The first from a run of four albums, collectively titled Forest, Norwegian saxophonist Bendik Hofseth's Trunks sets a cozy tone which pairs minimal interplay with echoing acoustics in a modern mainstream jazz light. His sidemen all belong to the Norwegian jazz elite, most of whom have been recording together for years, prominently so for ECM. Hofseth partially dedicates the songs on the record to them. From subtle throw-back fusion to more contemplative aesthetics, the saxophonist's always through-designed compositions are given an honest and proficient treatment in the hands of intimate and dexterous musical partners and friends.
A contemplative notion lies in the melancholic harmonies found spread across the seven-tune set, often bound together and led forward by Helge Iberg on piano, as well as by the lyrical saxophone tone which dominates the majority of the record. "Norway Spruce (for Mats)" or "Sapwood (for Evalill)" are obvious examples of the contemplative aspect, and demonstrate how sparsely yet perceptively each musician adds to the respective conversation. The dynamic scope on opener "Maple (for Per Oddvar)" alone proves to have the same amount of acoustic sensitivity as any ECM recording, thereby further encouraging the nuanced exchanges between Hofseth and his band. In that context, Eivind Aarset's scarcely audible yet atmospherically crucial electronic interjections on guitar operate like the subtle missing link between veteran guitarist Terje Rypdal's metal-cold, distorted sound and Danish guitar impressionist Jakob Bro's understated language.
Exotic rhythmic percussion and compositional orbits around few-note ostinatos make up "Bamboo (for Christer)" and "Heartwood (for Michael)," resulting in a timeless fusion aesthetic, sonically adjacent to much of Weather Report's body of work. The latter tune sees Mike Mainieri join on marimba, adding the finishing Afro-touch to the polished production's fate of having something in common with Toto. With regard to the album unfolding like a steady and calm stream, the reference is not at all a bad thing.
Some might mistake the comforting sound of Trunks for a lazy one, or dismiss the unhurried and straightforward structures on the record as mainstream comfort food. But it would be wrong to equate a sense of ease with a lack of aspiration. The truth lies much closer, intertwined with the transparency and sonic details of the music and can furthermore be discovered within the band's seamless interplay. Making the complex relationship between improvisational nuance and straightforward through-composition sound so easy is what sets these musicians apart from most, and makes Trunks a complete success.
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