It's rare that a collection of songs that stay the course with a theme from track to track can hold interest. Especially when the tunes are so spare in execution, essentially simple love songs, performed by a collection of trios who maintain distinct musical personalities. Such is the case with The Magic And The Mystery.
Across thirteen tracks we hear 12 originals by performing members, the only cover being a wistfully surprising one of David Bowie's "Life On Mars." "Life On Mars," which opens the set, just goes to show with able, sensitive and creative artists, anything can be like clay ready for reinvention. That cut, performed by Eivind Austad Trio, with double bassist Magne Thormodsaeter and Hakon Mjaset Johansen on drums, is their only appearance here, while others perform a handful of the rest. "Schlaf" by pianist Edgar Knecht, with bassist Rolf Denecke and drummer Stephan Emig, is a more solemn, formal approach; the Helge Lien Trio's "It Is What It Is, But It Is" continuing in this vein, bassist Frode Berg and drummer Knut Aalefjaer managing to add a bit of juice towards the tune's end to another lovely yet stately theme.
"Es Schneit Doch Hut," by contrast, contains an impish spirit, pianist Stefan Aeby's trio's light touch a kind of skipping through what feels like a folk melody, while pianist Kari Ikonen, with double bassist Ara Yaralyan and drummer Markku Ounaskari take Ikonen's angelic, otherworldly melody and bring it down to earth with more insistent, sometimes playful chords and lines, slightly abrasive bass work and percussive punctuations. The Aeby trio's other interesting piece here, "Mindarai," isn't a lullaby and limns the contours of a ballad, but boasts of a different kind of chromaticism that's both more emotional and slightly off-kilter. The touch is still light, the melody line also uncluttered, but there's an undercurrent, a sort of muted drama that's beautifully, eloquently conveyed across its insistent two-chord frame, while Ikonen's haunting, unmoored, floating "Pacific" feels like the theme to everything here.
The sustain throughout The Magic And The Mystery is the constancy of mood, subdued, altered from start to finish in only the most subtle yet distinctive of ways. Music for the night sky, wherever one, or two, may be.
Life On Mars; Schlaf; It Is What It Is, But It Is; Es Schneit Doch Hut; Septentrional;
Mor; Mindarai; Pacific; Oy; Tiefe Wasser; Badger’s Lullaby; Ehtoolla; Natsukashii.
Evind Austad (1), Edgar Knecht (2, 10), Helge Lien (3, 6, 9, 11, 13), Stefan Aeby (4,
7), Kari Ikonen (5, 8, 12), piano; Magne Thormodsaeter (1), Rolf Denecke (2, 10),
Frode Berg (3, 6, 9, 11, 13), Andre Pousaz (4 7), Ara Yaralyan (5, 8, 12), bass;
Hakon Mjaset Johansen (1), Stephan Emig (2, 10), Knut Aalefjaer (3, 9, 13), Julian
Sartorius (4, 7), Markku Ounaskari (5, 8, 12), Per Oddvar Johansen (6, 11), drums.