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Jakob Bro: Streams

Geno Thackara By

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"The music wants to go in its own direction," Jakob Bro declares, and "it's our job to follow it." If one central theme of jazz is "never the same way once," the Danish guitarist is someone who lives by it more than most. No two of his albums are made with the same cast and rarely do they repeat the same instrumental lineup. A given release may feature a quartet, nonet or fifteen-piece ensemble; there could be three horns or none, two extra guitars or just his own, occasionally no drums, or sometimes electronics and remixing.

At other times a simple trio is all it takes. The music on Bro's second ECM Records outing wants to flow quietly and gently like its namesake. The pieces tend to stay as sparse as the lineup: the leader's compositions here are like the framework for a glass house with wide open windows, allowing lovely natural views and letting in a soothing breeze. He and his trio-mates are pleasantly relaxed and feel no undue pressure to fill the space. The rhythm section ambles with comfortable ease while the guitar's electric sheen lets unhurried notes ring in the air.

As ample evidence for why he remains Bro's most frequent sideman, Thomas Morgan's double bass stays smooth and expressive in as few notes as necessary. The endlessly adaptable Joey Baron is taking this chair for the first time, but having played with Johns from Abercrombie to Zorn, of course he's eloquent enough to join the conversation and more than hold his own. He contributes mostly with light strokes or cymbal splashes, always showing a tasteful feel for just when to liven up more to match the others. Baron shines most in the disc's sole group improvisation as they pay tribute to the late Paul Motian (his frequent predecessor at the drum stool on past Bro recordings), beautifully simmering on the toms amid a cloud of tone haze and warmly plucked bass.

Bro reaches for the distortion knob a bit more with "Full Moon Europa" and the gradual slow build of "Sisimiut," which respectively give the album's overall tone further subtle shadings of dark and light. They're balanced out in between with the prettiest melodic moment in "Shell Pink," followed by a stark guitar reprise of "Heroines" that offers the recording's surest embrace of emptiness. It all evokes the shifting and flowing its title suggests. Largely placid with the odd sharper current underneath, this Streams fluidly finds its path with understated beauty.

Track Listing: Opal; Heroines; PM Dream; Full Moon Europa; Shell Pink; Heroines (variation); Sisimiut.

Personnel: Jakob Bro: guitar; Thomas Morgan: double bass; Joey Baron: drums.

Title: Streams | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: ECM Records

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