While guitarist Jostein Gulbrandsen may hail from Norway, he and his quartet appear very much at home in this debut that has a decided downtown edge. At the heart of Twelve is a contorted bluesy post-bop that makes wonderful use of complex rhythms and slicing tenor sax courtesy of Jon Irabagon. Both Gulbrandsen and Irabagon possess rapier-like attacks and they make up with crispness and speed what they sacrifice in full round tone. Bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis are up to the challenge of this music with Opsvik in particular adding some needed warmth and depth. Likewise from Norway, Opsvik is the perfect counterbalance for the two front men. He and Davis form a strong bottom, grounding the snappier tunes and gorgeously meshing with guitar and tenor for the ballads.
The title cut is a forum for Gulbrandsen and Irabagon to highlight their facility with angularity as quick staccato runs and intriguing chords predominate, backed by a speedy rhythm. Opsvik slows things down by elegantly morphing the rhythm into an understated plucked lead before all return to the head. Irabagon's tenor is on the reedy side and there are moments, such as on the bluesy "MB" and opener "Sunshine," that this is used much to the music's advantage. The subtleties and delicate nature of Gulbrandsen's guitar are not lost through an overpowering tenor but instead are highlighted.
Although the hard bopping is perhaps initially most obvious, the more sophisticated arrangements and choice ensemble playing should not be overlooked. Tunes like the achingly beautiful "Northern Lights," "Watertrain," with a superb arco/guitar/clarinet voicing, the downright gorgeous bass/acoustic guitar duet "Black November" and Gulbrandsen's fascinating arrangement of Sting's "Message In A Bottle" portend very well for the guitarist to continue to develop his unique voice.
Sundance; MB; Northern Lights; Twelve; Watertrain; Message in a Bottle; The Ring; Black November.
Jostein Gulbrandsen: guitar; Jon Irabagon: tenor sax, clarinet; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Jeff Davis: drums.