Bands will often self-title their debut album, as a kind of calling card to the world at large. But doing so on a fourth album implies a serious coming of age statement: this is really who we are. That is certainly the case here. Its third album, Urolige sinn (Øra Fonogram, 2018), was a blend of composed and improvised music: a collective voice, with a rare concision and focus. This album is entirely self-composed, with the bulk of the tracks credited to saxophonist Martin Myhre Olsen, and four others to pianist Kjetil Mulelid. There is also a long guest list, including a string trio on three selections.
The strings enter immediately on the opener, "For Those We Love," initially accompanied only by Mulelid's piano. The sound clearly signals that the album will not be business as usual. Before long the whole band has joined into the relentless, driving ostinato pattern. But there are carefully modulated dynamics as well, as the piece ends with quiet music like the beginning. "Wako Amok" pares the ensemble back to the core band, and finds the piano and Olsen's saxophone in almost free territory during the solos, accompanied by an equally liberated rhythm section. Not quite amok, but very high energy.
It is surprising to see a performer credited with the Roland RE-201 Space Echo, but Kyrre Laastad}s contributions on "Stjerneskipet" completely justifies it. Other highlights include Espen Reinertsen's saxophone, modular synthesizer and effects on the atmospheric "Le tapis volant;" high-profile guest Arve Henriksen's trumpet, synthesizer and sampling on the driving "Trakterer du musikk?" (one of Mulelid's most striking contributions); and Adrian Laseth Waad's violin, Rob Waring's vibraphone and Janas Kulhammar's Varitone saxophone on "Grown-up Life."
Mulelid's "Everything Comes To an End" finishes the album's official content with an Ornette Coleman-like theme. The Bonus material comprises three tracks, concluding with a final string trio appearance on Olsen's bop theme "Savage Detective." It is a feature for Olsen as a soloist, as well as an energetic finale to the program. A definitive statement for Wako as a band, and for Norwegian jazz.
For Those We Love; Wako Amok; Stjerneskipet; Brain Drain; Hele verden er en boble; Le tapis volant; Trakterer du musikk?; Dagdrømmeren; Grown-up Life; Everything Comes To an End; When Staring Into Light, We Think; Skumringsbeltet; Savage Detective.