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Rondane is the kind of debut that sounds almost too accomplished and self-assured to be a debut. Its theme certainly doesn't hurt: the album is named after a Norwegian national park, and the picturesque quality can't help but enhance such an endeavor in anyone's hands. Credit where credit's due, thoughthis young trio sounds sharp and versatile enough to spin beautiful ear candy out of anything they tackle.
Audun Barsten Johnsen is... well, for starters, the kind of bandleader who'd lead a combo under his first rather than last name. The informality definitely suits the group's warm chemistry and his cordial writing style; the self-penned compositions often give the impression of good friends sharing some fascinating vacation photos. "Present Joy" evokes a summer-day drift down a stream with happy wordless chanting, while the oddly-named "Ragtime" unexpectedly turns out to be slow easygoing Americana full of charm. The title track takes its time rolling and swaying as if they're following the vast verdant shape of the titular landscape itself.
The other extended piece "Dei Fem Disiplane" ("The Five Disciplines") is just as impressive in weaving the leader's melodies together with roiling abstract impressions in the same tapestry. However they go around the figurative map, though, the band's camaraderie stays inviting and the tone stays happy. Here's hoping there are many further such travels still to come.
Track Listing: Present Joy; Do Smalltalk with Me, Please; Nattkjøring; Gondola in Sunrise; Rondane; Ragtime; Dei Fem Disiplane; Sundaze.