Some painters like to work with a wide canvas, filling out every space with details where figures emerge out of a wealth of colors and shapes. Likewise, there are jazz musicians who are busy focusing on technicalities, displaying an impressive wealth of rhythmic complexity and melodic variation. In both cases, the danger seems to be a sort of horror vacui
, where the nervous extravaganza of basic craft stands in the way of artistic thought and contemplation.
For Danish saxophonist/composer Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard, there is no such danger. While often praised for the awe-inspiring technical mastery of his instrument, Løkkegaard chooses to let the music speak in gentle, subtle colors, preferring to let the notes emerge out of silence and space.
The cover, depicting a naked field shrouded in grey mist, immediately betrays the melancholy mood of an album that is also underlined by its title, The Scale of Grey. The Tone of Black
; but while it is true that the music, at times, has a bleak, almost barren feeling, on closer listening it unfolds a richness, a warmth and variation, just like the bare brown field on closer inspection reveals the soft hues of green.
The trilogy of "The Opening," "The Endeavour" and "The Restraint" is a study in understatement. Jeppe Kjellberg carefully spins a pattern of guitar lines wherein Christoffer Steen Møller's prickling piano gently falls, while Løkkegaard's saxophone almost anonymously sneaks itself in from the side like a whispering ghost.
"The Unspeakable" introduces the rhythm section of bassist Lennart Ginman and drummer Jeppe Gram, whose ethereal timekeeping fits the music perfectly. When the rhythms get more confined, as happens in the march-like pulse of "The Wasteland," the pair still retains a floating, impressionistic color, underlined by Møller's harmonies and the wordless voice of Løkkegaard, whose hum adds another contrast to the piece. The Scale of Grey. The Tone of Black
is an exquisitely subtle sound painting whose qualities are enhanced through repeated listening. An excellent example of the new Danish melancholy practiced by the likes of guitarist Jakob Bro
and pianist Søren Bebe
, it is an album where the measured use of tonality and color of mood speaks of a carefully constructed artistic vision.