Friday, October 19, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
A remarkably mature recording, nothing sounds forced or hurried as the young trio develop their ideas at their own pace.
(Hubro Records CD2518 - also available on vinyl LP3518)
Moskus are a young piano trio from Norway who first came together on the acclaimed jazz course at Trondheim Conservatory. This hothouse of creativity has produced many fine musicians and has established close ties with the equivalent faculty in Birmingham. Each year Trondheim Conservatory sends a contingent of its leading students to play at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in conjunction with their Birmingham counterparts. These collaborations invariably produce interesting and worthwhile music and it may well be that pianist Ana Lauvdal (piano), double bassist Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson and drummer Hans Hulbaekmo have already visited the UK in this context ( the only Trondheim/Birmingham exchange concert I’ve seen was in 2012 but any of these three may have been involved with earlier visits).
On their début recording the three twenty somethings show an impressive compositional maturity on a set of ten self penned pieces. The album credits suggest that they compose collectively and it’s highly likely that their writing process includes a good deal of group improvisation. Whatever their MO the results are impressive and seem to represent all that is good about contemporary Scandinavian jazz piano. There are hints of E.S.T’s sense of melody and groove and of Tord Gustavsen’s gospel inspired serenity. The subtly adventurous music of compatriot Helge Lien may well be another inspiration although the trio also acknowledge the influence of both Paul and Carla Bley on their music. Lauvdal and Hulbaekmo have also played with the rock bands Your Headlights Are On and Avalanche/Snoskred and there is a definite post rock ambience about their sound,very contemporary and also suggesting the influence of Radiohead. Moskus certainly seem to have hit the ground running winning the 2011 “Début Artist Award” from the Grappa Record Company before moving on to record for the increasingly influential Hubro Records.
The album title “Salmesykkel” translates as “Hymn Bicycle”, a reference to the harmonium/reed organ/pump/organ which features in much Norwegian religious and liturgical music. The idea is illustrated by the album cover art. It was largely recorded at the famous Atlantis Grammofon Studio in Stockholm by Mikael Herrstrom before being mixed in Trondheim by Morten Stendahl and mastered by Helge “Deathprod” Sten of the group Supersilent.
The album commences with the title track which sums up the group’s delicate strengths superbly. Lauvdal’s sparse piano melodies are underpinned by flexible bass and engagingly busy, colourful drums. It sounds contemporary and European but there’s more than a hint of Keith Jarrett too. Pianist Lauvdal comes from a gospel background and this is clearly audible here (particularly in the rousing coda) along with those Jarrett and Gustavsen references.
“Kloster” is a brief, impressionistic snippet featuring the sound of strummed piano strings. It’s very minimalistic and very likely wholly improvised. It provides a curtain raiser for the lovely “Bibelbeltet” which sounds as if it wouldn’t be out of place on a Tord Gustavsen album. Lauvdal’s chording is typically spacious and the perfectly judged support from resonant double bass and delicately brushed drums is a delight.
“Nar det tegne pa prestyn dryp det pa klokkarn” (no don’t ask me what it means) develops slowly and hypnotically while still embracing that gospel feel. It builds from the gentle and contemplative to full on celebratory and back again.
“Farlig norsk hengebru” is based around interlocking rhythms with Lauvdal’s left hand an insistent presence which allows Hulbaekmo free rein to playfully coax delightful small details from his drums as he chatters around his rims and cymbals. There’s an understated impish charm about this piece.
The impenetrable ( to English eyes) titles keep coming. “Dagen derpa og veien tellsbaksjatt” begins with barely audible high register piano Hulbaekmo’s minimalist percussive ticks and scrapes on a variety of small instruments and devices (bells etc.) . Initially it’s all very minimalist, ethereal and impressionistic and is another piece that sounds as if it may have its roots entirely in improvisation.
Hulbaekmo’s contribution becomes more animated and forceful as the piece progresses and the range of percussive sounds grows even more exotic. Lauvdal responds but without ever sounding forced or hurried. The brief “Creperie de Marie” continues this always absorbing piano/percussion dialogue albeit in a more through composed way. The musical relationship between Lauvdal and Hulbaekmo sometimes reminds me of that between veteran Swedish pianist Bob Stenson and his trio’s young drummer Jon Falt.
“Ville Vesten” combines elements of the exchanges on the previous two tracks with the gospel flavourings of some of the earlier offerings. Meanwhile “Snorres Saga”, perhaps a title derived from Icelandic mythology, opens with a something of a feature for bassist Dietrichson. Hulbaekmo’s cymbal scrapes and an identified sound, that could conceivably be a theremin or even a musical saw, combine to give the music a distinctive other worldly air. The closing “Moskus”, named after the band itself is gently anthemic and ends the album on an appropriately valedictory note with Dietrichson’s use of the bow particularly effective.
“Salmesykkel” represents an excellent début from this highly accomplished young band. Although numerous influences, mainly Scandinavian, can be detected they have already established a sound of their own with Hulbaekmo’s colourful and imaginative drumming a particularly distinctive instrumental voice. His dialogue with pianist Lauvdal engages throughout and the level of group interaction belies the trio’s tender years. It’s a remarkably mature recording, nothing sounds forced or hurried as the band develop their ideas at their own pace. With its distinctly Nordic, often other worldly, feel this immaculately recorded album is often stunningly beautiful. Moskus have the potential to become one of the great European piano trios and their frames of reference suggest that they are capable of developing a cult following that has the potential to transcend the established jazz community. Like many of their compatriots they sound like naturals for a slot on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction programme.
English readers will get the opportunity to investigate the music of Moskus tomorrow evening (20th October 2012) when the trio appear at Kings Place, London as part of a special Hubro Records showcase. They will share the bill with Norwegian improvising trio 1982 (Nils Okland-Hardanger fiddle, violin, Sigbjorn Apeland – harmonium and Oyvind Skarbo-drums, percussion) who will be joined by British pedal steel guitarist B J Cole who appears as a guest on their most recent album.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.