The Core: Office Essentials / Meditations On Coltrane / The Indian Core

Eyal Hareuveni By

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The Core is one the most exciting jazz bands in Norway today. The group takes the legacy of saxophonist John Coltrane's classic quartet plus the 1960s' "new thing" innovations of fellow saxophonists Pharaoh Sanders and Archie Shepp, along with closer to home influences such as pianist Keith Jarrett's Scandinavian quartet of the 1970s—which featured Norwegians saxophonist Jan Garbarek and drummer Jon Christensen—and charges it with the visceral energy of rock and metal music to present fresh and bold statements.

The Core, like the Coltrane quartet, feature a charismatic saxophonist, Kjetil Møster, who can push his horn to the heights of the stratosphere, and a powerful rhythm section—pianist Erlend Slettovel, bassist Steinar Raknes and drummer Espen Aalberg. All four musicians are active in many outfits on the fertile Norwegian scene. Aalberg, the leader, is also a percussionist with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra.

The Core
Office Essentials
Jazzland Recordings

This is the second official release by the original Core quartet, following Vision (Jazzaway, 2004); there are also free-to-download bootleg releases on the band's website. It was recorded in September 2007 in Brooklyn, USA. The quartet is clear about its attitude from the very first note—sustaining a strong melodic base, sometimes a loose and free one, and pushing it to its sonic limits.

Møster demonstrate this effectively on the opening track, "Bolero," where he retains a total command of the tenor saxophone even when he reaches its extra-terrestrial registers. "Brooklyn Serenade" features a beautiful interplay between Slettovell's McCoy Tyneresque, big block chops pianism, and Møster who takes the theme and swirls it up and upper. Slettovell and Møster enjoy an even tighter interplay on the faster piece, "Song For Eive," alternating solos. Raknes and Aalberg provide a spirited rhythmic basis.

"Free-Bird," true to its title, is the loosest piece here, and at times it sounds as though each player is attempting to take the lead; all are playing very fast, but than it becomes clear how tight as a quartet The Core is. While the group touches chaotic terrains it never loses its melodic base, and each player has enough room to articulate and develop its spare theme. "The Shadow" revolves around Raknes' assured and fluent bass, and Møster, on the soprano saxophone, and Slettovell gently flesh out Raknes' moves. Aalberg leads the fast and turbulent "New Thing," but leaves enough room for Møster, Slettovell and Raknes to push forward, while keeping them all under his rolling rhythmic framework.

Warmly recommended.

Bergen Big Band Featuring The Core
Meditations On Coltrane

Reed player Vidar Johansen's arrangements for John Coltrane's iconic Meditations (Impulse!, 1966) were recorded live at the Nattjazz festival in Bergen in May 2007. Johansen's arrangements stress Coltrane's melodic themes over the intense and sometimes violent sonic explorations of the Coltrane quartet that was augmented with Pharaoh Sanders on second tenor saxophone and Rashied Ali on drums. His arrangements, appropriately reverential, still call for spirited and passionate conviction from all the musicians, as befits such a monumental work.

Johansen's arrangement for "The Father And The Son And The Holy Ghost" uses the Bergen Big Band mainly for the fanfare passages, while all four members of The Core share the lead with the addition of Olav Dale on the alto saxophone. Wisely, Dale does not try to mimic angry Sanders' shrieks, so prominent on the original recording, but instead features a reasoned solo that comments on the powerful one previously played by Møster.

Johnsen arranges "Compassion" as a longer work than the original performance, but still makes the pianist, Slettovell, the main soloist. Slettovell plays in a fluent and burning style reminiscent of McCoy Tyner. The Bergen Big Band, used as a brass choir, opens and concludes the piece and punctuates it between solos. Later, Møster and Dale, in tight interplay, expand melodically on Slettovell's lines.

Raknes follows Jimmy Garrisson's role as he introduces "Love And Consequences," united here into one piece, before Dale joins him for a short, beautiful duet on his flute; Johansen's arrangement colors it with the myriad voices of the Bergen Big Band, adding a swinging touch to the original pieces. Johansen conducts the band as it keeps gaining volume and volition, and when Møster and Dale take the lead with well-articulated and fierce solos in the "Consequences" segment, the bigger line-up echoes them. Later, Johansen introduces electric pianist Dag Arensen, who references other important and influential ensembles of that era such as those led by trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Aalberg ends the piece with a short but intense drum solo.

"Serenity" begins with a series of solos by Møster, Dale, Ole Jakob Hystad on tenor saxophone, and a remarkable one by Sindre Dalhaug on trombone. Guitarist Ole Thomsen takes the lead with a breezy solo and then the big band concludes with the peaceful theme.

Impressive, and further evidence of the Coltrane's enduring heritage.

The Indian Core

In November 2005, The Core toured India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with three prominent Indian players—Fateh Ali on sitar, Kanchman Babbar on bamboo flute, bansuri, and Prasenjit Mitra on tabla. All three are well-versed in classical Indian music. A year later, the three Indian players arrived to Norway for a second tour.

The Indian Core, as this new collaboration was called, opened the Oslo World Music Festival, but this live recording is taken from smaller venues in Trondheim and in Drammem. The collaboration presented new opportunities to The Core's already vast musical vocabulary.

The Core members follow carefully and expand on Babbar's gentle flute lead on the opening piece, "Sol's Fox," and only Møster dares to push it into wilder plains. But on "Punjab Blues" all are ready to take the fast lane; Aalberg and Mitra lay down a driving polyrhythmic basis for Møster and Babbar to alternate fast solos on the soprano saxophone and on the flute, each following the snake lines of the other. "Autumn" begins with Ali delivering a beautiful, meditative sitar solo, and slowly Babbar and Mitra join and repeat the melody. Raknes later joins Ali for a duet passage.

Raknes leads "All Raga" with a simple bass chorus, Babbar joins him with deep flute timbres—that sound like they're paying dues to Use Lateen as much as they do to the Indian tradition—and both of them welcome the other players, who extend the melody with brief solos.

"Agra" is a vehicle for The Core to display its impressive group interplay. Walberg dictates a fast rhythm for Møster and Slettovell's solos, after which Mitra plays a tabla solo that ornaments Walberg's rhythmic ideas with the Indian percussion vocabulary. Ali states the optimistic Indian-tinged theme of the closing "Tirana." Aalberg adds resonating colors with his cymbals, Raknes adds a swinging rhythmic frame, and than Babbar and Møster join with inspired solos.

A beautiful meeting of East and West.

Visit The Core on the web.

Tracks and Personnel

Office Essentials

Tracks: Bolero; Brooklyn Serenade; Song For Eave; Free-Bird; The Shadow; New Thing.

Personnel: Kjetil Møster: saxophones; Erlend Slettevoll: piano; Steiner Raknes: bass; Espen Aalberg: drums.

Meditations On Coltrane

Tracks: The Father And The Son And The Holy Ghost; Compassion; Love And Consequences; Serenity.

Personnel: Vidar Johansen: arranger. The Core: Kjetil Møster: saxophones; Erlend Slettevoll: piano; Steiner Raknes: bass; Espen Aalberg: drums. Bergen Big Band: Olav Dale: alto saxophone, flute; Øystein Søbstad: alto saxophone; Ole Jakob Hystad: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Zoltan Vincze: tenor saxophone; Michael Barnes: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Martin Winter: lead trumpet, flugelhorn; Svein Erik Giske, Are Ovesen, Reid Gilje: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sindre Dalhaug: lead trombone; Rune Hannisdal, Pål Roseth: trombone; Kjell Erik Husom: bass trombone; Ole Thomsen: guitar; Dag Arnesen: electric piano; Mange Thormodssæter: bass; Frank Jacobsen: drums.

The Indian Core

Tracks: Sol's Fox; Punjab Blues; Autumn; All-Raga; Agra; Tirana.

Personnel: Ranchman Babbar: flute; Kjetil Møster: saxophones; Fateh Ali: sitar; Erlend Slettovell: piano; Steiner Raknes: bass; Prasenjit Mitra: table; Aspen Aalberg: drums.

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