It’s mostly sonorous melodies that rule the day on ADHD5, the fifth release by the Icelandic quartet ADHD… melodies that possess the fuzzy motions of a shadow in action. And while those melodies are most likely to captivate the listener, it’s the manipulation of tempo that provides the album both substance and depth. There’s “Græna Thokan,” which nicely contrasts a plodding rhythm with a melody that floats lightly just out of its reach. “Free Angelo,” for all its relaxed ambiance, hints at a rigid formality that could suddenly become rule of law. The creeping cadence of “Jörg Thienelt” gives a friendly song a mysterious edge.
A couple tracks fall outside the serenity’s ring of influence. “Flugzeug” turns up the heat dramatically, while the contemplative tones of “Afi Palli” hum with a powerful brilliance. But mostly what the recording offers up are tracks like the gentle sighs of “Indjanadansinn,” a song that hovers on the border of peaceful sleep and vibrant dreams.
An absorbing album.
Your album personnel: Óskar Guðjónsson (saxophones), Ómar Guðjónsson (guitars, basses), Davíð Þór Jónsson (Hammond organ, Moogs, Rhodes, piano, bass) and Magnús Trygvason Eliassen (drums).
An intriguing album released at the tail-end of 2014 is Whahay, the self-titled recording from the Whahay trio of bassist Paul Rogers, drummer Fabien Duscombs and multi-reedist Robin Fincker. The trio digs into the songbook of Charles Mingus, using the original compositions as the foundation from which to leap into a series of improvisations.
Much to the album’s benefit, the trio tethers their renditions tightly to Mingus’s original melodies rather than offer up some pro-forma statement as an excuse to just to do whatever the hell they wanted to do in the first place. “Better Git It In Your Soul” works the melody like a charm, both in its pristine form and also with slight variations for extra flavoring. The tempo isn’t the hyperactive burner of the original, possessing, instead, more of a choppy motion. Plenty of free association going on within that framework, but the occasional returns to melody keep the song centered and easily located. This is an approach typical throughout the album.
“Jump Monk” comes right out with the tension, a sense of being one spark away from complete combustion. A huge bass solo… the kind that reminds how powerfully lyrical the instrument can be all by its lonesome. It’s another strong bass solo that opens the rendition of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” before the trio slowly rolls out the wistful melody.
There’s plenty of intensity throughout the recording; it’s just a question of how much the trio choose to modulate it. Their take on “Pithecantropus Erectus” builds up to a firestorm. On the other hand, “Canon” works it more like a strong undertow. And then there’s the unadulterated power on the thrashing “Bird Call.”
There’s some compelling displays of bass arco. Rogers’ furious extended opening to “Work Song” is just as captivating as the lovely harmonics between his arco and Fincker’s clarinet on “Ecclusiastics.”
A very cool album. The trio brings some serious intelligence to accompany the music’s emotional punch.
Your album personnel: Paul Rogers (7-string double bass), Fabien Duscombs (drums) and Robin Fincker (clarinet, tenor sax).
March 2015, Guitarist Jakob Bro has a new album coming out. Titled Gefion, it features his strangely alluring mix of jazz and folk and ambient soundscapes. And though it possesses the ingredients that typically complete your basic Nordic Jazz recording, Bro’s expressionism doesn’t fit so neatly into that general category. Even when he’s being structurally obtuse, his music possesses a form and presence and melodic incisiveness that proves elusive to categorization.
In anticipation of his new album, I wanted to recap three of Bro’s excellent recordings. In 2013, Bro wrapped up a planned trilogy of albums that began with 2009’s Balladeering, continued with 2011’s Time and ended with 2013’s December Song. The music was composed for a small group of select musicians. The albums each have their own personality, but definitely all sound as if they were formed from the same creative point of view. This is peaceful music that presents itself with a simple, striking beauty that is often quite breathtaking.
Jakob Bro – Balladeering
The 2009 release Balladeering started off the album trilogy. Of the three recordings, it’s the one that most reflects the influence that Bill Frisell has had over modern guitarists. His mix of jazz, folk and rock presented with a strikingly melodic, hazily ambient presence and sometimes ominous tone is stamped indelibly on this recording. And while Jakob Bro is certainly his own man when it comes to a singular creative voice, if it can be said he came out of one particular “school of Jazz,” it would the Frisellian.
“Weightless” speaks directly to this distinction. With its layers of melody and effects, it creates a swirling mist of sound whose form is defined by the path it drifts in as much as it is by its sequencing of one gorgeous note after the next. “Terrace Place” runs very similar to this, but Konitz’s sax cuts through the fog like a knife.
“Vraa” sparks with life. Konitz’s sax is thick with emotion, heart wide as the day is long. Paul Motion’s drums match Konitz’s forward motion while kicking up a bit of propulsion. On “Evening Song,” the melody serves as the source of propulsion, with lyricism as the fuel.
Aside from the lovely tone they provide, the use of steel-stringed guitar on “Starting Point (Acoustic)” portends an essential element that leads to the success of Balladeering‘s follow-up… Time. But for this session, it’s all about the warmth those guitars generate, and how a distant beauty grows much closer and embraceable.
Your album personnel: Jakob Bro (guitar), Bill Frisell (guitar), Lee Konitz (alto sax), Ben Street (bass) and Paul Motian (drums).
Released on Loveland Records.
Jakob Bro – Time
Of the three albums in Bro’s trilogy, 2011’s Time is most cohesive and radiates the strongest presence. As a result, its seaside ease conjures up the imagery of the shoreline and salt in the air, and translates the immensity and vastness of a large body of water without sacrificing the music’s calm serenity.
On “Sma Dyrr,” steel-string guitar glitters like sunlight. Thomas Morgan’s bass is bright and resonant. On “Swimmer,” guitar lines plume upward from the dancing flame of Lee Konitz’s sax. The expression on “Cirkler” is one of determined will, but it grows increasingly drowsy, as if having spent all its energy before drifting off to sleep. The Frisellian influence is stronger on “Fiordlands” and “Nat.” On the former, the rhythmic touch by guitars and bass is almost hypnotic, while the latter track’s shimmery guitars incite an ethereal presence that drifts peacefully along, even as melodic fragments create an ominous tone that hangs in the air. The quartet gets a lot of mileage out of the mix of earthy and mysterious tones on Time, and it’s a big reason for the album’s success.
Your album personnel: Jakob Bro (guitar), Bill Frisell (guitar), Lee Konitz (alto sax) and Thomas Morgan (bass).
Released on Loveland Records.
Jakob Bro – December Song
The final album of the trilogy was 2013’s December Song. Overall, it possesses an ethereal presence wispier than that of its trio-mates and a formlessness that creates an undercurrent of tension, as if the ear recognizes that a tune can change direction at any one moment without warning.
Tracks like the enchanting “Giant,” on which Bro’s & Frisell’s guitar lines ascend upward like fireflies on a dark Summer night and “Laxness,” in which Lee Konitz’s sax bobs on the twin guitars’ peaceful ocean waves. The solemn “Vinterhymne” wavers and shifts in and out of focus. Konitz’s bright melodic light shades the song from one side while bassist Thomas Morgan works subtly, yet still resonantly from the opposite.
The album tracks that coalesce into a substantive form tend to feature Craig Taborn’s piano in a prominent role. The brightly shining “Zygaena” sees Taborn’s piano walking out ahead with both guitars nearby at its side. Together, they create a melodic cohesiveness enjoined with beautiful harmonies. “Treehouse” takes a similar approach, but is expressed with serenity and patience. “Kong Oscar,” on the other hand, has a bigger presence via a series of strong melodic surges.
But overall, it’s a track like “Risskov” that reflects the spirit of the album… an ambient languor struck through with lively melodic flares and enveloped by drifting harmonies and an ethereal presence.
Your album personnel: Jakob Bro (guitar), Bill Frisell (guitar), Lee Konitz (alto sax), Craig Taborn (piano) and Thomas Morgan (double bass).
Today’s featured video is in-studio footage from Jakob Bro, performing the song “Vinterhymne,” which appears on his 2013 release, December Song. It’s the third in a planned trilogy of albums that feature, among other notables, Bill Frisell and Lee Konitz. All three albums are absolutely gorgeous. In anticipation of Bro’s upcoming 2015 release, I’ll be reviewing all three this week.
There’s a brief voice-over by Lee Konitz near the end, which is quite touching. He was an established jazz legend before the turn of the century, and remarkably, Konitz has effected a resurgence on his performing career, and he’s been contributing to some of the more amazing albums of the last ten years. There is something profoundly uplifting about the reminder that our creative talents need not grow old, even if our bodies do.
Also, on another note, it turns out Lee Konitz dresses exactly like I do. I swear to god, I sit in my writing room pounding away on the keyboard in a shirt/sweater/pants combo just like the one he’s wearing in this video… the autumn colors and the black pants. I am likely the only one who finds this significant or charming… a fact which, apparently, does nothing to dissuade me from sharing it in this post.
Anyways, enjoy the video.
Your video personnel: Jakob Bro (guitar), Bill Frisell (guitar), Thomas Morgan (bass), Lee Konitz (sax) and Craig Taborn (piano).
Today’s featured video comes courtesy of Josh Nelson and Kathleen Grace performing the song “How You Loved Me on Mars” from Nelson’s new release, Exploring Mars.
This video was originally intended as the submission for NPR’s recent Tiny Desk Concert contest. It captures the personal warmth and haunting beauty of the recording, an ode of sorts to the stories and science of the Red Planet.
It was one of the recommendations from this week’s This Is Jazz Today column. Learn more-> LINK.
Your video personnel: Josh Nelson (piano) and Kathleen Grace (vocals).