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Six Picks: Recently in Jazz

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The Source
But swinging doesn't bend them down
Odin Records
2021

This new release by Norwegian jazz outfit The Source arrives 15 years after the quartet's self-titled ECM debut and makes up for lost time with angular swing, unconventional rubato and offbeat contemplation. The four protagonists—each a pillar of the contemporary Norwegian jazz landscape—have remained quite busy with other projects in the meantime: drummer Per Oddvar Johansen continues to expand his leader-date catalogue on Losen records with further restlessness documented on various sideman gigs. Mats Eilertsen has released leader dates on ECM and can be found adding the deep end to what feels like one in two Northern jazz albums out there, while Oyvind Braekke stays active leading a cutting-edge jazz sextet featuring Norwegian guitarist Jacob Young. Trygve Seim's saxophone playing, of course, is even more renowned and recorded today than it was in 2006. ...but swinging doesn't bend them down is an all-originals set, with writing credits divided among all four musicians. There's popping ("Rusletur"), hefty bass throb ("Mondays"), funky grooves ("Big Shuffle") and swing ("Momk") as well as pretty much anything in between. The quartet isn't in a hurry to get to a certain point on this release but rather performs a balancing act, packing free ruminations, intimate dialogues, bursting instrumentalism and patient balladry under one umbrella. "Rubato alla Grande" is a good indication of the singular conversations this tight ensemble is capable of leading, as the musicians appear to instinctively finish each other's sentences. Between the brooding romanticism of "Raag Löyly" and the pensively searching ensemble improvisation "Theme for Alvar Wirkola" there's a lot to discover on an album that finds horns artfully bending pitches against a creative percussive backdrop and woody bass textures. It's a different kind of swing, one that is uniquely northern and uniquely The Source.

Vazesh
The Sacred Key
Earshift Music
2021

"In Vazesh, we attempt to reduce music to the bare fundamentals, reconstructing it from the ground up, using vestiges of melody, rhythm and pitch from our various backgrounds, as a pathway to uninhibited musical exploration." Australian saxophonist and bass clarinetist Jeremy Rose is as gifted with words as he is at grasping musical form and vision with his raspy reed and hits the proverbial nail squarely on the head in his short description of this trio's music. Rose, who is the founder of Earshift Music—the label this album is released on—and co- leader of Australian quartet The Vampires, is joined here by bassist Lloyd Swanton (known as part of Sydney-based group The Necks) and Hamed Sadeghi on tar. Those who've never heard of the Persian string instrument should imagine something of a crossover between banjo and sitar, reverberating and vibrating overtones mingling with firm plucking attack. The Sacred key, the trio's debut record, was recorded live at the Sydney Opera House in 2020 and contains two long-form improvisations based around lose definitions of pitch, tonality, rhythm and pulse. Melody reigns as this programme unfolds, delicately balancing pattern-based string work with, in turns, textural and precisely melodic bass lines, with saxophone and clarinet sown in between the two. It's a natural gathering of forces that dynamically and authentically traverses a multitude of different idioms, cultures and colors by uniting at the lowest common denominator up to the greatest. Egberto Gismonti's ECM dates with Nana Vasconcelos come to mind as close relatives to this music. Not because of the influences they may or may not share, but because of how organically Rose, Sadeghi and Swanton form sounds and conversations together and how these spontaneously and emotionally take their course, shrink and grow, contract and expand, stop and go as each instrument is in search for one and the same thing. It's an exceptional accomplishment to make music sound this easy.

Lionel Loueke
Close Your Eyes
Sounderscore
2021

Admittedly, this album isn't strictly new—it was released on a limited Vinyl run with Newvelle Records two years ago. This is a CD/digital reissue, released with Sounderscore Records, containing three extra cuts that were left off the original LP: Thelonious Monk's "We See," John Coltrane's "Countdown" and Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark"—all excellent additions to an intriguing trio collaboration between three of a generation's heavy-weights. Lionel Loueke's guitar playing is as melodic as it is percussive, and his nimble feel for rhythm is met with euphoria by Eric Harland on drums in the opening Wayne Shorter tune "Footprints." Few of the very familiar standards featured in this set are played the way jazz connoisseurs are used to hearing them be played—Loueke and bassist Reuben Rogers's duo foray into Hammerstein II's evergreen "It Might As Well Be Spring" may come closest to what might be expected from such a format, but even here Loueke's rhythmic outside playing combined with his signature tone and slides up and down the neck give the performance a particular edge. "Countdown" is slowed down quite a bit from Coltrane's original and instead of drums, Loueke takes care of introductions. Harland deconstructs the beat as Loueke roughly drifts through the intricate head of the tune. Where there was character, the Beninese guitarist and his rhythm section add even more, turning "Blue Monk" into a tasty, almost ironic romp and giving Miles Davis' "Solar" a modernized stop-and-go swing treatment with a fierce Harland riding cymbals and snare like the devil was chasing him. While the trio's take on "Moon River" does too little to extract something other than the nostalgic implications already buried within the song's score, the title track and "Skylark"—the sole takes on the record that pass the seven-minute mark—see the three musicians push the envelope, finding the joy of interaction in keeping a steady pulse, trading lines and recycling a good portion of swing's book of tricks. This is Loueke's first album of standards, one that was overdue and proves more than rewarding.

Linda Fredriksson
Juniper
We Jazz Records
2021

More than just a jazz record—simply sorting this music into that category wouldn't do it justice, nor can one be sure that jazz is what it wants to be—Linda Fredriksson's Juniper should be understood as a journey of sonic discovery. An intense architectural design, composed of structures, textures, tones and angles (acoustically and electronically speaking), the album crosses through seven stages, songs bound together by an overreaching concept revolving around the saxophonist's monologues. The monologues are portrayed in passe-partouts: percussion and organ/synth-pipes envelope the sax on "Neon light," a sticky modulating moog line takes a constant accompanying role in the title track, increasingly noisy drums form a storm on "Nana—Tepalle" and a low-fi aesthetic takes center-stage on "Lampilauluni" and "Pinetree song"—here Fredriksson takes a break from soloing. In fact, the saxophone pulls back completely and lets the mood tell the story. Stories, because there's a songwriter quality to these pieces, placing substance over virtuosity, detail over a wealth of information and concentration over extensiveness. But all things considered, "Transit in the softest forest, walking, sad, no more sad, leaving" is still nothing other than a funky fusion romp that hits hard, clumsily interrupting an otherwise pensive track list with youthful force. "Clea" closes the album on an atmospheric and seemingly intimate note. Fredriksson's tone is soothing and soothes everything around it until it all fades.

Frederik Villmow Trio
Motion
Losen Records
2021

This drum-led piano trio out of Norway spreads gentle rubato progressions and well-calibrated swing across a set of originals and standards, with the drummer's own compositions proving as intuitive and catchy as anything from the real book. Frederik Villmow has a firm grip around his brushes, embedding pianist Vigleik Storaas' piano stride in a balanced mix of warm snare strokes and brilliant cymbals as Bjørn Marius Hegge's bass moves in an assertive walking motion— Motion being the name of the game here. Three of Villmow's own cuts are placed at the beginning of the proceedings, each quite different from the other. "Open landscape Two" is a rubato workout, much in the ECM tradition, which recalls another rare drummer-led piano trio with Peter Erskine, John Taylor and Palle Danielsson. Interaction between Villmow, Storaas and Hegge is tight and smooth halfway through the opening piece, as spontaneously wrought cadences trickle down from the piano and mingle with shivering cymbals. Storaas continues to mesmerize on the standard-esque "December Waltz," his repertoire of voicings and nimble runs across the keyboard suggesting he learned a thing or two from listening to Keith Jarrett. But there's something personal to his style, and equally elegant, too. The trio's take on "Blame it on my Youth," the album's first standard, is a seasoned, quite beautiful rendition, even if it is unlikely to change anyone's perception of the song (although Hegge's extended sextuplet-rich solo midway through should turn some heads). On Jimmy Van Heusen's "Like Someone In Love" the group takes a swinging mid-tempo turn and once again proves its impeccable musicianship as Storaas takes the lead and provides all the necessary magic to convince anyone that this is pretty much as sophisticated as it gets. And it's nice to be faced with a giving leader, one that understands the music, the environment and his fellow musicians, adding what many a trio tend to lack: subtlety. In his own humble way, Villmow is a surprising leader, and Motion an absolute success.

Philippe Mouratoglou
Ricercare
Vision Fugitive
2021

Not quite a fugue, nor a motet, the late Renaissance /early baroque Ricercare was an instrumental composition permeated with the characteristics of both mentioned genres, including a strong emphasis on the contrapuntal technique of voice leading and a unique resemblance toward the improvised. On his new trio record, French guitarist Philippe Mouratoglou has taken to interpret Francesco Canova da Milano's "Ricercare XXXVIII," lending the album its name. Often viewed as nothing other than a notated improvisation, Ricercares are multiple-themed sequences of harmonic action and motifs with very little repetition, if at all— demonstrating the kind of vast and open musical landscape contemporary improvised music boasts of. But that's pretty much where the reminiscence to the music on this album ends. Mouratoglou plays a steel-string acoustic guitar throughout, evoking the pastoral landscapes of folk music, as his sidemen, Bruno Chevillon on bass and Ramon Lopez on drums, create an appropriately rurally mannered backdrop. In the main, Mouratoglou plays in open D tuning, raising breezy open stringed voicings into smooth spheres of interaction with bass and drums, that closely follow his lead. The result is, in turns, either mesmerizing or monochrome. When the playing turns angular, as in "Bleu Sahara" or "Inventions Sur Curumim" (loosely based on "Curumim" by the Brazilian guitarist-singer-composer Djavan), the trio becomes one, driving steady pulse and rigorous exchanges into rare climaxes—rhythmically engaging throughout. In quieter exhibitions, like the rubato-waterfall "Les Mains De Pluie," the interlude "Capricornes" or deconstructed "Fleurs Obscures," Mouratoglou's reach within the open tuning succumbs to its limits, revealing a slightly barren notion. There are however many unique ideas included throughout this programme, and Mouratoglou's take on Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" will surely prove to be among the most unique approaches to the tune Stan Getz brought to fame.

Tracks and Personnel

But swinging doesn't bend them down

Tracks: Rusletur; Monday; One Step Further -Three Back; Limbo; Rubicon; Spring Psalm; Raab Lily; Rubati alla grande; Something's Motion; Big Shuffle; Responsorium; Mom; Theme for Alvar Wirkola; Dawn.

Personnel: Oyvind Braekke: trombone; Trygve Seim: saxophone; Mats Eilertsen: bass; Per Oddvar Johansen: drums.

Vazesh

Tracks: Hypolimnion; Thermocline.

Personnel: Jeremy Rose: saxophones, bass clarinet; Hamed Sadeghi: tar; Lloyd Swanton: bass.

Close Your Eyes

Tracks: Footprints; It Might As Well Be Spring; Countdown; Moon River; Solar; Blue Monk; Body And Soul; Close Your Eyes; Skylark; We See; Naima..

Personnel: Lionel Loueke: guitar; Eric Harland: drums; Reuben Rogers: bass.

Juniper

Tracks: Neon Light [and the sky was trans]; Juniper; nana -Tepalle; Pinetree song; Transit in the softest forest, walking, sad, no more sad, leaving.

Personnel: Linda Fredriksson: saxophone, bass clarinet, guitar, piano, voice, rhythmic8 synth; Tuomo Prättälä: Fender Rhodes, moog synthesizers, Juno 106, prophet 8, piano; Olavi Louhivuori: drums; Mikael Saastamoinen: bass & effects; Minna Koivisto: modular synthesizer, moog, op-1; Matti Bye: piano (3); Joonas Saikkonen: granulator (4).

Motion

Tracks: Open Landscape Two; December Waltz; Slow Motion; Blame It On My Youth; Like Someone In Love; A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening; Open Landscape One.

Personnel: Frederik Villmow: drums; Vigleik Storaas: piano; Bjørn Marius Hegge: bass.

Ricercare

Tracks: Visions (Cherokee); Bleu Sahara; Les Mains De Plume; The Peacocks; Flurs Obscures; Ricercare XXXVIII; Inventions Sur Curumim; Capricornes; Shamisen; Soleils D'Hier.

Personnel: Philippe Mouratoglou: guitar; Bruno Chevillon: bass; Ramon Lopez: drums.

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