Jun 4 2013
The Norwegian trio In the Country are back with their fourth studio release, and it serves as something of an encapsulation of everything that has come before.
On their 2005 debut, This Was the Pace Of My Heartbeat, they created quiet tunes for quiet times, and offered melodies with indistinct form and a smokey presence. Their second studio album, the 2006 release Losing Stones, Collecting Bones brought a lightness to the modern Nordic piano trio sound, a pop music sensibility that gave serious music a fun attitude and the occasional catchy hook. Tracks like “Kung Fu Boys” illustrated that the trio could craft a tight song if they wanted to, and that their tendency of dispersing the melody on other tracks was one of creative decision-making. Their 2009 release Whiteout built on their propensity to create oblique melodies and sustain a veneer of serenity, but with the added dimension of generating intensity through rhythmic repetition. A track like “Doves Dance” begins with a quiet demeanor, but soon enough speaks loud and clear, whereas “Ursa Major” leaves the gate already at a gallop.
But their newest, Sunset Sunrise, has them making a return of sorts to the sound of their debut album This Was the Pace Of My Heartbeat… though as with any sort of creative development, the qualities picked up along the way inform the present vision, and thus the quiet disposition of their debut has been imbued with a weightiness previously lacking, and a tendency to abandon serenity and build up a head of steam.
Your album personnel: Morten Qvenild (hyper grand piano, electronics), Roger Arntzen (double bass, electronics), and Pal Hausken (drums, percussion, vibraphone, electronics).
The album opens with “Birch Song,” an elegant tune that glides slowly along, like skaters across a frozen pond. Piano kicks up frozen notes, bass adds an element of fluid motion, and drums tap along a path and do more listening than talking. And just when the song has cemented in place the idea that it’s shown all it has to show, it flies off the edge of a cliff into something far more ominous. Dark tones, electronic crackles and crashes, and a moodiness that won’t quit.
This leads into the second track “Derrick,” which has a deceptive patience, giving the sense of slowly expressing itself in the midst of a pulsing tempo. And this, too, is immediately discarded for third track “Stanley Park,” which begins with somber introspection, but then slowly builds intensity through repetition and rhythm. It gives the impression that it’ll last until the final note, but instead, it subsides, and is replaced with something more soulful. Drums establish a groove, which bass develops into a swagger, while piano stays cool and blue. It’s one of the more surprising turns of hat on this album, and it acts as a moment of revelation of what this album has to offer and what it reflects.
Because at most times during the first third of Sunset Sunrise, the album seemed to lack direction and cohesion. The trio seemed to be turning their back on ideas and moving on too quickly to the next before the last was completed. But like any decent character development in a story, sometimes not all facts and elements are fleshed out in the beginning… sometimes, as the story is told, the details that fall in between the established facts reveal themselves as the plot develops. That’s what the trio has put in play here.
The glimpse of an idea in the opening track is further embellished in fourth track “Silverspring,” as a moody piano-led piece that sparks with life directly in the face of an austere tone transitions deftly into the hopping exuberance of “Steelpants,” with theremin-like electronics whipping across the surface of the rhythm.
And “The Fluke, a Whale’s Tail” simply drifts along at the slowest pace, settling into a simple beauty that doesn’t need to hurry to shine. But then, as established earlier in the album, the trio begins to build up from a serene place, becoming less quiet, less content to simply drift, eventually hitting its stride for the homestretch and ending with a bang. This pattern is repeated on the title-track, before ending the album with a return to serenity, with the pretty “December Song.”
The current recording serving as something of a summation of all that’s come before, it’ll be interesting to see which direction the trio decides next to follow.
Released on the ACT Music label.
Jazz from the Oslo, Norway scene.