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Album Review

Trøen Arnesen Quartet: Tread Lightly

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Trøen Arnesen Quartet: Tread Lightly
The line that separates borrowing from stealing can be quite narrow in music, and even after judges rule on the matter, one may remain torn between the one and the other. It continues to be a very common issue in the mainstream pop world as the recent ruling against pop stars Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for ripping off Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up" in their 2013 world-wide number 1 hit "Blurred Lines" shows. Although not nearly as expensive as that 7.2-million-dollar example, copyright lawsuits do occur in jazz, too—Keith Jarrett suing jazz-rock duo Steely Dan for copyright infringement in the '80s arguably being one of the most prominent examples. The song in question was Steely Dan's "Gaucho," in which the band was accused to have stolen substantially from Jarrett's "Long As you Know You're Living Yours,'" off of his 1974 European Quartet album Belonging (ECM). The fact, that "Gaucho" furthermore borrowed (or stole?) much of its melodic twists and turns from "Questar," the opening cut of Belonging's follow-up, My Song (ECM, 1978) wasn't even mentioned. Why this elaborate introduction to copyright infringement lawsuits? Simply because the opener to Elisabeth Lid Trøen and Dag Arnesen's Tread Lightly borrows from the exact same Jarrett composition in question, bearing much resemblance to "Questar." It is however safe to speak of "borrowed"-only, in this case.

Hidden in plain sight, one finds the same dotted rhythmic foundation, in the same key with the identical instrumentation heading down the same path Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Jon Christensen and Palle Danielsson took in 1978. As the head is introduced, the Trøen Arnesen Quartet continues to flirt with various melodic fragments from "Questar," but sticks to the pedal point pattern instead of shifting the harmonic axis, as the model composition intricately does. With all that resemblance, Trøen even starts to sound like Garbarek, but that might just be an illusion emerging from its context.

No matter the resemblance, the quartet sets out for an adventurous journey through Tread Lightly, alternating highly melodious bars with textural material in vigorous displays of high-strung temperament, playful interplay and rhythmic liveliness. The pianist and saxophonist / leaders act as confident guides, holding the ensemble together and directing the proceedings with elegant poise, as the rhythm section, bassist Ole Marius Sandberg and drummer Sigurd Steinkopf, follows with creative vocabulary and determined stance.

Post-bop meets free jazz on the rumbling "Partysvensken," which finds a vivid melodic figure on saxophone contrasted by rumbling drums and dark piano clusters in a deconstructed middle-section that bridges the harmonious parts of the song. Trøen switches to flute on most of the ballads, inducing "Just Thinking," "Feline Dreams" and "Interlid" with an ethereal ambience that brings even more color into an already varied program, which elegantly blends a variety of jazz idioms in a homogenous whole. Echoes of Nordic folklore melodicism remind the listener of the auteurs' country of origin and establish a link to Garbarek, one of Norway's most prominent jazz exponents. The groovy easiness and poppish sensibilities the quartet demonstrates on tunes like "Sarah's Bounce," "I Remember This" and "Tread Lightly" elaborate on the "Questar" flair from the beginning, channeling the group's inner Jarrett once more as Arnesen's playing grows more lyrical and the band's performance grows tighter and more celebratory.

"Denne," the last of a total of eight Arnesen-penned contributions (Trøen contributes the other two), closes the set on a wistful note with another brilliantly composed sheet that balances melodic intricacy with harmonic sophistication exceptionally well. And then there's that Keith Jarrett reminiscence again, which runs through the entire album like a thread and at no cost of the group's or composers' own original character. It's tough enough a task to draw from the accomplishments of a living legend without sounding redundant, but to hold one's own at the same time is simply impressive.

Track Listing

Flirt; Partysvensken; Just Thinking; Sarah's Bounce; Feline Dreams; Armadillo Dance; Interlid; Tread Lightly; I Remember This; Denne.

Personnel

Elisabeth Lid Trøen: saxophone; Dag Arnesen: piano; Ole Marius Sandberg: bass; Sigurd Steinkopf: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Elisabeth Lid Trøen: flute.

Album information

Title: Tread Lightly | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Losen Records

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