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by Ian Mann

October 09, 2008


Drawing on the past but firmly of the present "Sumo" is one of 2008's more intriguing releases

“Sumo” is the fourth album from this Swedish quintet but their first for ACT and the first to receive international distribution. Their previous releases “Oddjob” (2002), “Koyo” (2004) and “Luma”(2006) all appeared on the Swedish Amigo label.

Oddjob have retained a stable line-up throughout their existence so it is no surprise that alongside the obvious influences of electric era Miles Davis and seventies fusion and soul jazz they have also come up with a quirkily original sound of their own. The Oddjob sound veers from the retro to the contemporary and back again. There is a sly sense of humour imbuing much of their output despite their extensive use of “black motifs” to give a “film noir” feel to the music.

Oddjob take a democratic approach to writing with eleven of the twelve compositions being credited to the group. The exception is the traditional folk song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” which we’ll come to later.

The album commences in unusual fashion with “Kingston” a short unaccompanied drum passage from Janne Robertson that hints at both the Caribbean and New Orleans. This provides the platform for the expansive “The Big Hit” which features the blended horns of trumpeter Goran Kajfes and reed man Per “Rusktrask” Johansson (heard here on both saxes and flute). Pianist Daniel Karlsson also features prominently as a soloist alongside Kajfes . Robertson’s dense forest of drums and percussion underpins the swirling, tightly arranged piece which sounds thoroughly contemporary despite it’s obvious 70’s influences.

“Golden Silver” is a homage to the great pianist and composer Horace Silver, similar in construction to his tunes but adding a dark and brooding atmosphere not normally associated with Silver’s work. Bassist Peter Forss is prominent here and guest musician Stoffe Wallman adds unsettling OSCar synthesiser to the mix to give an unusual “hard bop meets chill out” vibe.

The sinister “Sewerside Blues” features growling trumpet meshing with brooding sax and electric piano all driven by Robertson’s busy groove laden drumming. It’s another fine blend of retro and contemporary influences.

“Smaland” (named after the centre of the Swedish glass blowing industry) is a dark, impressionistic piece featuring unusual instruments such as glockenspiel, zither and even wine glasses alongside the atmospheric horn textures.

The lengthy “Painkiller” is arguably the albums stand out track. Stark and dramatic, but undeniably funky,  it is driven by Karlsson’s rumbling Hammond giving an ominous atmosphere which provides the backdrop for Kajfes’ powerful trumpet solo and maintains an air of tension and menace throughout the piece.

The duo of Johansson and Robertson open the tricky “Punch” with it’s unusual time signatures. There is a strong contribution from Karlsson at the piano on this intricate but fun and energetic offering.

“Punch” segues into “The Day TV Stood Still” (sounds like an E.S.T title) another impressionistic piece with an insistent keyboard pulse and swirling layers of sound featuring Forss on synthesiser.

Now we come to Oddjob’s take on “Where Did you Sleep Last Night”. Although it has been covered by scores of artists it is probably Kurt Cobain’s heartsick version that is now uppermost in the contemporary public consciousness. Oddjob subvert it completely with whistles and hand claps plus that glockenspiel again. It reveals the band’s oddball sense of humour and is reminiscent of the kind of thing a maverick like Django Bates would come up with.

“Salvador” is another unaccompanied drum passage and paves the way for “Like Josef” a tribute to the late Joe Zawinul. Like “Smaland” it borrows elements from early Weather Report and despite it’s funereal pace it is ultimately uplifting and a celebration of the great man.

The closing “Nostradamus” contradicts the portentousness of it’s title with a lengthy groove driven romp full of blazing horns and powerful bass lines. But there is even a dark side to this with Wallman’s odd synthesiser textures complementing Karlsson’s keyboards particularly in the middle section and on the long atmospheric fade out.

“Sumo” is one of those records that is more than the sum of it’s parts and reveals something new with every listen. Although the record is immediately accessible the tightly layered arrangements are full of surprises and judicious use is made of overdubbing widening the basic sound palette of the quintet considerably. Karlsson’s use of multi keyboards helps greatly in this regard rather than being just a gimmick and the rest of the group also double on other instruments. Kajfes is probably the outstanding soloist but Johansson and Karlsson also make strong contributions. Forss’ bass grooves are impeccable but it is the crisp,energetic and relentlessly inventive drumming of the excellent Robertson that really drives the band.

Drawing on the past but firmly of the present “Sumo” is one of 2008’s more intriguing releases. Don’t let the rather naff group name put you off.

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