best sonically present the artists' respective musical visions and in what environment to show them off. Eicher's guiding hand has also been in charge of some of the finest piano trios the past decades have seen, above all Keith Jarrett's standard trio, but also everything from the Bobo Stenson-and Tord Gustavsen-led trios to more avant-gardist groups led by Marilyn Crispell, Craig Taborn or Vijay Iyer. If there's one trio on ECM, however, of which the Norwegian project that is this review's object sounds most reminiscent, it would have to be Marcin Wasilewski's. It's the Polish pianist's emotionally charged melodic approach and nuanced interplay within a mainstream scope that are reflected and expanded upon by Arne Torvik and his mates Bjørnar Kaldefoss Tveite and Øystein Aarnes Vik's elaborations on Northwestern Songs.

Following in the footsteps of its quintet sister-album Northwestern Sounds (self-produced, 2016), Torvik's first trio date with these sidemen proves a stringent affair based around the subtleties of patient instrumental interaction and harmonic minimalism rather than big melodies and complex structures. R 'n' b-infused opener "Compromises" compactly presents this notion. A three-chord downward movement makes up the totality of composed material for the verses with a gentle arpeggiated piano-motif in the same key acting as its counterpart chorus.

But reducing the music on Northwester Songs down to its formulas, the song's structures or tonal textures would go against everything that actually constitutes the trio's successful recipe, which is actually based around the collective manner with which the three are able to create tension within open structures. For this purpose, Torvik tends to step back into a supporting role and lets his rhythm section colorfully paint-in the gentle canvases that are as atmospheric as they are picturesque.

Like the meditative stages reached when practicing rites, Torvik's compositions evoke a natural state of sound that is reluctant to give in to the intellectualization of changes but chooses to follow its intuition instead. As a result, the three instruments are in complete sync and feed off of each other's impulses like a Newton's cradle—each momentum answered by an equally inspired gesture to a symmetrical effect. "Psalm" incorporates this metaphor in the most literal sense, whereas the group-improvisation "John" disguises wholesome meditation in elegant swing. It all builds up to a constant flow that softly accompanies the record like the mellow crackling of twigs in a warm fire.

Though the pianist doesn't take up the spotlight in a virtuoso fashion, his gentle pianoscapes form the soothing allure that surrounds each bar and every note throughout the session. Elegantly developing an in-the-moment created motif during his solo on "First Song" or giving sparse chord spreads patient sustain to an inspired rhythm section on "Apent Rom," Torvik is capable of beautifully haunting his own compositions at every turn. An especially memorable sequence of progressively repetitious few-note improvisation during the climaxing measures of "Apent Rom" shows the extent of his knowledge and humility, while his sidemen's sophistication is reflected in restraint.

Lush harmonies and relaxed pace accompany a melodically rich bass solo on "First Song"—an elegant pop-hook-based ballad with a circle progression built in, implying modulation as the melody is turned and tossed to the chord changes. Sharing equal measures of pop, blues, r 'n' b, jazz and everything in between, the DNA of Torvik's respective songs is surely versatile, but accumulated they create a smoothly flowing album, demonstrating the framing kind of concept that again shows much resemblance to aspects found with ECM—and the same could be said in regard to the meticulous sonic qualities of the transparent production.

At just under 40 minutes long and bookended by the two shortest and arguably most minimalist expositions of the album, Northwestern Songs is a short delight that flies by like a breeze but leaves behind lasting impressions that continue to echo-on like the remaining warmth from a tight embrace. It's the kind of music that's capable of thawing the coolest spirits and can turn even the coldest weeks of march into spring.

Track Listing

Compromises; Psalm; First Song; Åpent Rom; Home; Iver; Johan.

Personnel

Arne Torvik: piano; Bjørnar Kaldefoss Tveite: bass, acoustic; Øystein Aarnes Vik: drums.

Album information

Title: Northwestern Songs | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Losen Records

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