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Jacob Young: Sideways

John Kelman By

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Born of an American father and Norwegian mother, Jacob Young's 2004 ECM debut, Evening Falls, may have introduced him to a more global audience, but he'd already been active on the Norwegian scene for a decade, releasing three albums for smaller independent labels. Still, with a strong quintet that is now back for Sideways, the guitarist seemed to make a quantum leap, with a clearer and more mature musical vision.

Young's compositional economy and spare playing have become even more focused, as has his group's unique chemistry. The guitarist's style has always been conceptually informed by artists including Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, Kenny Werner and Richie Beirach but, while his soft-spoken approach remains reflective of Hall and Abercrombie in particular, he's slowly evolving a personal sound that's equal parts gentle rhythm and temporal elasticity—the latter largely bolstered by longtime ECM drummer Jon Christensen's ability to suggest time while rarely actually playing it.

Unlike many of his Norwegian contemporaries who are undeniably conversant in the jazz tradition, but choose to play outside it, Young blends the unmistakable sound of his Scandinavian heritage with some of the harmonic markers rooted in that tradition. Equally, the sometimes folksy nature of Evening Fall can be heard on "Near South End," though Young's writing possesses has become richer, deeper. His acoustic guitar compares with Pat Metheny's Midwestern proclivities, but there's less polish and, instead, a more honest, immediate and spontaneous purity to the group's unequivocal chemistry.

Mats Eilertsen has been Young's bassist of choice for over a decade, beginning with Pieces of Time (Curling Legs, 1997), but Christensen, bass clarinetist/saxophonist Vidar Johansen and trumpeter Mathias Eick are more recent collaborators. The relatively young Eick, in particular, seems to be popping up with increasing frequency, his lyrical, Kenny Wheeler-inspired playing also heard on Iro Haarla's outstanding Northbound (ECM, 2006) and Manu Katché's groove-centric Playground (ECM, 2007). A technically adept player, Eick's defining quality is his strength of choice, whether it's supporting Young on the largely scripted ballad, "Hanna's Lament," or soloing in tandem with Johansen's tenor on the more outgoing "St. Ella."

The unorthodox combination of bass clarinet and trumpet gives Young's front line its unique color, but Johansen's tenor saxophone adds another texture to the group's palette. Possessing a hint of Jan Garbarek's asceticism, he solos with equal attention to tone, but with greater abandon—though the term reckless would be an overstatement.

The inherent lyricism of Young's writing makes Sideways as elegantly accessible as Evening Falls, but with even greater expansiveness. There's always an underlying structure that's often detailed but, with his quintet, Young has found a way to mesh the atmospheric with the grounded, the head with the heart.

Young's very strength is his ability to compel and evoke in the most understated fashion. The beautifully spacious Sideways finds him comfortably evolving, bringing together his personal biculturalism with a musical cosmopolitanism that transcends any single stylistic authority.

Track Listing: Sideways; Time Rebel; Slow Bo-Bo; Near South End; Out Of Night; Hanna's Lament; St. Ella; Maybe We Can; Wide Asleep; Gazing At Star.

Personnel: Jacob Young: acoustic and electric guitar; Mathias Eick: trumpet; Vidar Johansen: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Mats Eilertsen: bass; Jon Christensen: drums.

Title: Sideways | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ECM Records

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