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Eyes of a Blue Dog: Rise

John Kelman By

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As disproportionate as the amount of fine music being made in Norway is to its relatively small population of five million, so, too, is its surprisingly large cadre of outstanding drummers. A quick scan through the list of drummers who have made some kind of name for themselves, both at home and abroad, include—amongst many, many others—Audun Kleive (Terje Rypdal, Nils Petter Molvaer), Per Oddvar Johansen (The Source, Christian Wallumrod Ensemble), Erland Dahlen (Molvær, Eivind Aarset Sonic Codex Orchestra), Torstein Lofthus (Elephant9, Mathias Eick) and, of course, the drummer who started it all, Jon Christensen (Jan Garbarek, Bobo Stenson, Keith Jarrett), helping put Norway on the map in the early '70s with a series of ECM recordings. Add to that list Terje Evensen, who has, relatively quietly, emerged on the scene after studies with Martin France—ultimately contributing additional drums, electronics and programming to the British drummer's two very fine Spin Marvel records, Spin Marvel (Babel, 2007) and The Reluctantly Politicised Mr James (Edition, 2010).

The odd but compellingly titled Eyes of a Blue Dog—drawn from a short story by Latin American author Gabriel Garcia Marquez—and its debut, Rise, are already garnering international attention through its release on the UK's intrepid Babel Label. Essentially an instrumental duo, with Elisabeth Nygaard (Colin Riley's MooV) augmenting Evensen and British trumpeter/guitarist Rory Simmons (leader of the 10-piece LOOP collective third stream ensemble, Fringe Magnetic) contributing vocals to five of Rise's nine tracks (though the UK-based Swedish singer shares compositional co-credit for the entire set), rather than monolithically predicated on a single foundational premise, Rise stems from a multitude of touchstones, without losing either its focus or voice.

No surprise, given Evensen's broad purview, having toured with everyone from British saxophonist Julian Arguelles to Peruvian guitarist Andrés Prado, participating in live remixes at the annual Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, Norway and releasing a superb album of solo percussion and electronics, Still You. You Still Here. (fonorum, 2010). Moody ambient soundscapes, modernistic song forms and aggressive electro-stances are definitive throughout Rise, but Evensen not only demonstrates a strong sense of rhythm and color on more electrified songs like "Reject the Rhapsody" and the thundering pulse of "Falling," but similar deftness in the somewhat more acoustic context of "Marble Faces." Beginning with Simmons' looped guitar and layered trumpet, the tune gradually becomes an open-ended but clearly concentrated and connected improvisational foray between Evensen, Simmons and, on this track alone, Chris Hill—British singer Jamie Cullum's bassist since 2009—turning Rise's longest track into an instrumental highlight of the set.

With an appealing, burnished tone all his own, like Evensen, Simmons is equally adept across contexts, as informed by Nils Petter Molvær's electrified lyricism ("Mai") as he is more abstruse melodism ("Little Pieces of Everything"). Nygård combines a gossamer delicacy with more emphatic strength, her phrase-ending vibrato rendering the singer instantly recognizable.

A crossover record as comfortably categorized in contemporary experimental rock as ambient improvisational jazz territory, Rise is an impressive debut from a group that may just be getting started, but clearly has a very promising future on the road ahead.

Track Listing: Mai; Rise; Marble Faces; Reject the Rhapsody; Nothing Dies With You; Little Piece of Everywhere; Deliverance; Knee; Falling.

Personnel: Rory Simmons: trumpet, guitar, electronics; Terje Evensen: drums, electronics; Elisabeth Nygård: vocals (2, 4, 5, 7, 9); Chris Hill: bass (3).

Title: Rise | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Babel Label

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