When a band is described as a "powerhouse indie-jazz ensemble" it's a surprise when the first tune on its debut release is a gentle and rather moving solo performance by the band's vocalist and double bassist. "Prelude," the tune in question, demonstrates the more reflective side of Pixel, a Norwegian quartet whose approach certainly includes powerhouse indie-jazz, but goes far wider than that. Pixel's driving force is the aforementioned vocalist, bassist and songwriter Ellen Andrea Wang, a graduate of the Norwegian Academy Of Music. Wang and her fellow band members were all in their mid-20s when they recorded Reminder
in May, 2011, their youthful exuberance tempered by technical ability and a keen awareness of their musical antecedents.
Pixel takes Gerry Mulligan
and Ornette Coleman
's iconic quartets of as its points of reference from a jazz perspective, luxuriating in the freedom to be had from the absence of a chordal instrument. "Waltz 1" is the most obvious link to these ensembles, a slow, relaxed, duet between Harald Lassen's warm-toned tenor sax and Wang's sparse double bass. "Hvor Ble Den Av?" is equally spacious and considered, but with a coolness closer to fellow Scandinavians such as trumpeter Verneri Pohjola than to Mulligan's West Coast cool. Trumpeter Jonas Kilmork Vemøy is the standout player on this tune; like Pohjola, he is able to conjure up a sweeping, cinematic landscape from just a few notes. Half way through the tune Wang enters with a wordless vocal that matches her strong, tough, bass line for much of the time, then shifts to a softer more romantic tone which mirrors Vemøy's sound.
On "Home," the band retains a primarily jazz influence but with a more contemporary feelthere's something of the approach of label mates Led Bib
in the tune, with Wang's loping riff sounding akin to the British quartet's bassist, Liran Donin
. The band also takes inspiration from pop and rock, with catchy, immediate, melodies, strong lyrical narrative, and economy (only "Hvor Ble Den Av?" lasts longer than 5 minutes). If the beauty in Pixel's work comes from its jazz influences, then the energy and fun comes from its rock and pop sensibilities.
The high point of Reminder
, in terms of energy and groove, is "Call Me." While it shares the same overt request as Blondie's pop classic, this song finds the singer in a much more belligerent moodnot so much a "please call me" as a "call me or else." Wang and drummer Jon Audun Baar also show themselves to be a fearsome rhythm section.
Contrasting her tough and fierce delivery on "Call Me," Wang exhibits a much gentler vocal sound on "Wake Up"her innocent yet romantic voice in the style of Sweden's Stina Nordenstamwhile the combination of Wang's multi-tracked vocal and Lassen's soprano saxophone is edgier on the slinky, discomforting "I Hang."Reminder
is an impressive first outing. Pixel bring a unique creative mix to the scene: difficult music to categorize, easy music to enjoy.
Track Listing: Prelude; Home; Esset; Call Me; She Knows; Wake Up; Waltz 1; Hvor Ble Den Av?; I Hang; An Apple In The Country Hill.
Personnel: Ellen Andrea Wang: vocals, double bass; Harald Lassen: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, background vocal; Jonas Kilmork Vemøy: trumpet, background vocal; Jon Audun Baar: drums, percussion, background vocal.
| Year Released: 2012
| Record Label: Cuneiform Records