Norwegian saxophonist Hanna Paulsberg founded the HPC in 2011, whislt studying at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. Her quartet's debut, Waltz for Lilli
(Ora Fonogram, 2012) announced a notable talent, one conversant in the North American swing tradition as well as influences closer to home. The concept, perhaps, was not new, but the reviews were universally positive. Since then, Paulsberg has been busy leading the HPC and touring with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, which collaborated with Marius Neset
on the pulsating Lion
(ACT Music, 2014). With the wind in her sails, Paulsberg's second quartet outing follows a similar blueprint to its debut, with equally satisfying results.
The HPC opens its account with the smoldering "Frygia." Hans Hulbækmo
and Trygve Waldemar Fiske
's open-ended, probing rhythms form the base from which pianist Oscar Grönberg
and Paulsberg stretch out, pushing the quartet to an intense yet lyrical plateau. Paulsberg's incantation, alternatively plaintive and keening, draws on the spirits of Jan Garbarek
and John Coltrane
. The language of Coltrane's classic quartet is felt to some degree in Grönberg's McCoy Tyner
-esque chordal blocks, though the similarities are occasional and fleeting.
The HPC's very personal identity is perfectly encapsulated in "De Ensomme (The Lonely Ones)"; saxophone and bass lock into a repeating motif that gathers potency over bustling drums and piano until Paulsberg cuts loose with a searing, emotively charged solo. The ensemble is equally persuasive at slower tempi, as on the gorgeous ballad "Diamond (Ra)," where the individual solos enhance rather than obscure the guiding melodic vein. Melody is also at the core of the rhythmically cantering title track, though this is more a vehicle for individual virtuosity.
Piano and saxophone are bound tightly on the jaunty intro to "Elephant Mist." Grönberg's lyrically flowing solo is buoyed by Hulbækmo's inventive, Jeff Ballard
-esque rhythms and punctuation. Paulsberg's burning intensity ups the ante, with Hulbækmo taking a brief solo before the quartet reunites a final time. At just over two minutes, the balladic "A Coat of Many Colors" is little more than a vignette, though a captivating one at that; Paulsberg's breathy tenor brushstrokes conjure Wayne Shorter
at his most understated and lyrical.
The HPC saves its best grooves until last with the infectious "Hemulen." Lithe bass and African-flavored drums drive the quartet, though Paulsberg's wonderfully catchy motif could carry the tune all on its own. Grönberg leads a jittery dance, followed by Paulsberg, whose joyful calypso improvisation flirts with Sonny Rollins
terrain before she returns once more to the grooving head. It's unlikely that there'll be a catchier tune all year.
With these impressive, varied originals Paulsberg enhances her reputation as a composer and leader of real note. The HPC strikes a fine balance between individual and ensemble identity; accordingly, every tune engages from first note to last. The beautiful, confident playing of all four musicians makes Song for Josia
a contender for small ensemble recording of the year.