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Steel Guitar, Snow and Sunny Beaches: Five New Albums on Losen Records

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Odd Gjelsnes' Norwegian label, Losen Records, has been incredibly prolific in recent years, releasing a staggering amount of quality albums. However, with so much music, it is hard to keep up with the pace. Here is an attempt to summarize a little portion of the recent recording activity of the label. Old names return, new names enter the roster and throughout it all, the visual expression of painter Sylva Karin Johansen connects some of the releases that are otherwise highly eclectic, spanning genres such as vocal jazz, world music, big band and modern jazz with a country twist. Gjelsnes is not interested in having an immediately identifiable sound. He rather prefers to release good music from around the world, of course with the involvement from many Norwegian jazz musicians.

Steinar Aadnekvam
Freedoms Trio
Losen Records
2016

Guitarist Steinar Aadnekvam's sound is closer to the warm, sunny beaches of Brazil than the Norwegian mountains and forests, but Aadnekvam has also been around the world. His second album on the label is simply called Freedoms Trio (sic) and follows Freedoms Tree (Losen Records, 2015). The curious lack of an apostrophe is not explained, but otherwise this is relatively straightforward acoustic world jazz.

Whereas the previous release involved several musicians, this time it is only Aadnekvam, bassist Rubem Farias and drummer and percussionist Deodato Siquir. In their hands, a lovely world of natural beauty and rhythm emerges. The opener, "A State of My Own," even starts with the sound of a babbling brook and birdsong before giving way to an acoustic guitar intro that develops into a free rolling gentle explosion of joyful rhythms. It is complex music that still manages to be accessible and tuneful and a composition such as "Lamento" underlines that the group also explores the elegiac aspects of music, even though the song starts in fast pace. Together these three musicians have musical freedom and use it to create melodic and rhythmically exotic compositions.

Mongrel
Thick as Thieves
Losen Records
2016

The group Mongrel also enjoys its freedom, but it is a gentle beast. The addition of Japanese pianist Ayumi Tanaka enhances the lyrical qualities of the music, but there is also a certain playfulness in the music. For instance, the clipped phrases from trumpeter Thomas Husmo Litleskare and the march-like breaks on the composition "Bakgården."

The length of the music varies from longer pieces to miniatures like "Kongen av Kamper Bas" and "The Gist of It," which is less than a minute. However, it is a fine, little abstract piece where Tanaka moves away from melody and instead plucks the strings of her instrument while Husmo Litleskare whispers softly and drummer Tore Flatjord rustles in the background.

While the group is not afraid of moving into abstract areas, the musicians are even more interested in creating genuine melodies and overall their album could be characterized as lyrical chamber jazz, but with some occasional rhythmical unpredictability and energetic outbursts to add a bit of spice to the beauty of the music.

Sandra Borøy
Sus
Losen Records
2016

Norwegian Singer Sandra Borøy also creates beauty in a chamber-music setting with guitarist Jonas Dyrstad Valberg, bassist Guttorm Strande Syrrist and drummer Jonatan Schanke Eikum. All the music on Sus is penned by Borøy and shows an accomplished composer whose visions are fully realized by her group.

The opener begins with Borøy's ethereal wordless vocal and the electric musings of Dyrstad Valberg whose guitar lines echo like the ancient whispers of an old mountain. The majority of the album adds lyrics sung in Norwegian, but the instrumental pieces like "Sus I," "Sus II" and "Jiffy I" and "Jiffy II" bind the music together.

The lyrics are existential, but the crystalline voice of Borøy does not need translation. The beautiful songs she creates with her group are timeless human expressions that feel as ancient as they are modern.

Rune Klakegg & Scheen Jazzorkester
Fjon
Losen Records
2016

Sandra Borøy creates Nordic chamber-jazz with an existential touch and there is also something characteristically Nordic about pianist and composer Rune Klakegg's release with Scheen Jazzorkester, even though the rhythms come from many places. The title of the album is Fjon, which means something like light snow flurries and while there is a dynamic quality and complexity present in the music, there is also a feeling of calmness, like watching snowflakes whirling around. The lyrical mood of the music comes from many sources. The opener, "Achille," namechecks the impressionistic classical composer Achille-Claude Debussy and "Moon River" draws on the vocabulary of the standards, but sails down its own mysterious waters with the lullaby-voice of guest singer, Nina Gromstad, and an arrangement that is positively ambiguous with aspects of darkness and light, not unlike the Polish pianist and composer Krzysztof Komeda's ballad "Sleep Safe and Warm."

The most wonderful thing about the record is the zen-like sense of space. Too many big bands use their muscles and shout too much in bombastic brassy punchlines, but Scheen Jazzorkester speak in gentle dialogs and the dream- like vibraphone playing of Rob Waring is that mysterious extra ingredient that makes it all come together. One is reminded how lovely that particular instrument is.

Of course, the album would not be as good if it was not for the leader's own exquisite compositions. "Din meg" has an elegant ebb and flow where delicate melodic motifs weave in out of each other and layers are added and subtracted. In the middle of it all, Klakegg's own piano shimmers with its subtle beauty. Add perfect sound from renowned engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug and good notes from writer Terje Mosnes and you have a perfect package and one of this year's top releases on Losen Records.

Michael Aadal Group
Pomona
Losen Records
2016

The guitarist Michael Aadal returns with his second release on Losen Records and he sticks to the winning formula that he introduced on Abigail (Losen Records, 2013). On that particular album, he introduced the rarely used combination of a steel guitar with a guitar driven jazz group and a saxophonist.

Pomona is filled with sweeping, lush landscapes. A kind of Nordic Americana where Ole Bjørn- Talstad's piano and pump organ give the lyrical foundation for a melodic brand of music that evolves epically from quiet stages to grand statements underlined by drums and guitar. One could argue that it is just as much a complex kind of instrumental rock music as it is jazz since the development is predominantly linear and less melodically polyphonic than is usually the case in jazz. This is also felt in the drumming that is overall closer to rock than the swinging feeling of jazz (hear the YouTube clip below and judge for yourself).

But nevertheless, jazz or not, Aadal draws on many sources, including jazz, country and blues and with his group, he creates atmospheric and emotional instrumental music where Anders Hofstad Sørås' sweeping steel guitar helps to give the music its distinctive identity. Pomona is filled with melodic stories that have a cinematic twist and Aadal has carved his own niche with this album and Abigail.

Tracks and Personnel

Freedoms Trio

Tracks: A State Of My Own; Phlyde; Vhuya ka mina (29th of April); Modern Information; Sweet Are The Lies; You've Been Telling Me Lately; Terra Mae; Very Troubled Dogs; Vem Nao Vem; Lamento; Mikombelo (Prayer).

Personnel: Steinar Aadnekvam: acoustic guitar; Rubem Farias bass, vocal; Deodato Siquir drums, percussion, vocal.

Thick as Thieves

Tracks: Strömningar; Bakgården; Kongen av Kamper Bas; Una; The Gist of It; Vincent; Søvndrukken; Quinn; Thick as Thieves.

Personnel: Thomas Litleskare: trumpet; Ayumi Tanaka: piano; Stian Andersen: bass; Tore Flatjord: drums.

Sus

Tracks: Sus I; Ny tråd; Quelea; Jiffy I; Tett til sitt hjerte; Stille vann; Virvelvind; Jiffy II; Udefinert; Sus II.

Personnel: Sandra Borøy: vocal, piano (track 6); Jonas Dyrstad Valberg; guitar, backing vocals (tracks 2, 9, 10); Guttorm Strande Syrrist: double bass, electric bass, backing vocals (track 10); Jonatan Schanke Eikum: drums, backing vocals (track 10).

Fjon

Tracks: Achille; Slapback; Din meg; Blub Club; Moon River; Det er noe muffens her; Fjon.

Personnel: Guttorm Guttormsen: alto sax, flute; André Kassen: tenor sax, soprano sax (solo on track 1); John Øystein Rosland: tenor sax (solos on tracks 4, 7); Line Bjørnør Rosland: clarinet, bass clarinet; Finn Arne Dahl Hanssen: lead trumpet; Thomas Johansson: trumpet (solo on track 1); Magne Rutle: lead trombone (solo on tracks 2, 4); Benedikte Follegg Hol: trombone Solos on tracks 6, 7); Åsgeir Grong: bass trombone; Sondre Stordalen: guitar; Rune Klakegg: piano; Jan Olav Renvåg: bass; Audun Kleive: drums; Guests: Rob Waring: vibraphone; Nina Gromstad: vocal (track 5).

Pomona

Tracks: The Border; Pomona; Signs -Part 1; Signs Part 2; Purgatory; Iceland; Leaving; Reflections; Traces.

Personnel: Michael Aadal: electric guitars; André Kassen: tenor saxophone; Ole-Bjørn Talstad: piano, pump organ and Roland Jupiter; Anders Hofstad Sørås: pedal steel, lap steel; Audun Ramo: acoustic bass; Gunnar Sæter: drums.

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