Thursday, August 30, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
This is chamber jazz at its most intimate. The lustrous, tightly disciplined and often downright beautiful playing of the four protagonists is excellent throughout.
(Loveland Records LLR013)
I first encountered the playing of Danish guitarist and composer Jakob Bro when he appeared at the Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock, Shropshire in November 2009 as part of a “Nordic” quintet led by the venerable Polish trumpeter and composer Tomasz Stanko. That same quintet appeared on Stanko’s typically excellent ECM album “Dark Eyes” and Bro impressed equally in both the live and recorded contexts.
As a solo performer Bro came to international prominence in 2009 with the highly successful album “Balladeering”, an award winning album that found the Dane working with a host of prominent Americans including fellow guitarist Bill Frisell, saxophonist Lee Konitz, bassist Ben Street and the late, great Paul Motian at the drums. Not that this represented Bro’s début, he has recorded prolifically as both leader and sideman and due to links forged when he studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Manhattan School of Music in New York he has worked frequently with other Americans including guitarist Steve Cardenas and saxophonists Mark Turner and Chris Cheek. Bro also toured as a member of Motian’s Electric Bebop Band.
“Time” appears on Bro’s own Loveland label and can be seen as a continuation of the musical relationships explored on “Balladeering”. Frisell and Konitz appear once more with bass duties being taken over by another American, Thomas Morgan. However the drummer-less line up represents a significant change in emphasis with the focus now very much on mood, colour and texture. The title of the album references both the chronological span of the ages of this cross generational group of musicians but also the sense of time and movement within the music itself.
When I first heard Bro performing with Stanko his playing evoked comparisons with Frisell and it should perhaps come as no surprise to find that the two guitarists have struck up such a perfect understanding. Indeed Frisell seems to positively relish playing with other guitarists, notably his work as part of a two guitar front line with either John Scofield or Pat Metheny in bands led by bassist Marc Johnson.
The playing of Konitz is little short of astonishing. At eighty five he is playing as well as ever and his musical curiosity remains undimmed. His tone remains remarkably pure and his musical intellect is as sharp as ever, Konitz has spent his professional life nudging at the boundaries and he shows no signs of wanting to stop that yet. His contribution here and across many decades of music making demands that he be considered as one of the all time greats.
The programme consists of eight Bro originals and begins with the emotive Nat (Danish for “Night”) which features the warm, breathy tone of Konitz’ alto above the delicate, intertwining lattice of Bro and Frisell’s guitars, the whole anchored by Morgan at the bass. Bro and Frisell use their effects judiciously, there’s a touch of Frisell’s trademark Americana twang and the slightest hint of electronica.
The air of fragile beauty created on the opener extends to the folk like melody of “Cirkler”. Although the album was recorded at Avatar Studios in New York City the presence of Bro ensures that the music retains a distinctly Nordic feel. If “Nat” was dominated by Konitz then “Cirkler” gives the guitarists a greater opportunity to stretch out. Their dialogue is unhurried, organic and natural with Morgan offering sensitive and intelligent support to their intimate conversations. Konitz is also given the opportunity to expound with long, melodic lines underscored by subtle guitar FX.
“A Simple Premise” features the string playing trio of Bro, Frisell and Morgan in a relaxed conversation that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Frisell’s own records.
Konitz returns to add his fragile yet authoritative voice to the lovely “Swimmer”, another piece with a Nordic, folk like melody. Again the guitarists generate a rich backdrop of sounds with Frisell adding a touch of Americana to the European influences. Here as elsewhere the intuitive Morgan meanders through the piece, sometimes stepping into the foreground, at other times forming a stabilising presence. He is always thoroughly attuned to the sensibilities of his fellow musicians.
The quietly brooding “Northern Blues” features the melancholy saxophone of Konitz alongside the glacial sounds of the guitars, it seems to sum up the “frozen tundras” so often associated with Jan Garbarek. “Fiordlands” continues the Nordic theme but is slightly warmer in feel with a gorgeous saxophone melody alongside the rather chillier guitars.
“Yellow” maintains the album’s chamber jazz feel on another unhurried meditation featuring Konitz’s long lined sax lines above the tracery of guitars and bass on another song like Bro theme. It represents the final contribution from the venerable Konitz before the album concludes with “Smaa Dyr”, a beautifully tranquil conversation between acoustic guitars and double bass.
“Time” is an intriguing album. Resolutely unhurried and highly melodic it features intimate ensemble conversations based around song like folk melodies. Konitz is often the predominate voice but there is virtually no orthodox jazz soloing. This is chamber jazz at its most intimate and some may miss the element of swing. However “Time” is a total success in its own terms and the lustrous, tightly disciplined and often downright beautiful playing of the four protagonists is excellent throughout. Admirers of “Angel Song”, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s 1995 chamber jazz classic for ECM may appreciate this album, particularly so as Konitz and Frisell are common to both records.
Bro (born 1978) is an original voice on the world jazz scene and his reputation is certain to grow in the coming years. Since this November 2011 release he has issued the double CD set “Bro/Knak” , a series of large ensemble compositions featuring Frisell, Morgan, Wheeler, pianist Paul Bley, drummer Jeff Ballard and others plus a choir and theremin soloist Pamelia Kurstin. The second CD sees these compositions handed over in their entirety to Danish electronic artist Thomas Knak for a complete overhaul. It’s a fascinating project which I hope to take a look at in due course.
In the meantime there’s always this beautiful, lovingly crafted mood piece to enjoy.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.