Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

December 08, 2012


The mixture of electro acoustic improvised instrumentals and carefully sculpted avant pop songs works well with the two approaches combining to create a coherent stylistic and emotional whole.

Eyes of a Blue Dog



Trumpeter and composer Rory Simmons’ ensemble Fringe Magnetic has attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim in recent years for their blending of jazz and classical structures on the albums “Empty Spaces” (2010) and “Twistic” (2011). Both albums have also included vocals and lyrics with the Norwegian born, UK based ,vocalist and lyricist Elisabeth Nygard proving to be a significant presence on both records. “Twistic” also features the work of Norwegian drummer, producer and soundscape artist Terje Evensen who introduces a new dimension to the already distinctive Fringe Magnetic sound.

In some respects the new trio Eyes of a Blue Dog featuring the trio of Simmons, Nygard and Evensen can be seen as a spin off from Fringe Magnetic. However “Rise” is less obviously a jazz record than either of the Fringe Magnetic offerings. It’s more frankly about electronica with Simmons contributing guitar and electronics as well as his usual trumpet. In the main the songs are shorter than the majority of Fringe Magnetic pieces and evidence a greater debt to the world of pop and rock albeit one filtered through the prism of jazz and the avant garde. All the pieces are credited to the three protagonists suggesting that the roots of each tune lie in collective improvisation. The trio cite electro improvisers such as Supersilent, Humcrush, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada as influences alongside Simmons’ trumpet heroes- Miles Davis, Kenny Wheeler, Mark Isham, Dave Douglas, Nils Petter Molvaer and Christian Scott. Meanwhile Nygard’s icily evocative, crystal clear vocals have been compared to a host of fellow Scandinavians among them Sidsel Endresen, Lykke Li, Hanne Hukkelborg and Susanna Wallumrod. For me Icelander Bjork is another obvious source of reference, if you like Bjork the chances are you’ll enjoy this. 

Nygard is an in demand performer who has also made a recent recording with Norwegian trumpeter and composer Didrik Ingvaldsen’s tentet Extended Corner, a broadly similar set up to Fringe Magnetic but without the latter’s string players. She also appears on the newly released “Here” by pianist and electronic artist Colin Riley’s group MooV, an album that explores similar territory to that mined by Eyes of a Blue Dog.

Eyes of a Blue Dog take their name from a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and although they derive something from Fringe Magnetic’s “art song” approach there’s a strong pop sensibility too. They open with the instrumental “Mai” as Simmon’s pure, long toned trumpet floats ethereally above Evensen’s carefully sculpted soundscapes. Evensen has played a significant role in UK drummer Martin France’s Spin Marvel group and his own drumming here imparts a compelling urgency above which Simmons continues to float serenely. It’s a beguiling, compelling and effective mix.

The brief title track introduces Nygard’s Bjork like vocals and lyrics. This is the first of a string of exotic pop songs with emotive and arresting lyrics and features a soundtrack informed by the trip hop glitches of Portishead.

The instrumental"Marble Faces” features Simmons’ Miles/Molvaer inspired trumpet above the ever evolving rumble of Evensen’s drums and electronica. It’s typically effective but arguably drifts on just a little too long.

“Reject The Rhapsody” is another out and out song featuring Nygard’s chilling vocals and perceptive, intelligent lyrics.

The singer is at her most affecting on the crepescular “Nothing Dies With You”, her haunting whispered, occasionally multi tracked vocals accompanied by soundscapes that are the perfect embodiment of Nordic melancholy. Nygard stretches words and phrases and invests her singing with a beguiling blend of sensuality, vulnerability and emotion. It’s a stunning vocal performance offset by a sparse but perfectly judged electro acoustic accompaniment that captures the atmosphere perfectly.

“Little Piece Of Everything” represents an extended instrumental featuring some of Simmons’ most extrovert trumpet playing as he delivers an exuberant solo above a dense undercurrent of drums and electronics with a hooky, looped synthesiser phrase forming the backbone of the piece.

“Deliverance” offers another superb Nygard vocal and lyric, beginning in the same melancholy mood as “Nothing Dies With You” before a rumbling electronic groove fleetingly transforms the mood of the piece.

Simmons is again on fine form as his trumpet flares brightly on the song-like instrumental “Knee”, a tune that the album’s press release compares favourably with Stereolab. Simmons contributes some guitar here too alongside the whistling of synthesisers and other electronica.

The final item, “Falling” offers an intriguing contrast between Nygard’s coolly elegant Bjork inspired vocals and Evensen’s deeply throbbing electronic grooves. Once again it’s a highly sophisticated but very immediate piece of work that ends the album with a flourish.

Eyes of a Blue Dog’s mixture of electro acoustic improvised instrumentals and carefully sculpted avant pop songs works well, with the two approaches combining to create a coherent stylistic and emotional whole. Evensen is a master of the soundscaper’s art, Simmons plays with flair and elegance throughout and Nygard’s vocal performance is simply outstanding, arguably her best yet. Her lyrics too are thought provoking and intelligent, a considerable achievement for somebody writing in their “second language”.

The album has already received airplay on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction (perhaps no surprise as presenter Fiona Talkington is thanked in the album’s notes) and their skilfully layered and textured music with it’s distinctly Nordic ambience should hold considerable appeal to that programme’s audience. However “Rise”, and particularly the songs, also has the potential to reach out to the more adventurous end of the rock and pop audience.

Eyes of a Blue Dog play in London tonight (08/12/2012) as support to Nils Petter Molvaer at Bishopsgate Institute. I can’t attend but I suspect that they’ll be an excellent prospect live.   



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