Beyond Jazz: Ola Kvernberg Trio – “Northern Tapes”


Ola Kvernberg - "Northern Tapes"One of the more captivating albums I’ve encountered lately is Northern Tapes, by the Ola Kvernberg Trio.  Possessing a strong folk sound and presented in cinematic washes, this is music with an aggressive personality that is as alluring as it is positively arresting.  Lithe, fluid, but with a serious gravity.

On strings, Kvernberg howls with a majestic sonority.  Percussion is a consensual aggregation of many conversations rising into a single, multifaceted din.  This is active music that makes it simple to sit back and simply drift away.

The rhythm trio of bassist Steinar Raknes and drummer/percussionists Erik Nylander and Børge Fjordheim lock in together to create some seriously dynamic rhythmic patterns for Kvernberg to float across.  A track like “North” has bass bubbling up to the surface and popping with a satisfying regularity while drums and percussion mimic the ripples caused by the tiny eruptions.  Its effect is hypnotic.  It’s a different kind of effect on the focused rhythmic propulsion of “Leaving Lotte,” a song that has Kvernberg soloing over the top like riding drafts in a stormy sky.

Kvernberg switches between a variety of stringed instruments, sometimes within the span of a single song.  The most powerful of these options is his use of bass violin, which emits a resonant soulfulness and gripping lyricism similar to how bass clarinet, when wielded deftly, can capture the moment with a tumult of rhythmic activity.  And then there’s the way it enters with a haunting beauty on “Best Intentions,” a song that twitters with life but keeps to an inside voice until it can no longer contain itself.

The use of electronics and effects is done with a certain modesty and tastefulness.  It isn’t something kept to the back of the room; on the other hand, it doesn’t stick its beak into every moment of every song.  Some loops, like with mandolin on the opening track “Wood Village” add some texture to an already rich vein of percussion.

Other tracks mimic a slow, cool breeze drifting through mountaintop forests.  The haunting beauty of “Poweryard” shimmers briefly then disappears, gone too soon, but there’s great value in leaving the ear with a want for more.  “Cooper’s Joe” is a peaceful stroll, eschewing burgeoning intensity for some casual dips in sunlight.

The album ends with more peacefulness.  “Lillesara” drifts languidly, strings and percussion both exuding a calm patience, even when volume and pace get kicked up a notch.  The song doesn’t end so much as simply fade away, growing ever softer until it goes silent.

Just an absolutely gorgeous recording.

Your album personnel:  Ola Kvernberg (viola, violin, bass violin, cello, mandolin, ukulele, autoharp, percussion, Hammond B3, drums, electronics), Erik Nylander (drums, percussion), Børge Fjordheim (drums, percussion, autoharp), Steinar Raknes (double bass).

Released on Jazzland Recordings.

Music from the Trondheim, Norway scene.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  New Retail Options:  eMusic | Amazon MP3

Man, I hate linking to iTunes, but it appears to be one of the only places for U.S.-centric retail sites selling this fine recording… iTunes Link.  It looks like the Italian and German Amazon stores have it available, too.  The label, Jazzland Recordings, suggests purchasing from Gube Music.  They seem to have some nice file formats available.  If he begins retailing it at U.S. Amazon or eMusic or Bandcamp, etc, I’ll add the links later and send out a notice via Twitter and Facebook.

Also worth noting that Kvernberg is a member of Liarbird, along with Mathias Eick and others.  I’ll be reviewing their 2011 release in the near future.  Stay in touch.