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Plunge: Plunge with Bobo Stenson

Budd Kopman By

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The members of the young Swedish group Plunge scored a real coup when they got a musician of Bobo Stenson's stature to play on their second album. The collaboration began in the fall of 2002 when Plunge invited Stenson to join the band for a few concerts in Sweden, which were very successful and marked the beginning of an ongoing relationship. Since that first tour as a quartet, they have done several tours of Sweden together; one of the concerts was also broadcasted by Swedish Radio. Plunge and Stenson are planning a few concerts together in March 2006.

On this excellent release, Plunge's exploration of free improvisation continues in the vein of the group's first eponymous release, but here three compositions are credited to various band members: "Castor," "Ethos Gives Posture," and Stenson's "12 Tones Old," first recorded on his 1996 ECM release Reflections. Ten others were "composed" by the band (including Stenson), and one ("Three Characters") by the original trio.

The pieces composed by individual musicians definitely have a different feel than the freely improvised tracks. "Castor," by bassist Matthias Hjorth, ends up sounding quite romantic, featuring a melody—played with a soft, round tone by saxophonist Andreas Andersson—whose structure becomes clear by the recap. The last track, "Ethos Gives Posture," by Andersson himself, features the same kind of sound from his horn and traverses the same emotional territory, but uses only Stenson in support. The melody has a clear structure, as does the whole piece. Stenson's own "12 Tones Old" is given an interesting reading as the piano and bass play the line in unison while Andersson twists and turns against it, until Stenson takes over and plays over a long pedal while the drums create a cymbal wash.

Stenson adds much to the trio, not least because he plays a chordal instrument—but also, of course, due to his experience. If Stenson's latest music makes one think of him as a romantic filtered through a chilled intellect, "Lingua Franca" dashes such labels. This a pure, hot track, with a clear, driving rhythm defined by Peter Nilsson's slashing cymbals. It sounds a bit like the Vertigo Quintet; Stenson lays out for quite a while, finally beginning to angularly comp chordal clusters under Andersson, gradually extending a line that competes with the saxophone. As Andersson drops out, Stenson eventually comes to fore, playing with an intensity and a seeming musical smile.

The other tracks are more intellectual. The rhythm generated by both the drums and bass is free, while Stenson and Andersson play, sometimes independently and at others times in a give and take fashion. Stenson flows effortlessly between chordal and semi-contrapuntal linear accompaniment and a solo line. When solos do happen they are relatively unstructured but always coherent, with a distinct urgency.

This urgency is what is ultimately satisfying. The ever-present forward movement and direction end up inviting the listener, along with a hint of tonality that hovers over the proceedings. Based on this highly recommended release, we can look forward to Plunge's continued recordings, with or without Bobo Stenson.

Track Listing: Lingua Franca; Wrestler; Back and Forth; Prolog; 12 Tones Old; Three Characters; Humble Rumble; Levitation; Castor; Gears; A Moment of Clarity; Dense Image; Visit by Onkel Time; Ethos Gives Posture.

Personnel: Andreas Andersson: saxophones; Bobo Stenson: piano; Matthias Hjorth: bass; Peter Nilsson: drums.

Title: Plunge with Bobo Stenson | Year Released: 2005

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