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Havard Wiik Trio: The Arcades Project

John Kelman By

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Freedom comes in many forms, and while still a relative youngster, Oslo-based pianist Håvard Wiik's already built a career across the broadest possible spectrum of improvisational possibilities, whether it's with Atomic, the Swedish/Norwegian collective where Wiik's name first came to attention on albums including the expansive three-CD The Bikini Tapes (Jazzland, 2005), his ongoing "covers" duo with Jazzland label mate/saxophonist Håkon Kornstad on the inventive The Bad and the Beautiful (Moserobie, 2007), or his sparer solo album Palinode (Moserobie, 2007). The Arcades Project debuts Wiik's trio of bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen—a tightly knit rhythm team already heard on Maria Kannegaard's Maryland (Moserobie, 2007), and for whom each new album is a revelation of seamless interaction.

Wiik, Vågan and Johansen are also members of Motif, a quintet whose forthcoming third album (first for Jazzland) Apo Calypso, is already on the short list for one of 2008's best. But here the focus is on Wiik the writer and democratic bandleader. As plainly virtuosic as Brad Mehldau—and with a voice that's equally comprised of a multiplicity of stylistic markers—The Arcades Project is how Mehldau might sound were he to be a considerably freer thinker, attentive to time and changes, but more prepared to dispense with either or both in the pursuit of collective, spontaneous creation.

Wiik's writing covers a lot of territory. The blocky and complex theme of "Arcades" nevertheless leads to a solo section of unadorned beauty before bursting into trio interaction possessed of an aggressive pulse but feeling somehow distanced from it. It also features a solo of characteristic abandon by Vågan, who demonstrated similar panache with saxophonist Tore Brunborg at JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2008. "Malachi"'s theme may be brief, but its idiosyncratic enough to create another unique context for Vågan's relentless invention, supported by Johansen's astute brushwork and Wiik's responsive yet provocative interplay that almost imperceptibly assumes increasing dominance.

Wiik and the trio aren't averse to sparer work, where the decay of a note and the texture of a scraped cymbal are as fundamental as busier collaboration. The bleak "Weisengrund" is downright dirge-like, though its sense of time is more elastic as Wiik creates brief cascades to contrast with the tune's oblique sense of space. "Enology" may reference ambient guru Brian Eno, but the free play that begins in the ether—with Vågan's bowed harmonics leading to Wiik's skewed but unmistakable melody, Johansen's textural brushwork and ultimately greater power—has more to do with the demanding spontaneous composition of Paul Bley and his pinnacle of piano trio improvisation with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian, Not Two, Not One (ECM, 1999), than any kind of environmental backdrop.

Still, unlike the chart-averse Bley, The Arcades Project is an outstanding example of modernistic, line-blurring, form-meets-freedom writing that could only work in the hands of a trio as widely versed as Wiik, Vågan and Johansen. Regardless of the setting, these are three young Norwegians to keep an eye on.

Track Listing: Arcades; Malachi; Wiesengrund; Odradek; W.f.W.; Enology; Portbou; Italics.

Personnel: Håvard Wiik: piano; Ole Morten Vågan: double-bass; Håkon Mjåset Johansen: drums.

Title: The Arcades Project | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Jazzland Recordings

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