Norwegian quintet Friends & Neighbors' third CD presents a line up unchanged sinceNo Beat Policy(Øra Grammofon, 2011) and Hymn For A Hungry Nation (Clean Feed, 2014). The moniker gives a clue as to their inspiration, referencing one of Ornette Coleman's less well known albums recorded live at his Prince Street loft and featuring a chorus of exactly what the title suggests alongside his regular quartet of the time (Flying Dutchman, 1970). But the reality goes way beyond imitation or homage. The inventive melodically informed charts contain more structure than their namesake and the attendant instrumental prowess reflects 50 years of progress since the 1960s New Thing.
Everyone but drummer Tollef Østvang contributes to the set list of thoughtfully arranged pieces. The heads are far from perfunctory, while the strong solos develop from the themes, resulting in satisfyingly cohesive conceptions. A case in point comes with the opening title track, where composer Jon Rune Strøm provides each soloist with a different setting. After a bustling unison, pianist Oscar Grönberg leads a trio boasting a scuttling freeform undertow, melodic at first but then full of darting Cecil Taylor inspired clusters. Trumpeter Thomas Johansson takes over with an unaccompanied soliloquy full of expressive half valve effects and fizzing lines, latterly peppered by ensemble interjections. That leads organically to a rolling vamp which launches Andre Roligheten's blistering tenor excursion.
It constitutes a great introduction to the band, but the exciting blend of energy and ideas is far from an isolated occurrence. Østvang and Strøm make the tricky task of free but controlled rhythmic momentum appear effortless, testament to time spent in tandem in other outfits like All Included and Universal Indians. Roligheten further displays his chops, building from the bottom registers to snapping yelps and husky hollers in a playful duet with Østvang on the sunny but angular "Fool Pay." With Johansson, he engages in zipping interplay at the outset of "Friends," in which each matches and mutates the other's phrases at speed, before an involved theme presages a nimble pizzicato feature for Strøm.
That gives only an inkling of what's in store, as the seven concise cuts each packs in delights aplenty, meaning more to discover on every listen.
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