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Kristian Borring

Urban Novel


by Ian Mann

July 21, 2014


Although unfailingly melodic this is also highly sophisticated music. "Urban Novel" is an album that should further establish Borring's reputation as both a guitarist and composer.

Kristian Borring

“Urban Novel”

(Jellymould Jazz, JM-JJ016)

The Danish guitarist and composer Kristian Borring moved to London in 2005 and has since become a significant presence on the UK jazz scene via his work with Italian born saxophonist Tommaso Starace and Polish born vocalist Monika Lidke among others, proof indeed of London’s status as a cosmopolitan city and musical melting pot. Borring has also worked with many leading young British jazz musicians, particularly those associated with the SE and Loop Collectives, some of whom appear on this recording.

I first encountered Borring’s playing as part of a quartet led by Starace at The Hive in Shrewsbury in 2011. His enormous technical ability was immediately apparent but this is a guitarist who eschews histrionics, Borring’s is an understated virtuosity and he favours a pure, clear electric guitar sound with little resource to additional electronic effects. As a composer he tends to write episodic pieces with a strong sense of narrative, something which becomes even more pronounced on this his second album. “Urban Novel” has been described as “a personal homage to life in the metropolis” and the tune titles suggest that they have been inspired by real places, people and events. It builds upon the virtues of Borring’s début album “Nausicaa (Ultra Sound Records, 2011), a quartet recording that also featured occasional contributions from guest saxophonist Will Vinson.

For “Urban Novel” Borring has retained the services of two of the Nausicaa personnel in the shapes of pianist Arthur Lea and drummer Jon Scott. Mick Coady replaces Spencer Brown at the bass and for half the programme the group is expanded to a quintet with the addition of vibes virtuoso Jim Hart, a welcome acquisition who brings fresh colour and texture to this latest recording.

Borring’s sound is sometimes reminiscent of Pat Metheny but there also hints of the styles of other contemporary guitarists in his playing, among them Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ben Monder and Brad Shepik. The combination of guitar and vibes evokes comparisons with the Gary Burton/Pat Metheny collaborations for ECM in the 70s but Borring’s approach is more obviously European and thanks to pianist Lea an additional component flavours the mix.

Borring, Hart and Lea dovetail effectively on complex opener “Hipster” as Coady and Scott handle the tricky rhythmic parts with aplomb. There are enjoyable cameos from Borring, Hart, Lea and even Scott. but the focus is on empathic, closely knit ensemble playing in a piece that hints at the urban bustle implicit in the album title. 

“Equilibrium” is more relaxed but no less interesting, its Metheny like melody the vehicle for Borring’s clean toned, coolly elegant guitar soloing. With Hart sitting out this quartet performance allows Lea greater scope to express himself and the pianist responds with a hugely inventive and imaginative contribution. 

“(Kasper) In Darkness” is introduced by a Burton/Metheny style vibes/guitar style duet before developing into a dazzling Hart solo in a group context. The vibraphonist adopts a warm, woody tone on his instrument and that warmth is matched by Borring’s own rounded tones on a solo that sounds effortless yet is typically rich in invention. As a composer Borring has the knack of taking complex harmonic and rhythmic ideas and wrapping them up in a melodic cloak that makes his music inviting and accessible.

“Arcade Coffee Shop” is performed by the trio of Borring, Coady and Scott and is as relaxed as the title suggests with the leader’s subtle chording complemented by Scott’s delicately detailed brush work and a languid Coady bass solo. Scott is one of the most in demand young drummers around and his work throughout the album is colourful and imaginative, qualities he brings to all of the many bands he plays with.

The title track has something of an “after hours” feel and features lucid, lyrical solos from both Borring and Lea in a quartet setting. The pair are superbly supported by the inventive Scott, who conjures a fascinating array of sounds from his kit, and the anchoring Coady. The bassist released his own acclaimed album Nine Tales of the Pendulum” on Jellymould Jazz in 2013, a recording featuring the outstanding talents of American alto saxophonist David Binney. 

A delightful passage of solo piano introduces “Number Junky”, the piece eventually metamorphosing into something bright, breezy and swinging with further solos from Coady on bass, Hart on warm toned vibes, and the leader on guitar. Here as elsewhere Hart’s use of bows on the bars of his vibes helps to create extra colour and texture and the overall group sound is highly impressive.

It’s the turn of Borring to introduce “Hidden Corners”, his brief passage of solo guitar ushering in the most straightforwardly swinging tune of the set, a vehicle for expansive and imaginative solos from Lea and Borring as Hart sits out. The piece concludes with an extended feature for the excellent Scott who circumnavigates his kit above the comping of Borring and Lea. 

The album concludes with a differently configured quartet as Lea stands down and Borring and Hart exchange solos on the tune “Weltall”. There’s a flowing lyricism about both contributions and the support of Coady and Scott is empathetic and well judged.

“Urban Novel” builds upon the success of “Nausicaa” with Borring delivering a stronger set of themes. Although unfailingly melodic this is also highly sophisticated music that is well served by Borring’s undemonstrative approach. For me, the appeal of the album is further enhanced by the presence of Hart, one of my favourite musicians but the entire cast impresses with Scott making a typically immaculate contribution. Capable of a broad appeal “Urban Novel” is an album that should further establish Borring’s reputation as both a guitarist and composer.

Borring is due to tour the music in Autumn 2014 but the full schedule is yet to be announced. Among the locations mooted to be visited during the tour are Norwich, London, Liverpool and St. Ives. I hope the band will play somewhere closer to me as this music should be well worth seeing and hearing live.

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