A large gap separating a band's CDs usually signals a change in direction. Danish/Dutch combo Traeben's debut, Nordic Project
(D.A.P Records, 2008), presented jazz reworkings of Danish and Swedish folk songs, following the lead of Swedish jazz musicians including trumpeter Bengt-Arne Wallin
and pianist Jan Johansson
in the 1960s, and Norwegian pianist Dag Arnesen
in the 2000s, who were all similarly inspired. Traeben's interpretations were lyrical, gently voiced blues, reminiscent of saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre
's late 1950s trios featuring guitarist Jim Hall
differs primarily in that the quartet delivers all originals, and drummer Haye Jellemareplacing Thorsten Grauinjects greater rhythmic breadth. There are signs too, of more risqué musical pastures beckoning, though the aesthetic remains essentially unaltered from its debut recording.
Guitarist Jens Larsen
the arranger on Nordic Project
composed all but one tune, and they stem from guitar and Soren Ballegaard's tenor announcing the heads in unison, before peeling away in turn to solo at length. The vibrant opener, "Top Dog," sees Larsen and Ballegaard stretching out over an animated rhythm. Jellema's energetic solo, building gradually over a repeating guitar/saxophone motif that rises in intensity, provides a dramatic finale. The balladic "Try to Remember" starts from a similar blueprint, though utilizes more space. The song takes wings from a ruminative, solo guitar passage, into whose gravity Olaf Meijer's bass and Jellema's brushes are pulled. Tenor also briefly explores unaccompanied territory, and this uncluttered approach is refreshing.
The quietly grooving "God Makes Backups" is as good a calling card as any; the front-line combines chops with lyricism while the rhythm section buoys the quartet and explores its own spaces. The brushes-caressed ballad "Can You?" features a particularly tender bass solo. Larsen treads softly before ceding to Ballegaard's equally lyrical voice. The chemistry between guitarist and saxophonist is keenly felttheir collaboration dates back fifteen yearsand they adopt an unhurried approach to improvisation where development of the melody is key.
The aptly titled "Simple Things" revolves around a basic, almost baroque-blues bass line, and features delicate lead and counterpoint voices. It's a beautiful tune, and highlights Traeben's intuitive interplay. "All it Needs" is another softly voiced number; the head stated, guitar emerges from a washing cymbal and stretches out before bass takes over, returning the quartet to the melodic head. "Catatraffic" features Ballegaard's most animated playing, while Larsen's more restrained improvisation is also notable.
The format, however, becomes slightly predictable. Despite appealing melodies and excellent playing there's little that's truly memorable. The exception is the rock-informed "We'll Let You Know"; its heavy beat, melodic heart and plunging power chordsinterspersed between ruminative passagespoint to potentially fertile ground for the quartet to explore. "We'll Let You Know" might have been better placed closing the album, as the lovely "Simple Things," Ballegaard's grooving "Nothing or Nothing at All" and "Mi Hijo" sound rather conventional following in its mold-breaking wakethough Jellema's bristling solo on the latter provides an album highlight.
Traeben's tasteful, elegant tunes undoubtedly appeal to the ear, but it's going to take another round before it hits the gut. Still, a band brimming with potential, and one to keep a weather eye on.
Top Dog; Try to Remember; God Makes Backups; Can You?; Catatraffic; All It Needs; We’ll Let You Know; Simple Things; Nothing Or Nothing At All; Mi Hijo.
Jens Larsen: guitar; Søren Ballegaard: tenor saxophone; Olaf Meijer: bass; Haye Jellema: drums.