Lage Lund: Turn Out the Stars

Guitarist Lage Lund, a young, unassuming, Norwegian-in-Brooklyn, has already amassed an impressive list of musical accomplishments. After studying at the Berklee College of Music upon arriving in the United States, Lund soon became the first electric guitarist granted a full scholarship to the Julliard Jazz Studies program in 2003, and won the prestigious Thelonious Monk Competition in 2005, where he was selected as the winner by a panel of judges who might know a thing or two about jazz guitar: Pat Martino, Earl Klugh, John Pizzarelli, Bill Frisell, Russell Malone and Stanley Jordan. Responding to why Lund won the top prize, Malone stated, "Lage wasn't flashy. He was just all music and all soul – that's what we all agreed upon. Great tone, great interpreter. One of the things I liked about him was that when he played these melodies he didn't embellish them – he was true to them."

"Turn out the Stars" reveals the elements of Malone's description. Lund exhibits a wise-beyond-his-years ability to strip away all but the truest sense of a standard's melody and harmonic groundwork (à la Hall and Frisell), and there's no better way to sense this gift than on Lund's interpretation of one of Bill Evans's lyrical compositions. As Lund's improvisation develops, so does its complexity, as evidenced by the web of propulsive ideas he weaves between 2:30 and 3:30. But not to worry: his classic tone and relaxed style create a fluidity that makes this heavy thinking as comfortable to listen to as his unembellished melodic statements. Busy New York players Orlando LeFleming and Rodney Green are elegant throughout, especially LeFleming's Haden-esque harmonic predictions of Lund's every move. We'll be hearing a lot more from all of these players, with Lund gently leading the way.

March 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Maria Kannegaard: Bits

This top-notch European release is now available in the U.S. at a reasonable price. Jazz gods be praised! Maria Kannegaard is a focused and creative pianist who deserves a wide hearing. "Bits" is appropriately named. It starts in a pointillistic mood, with bits of piano shrapnel flying in various directions, while the arco bass lurches back and forth trying to avoid a direct hit. Midway through the performance, Kannegaard toys with a repetitive vamp, only to subvert it with sudden outbursts of . . . silence. The conclusion is all sunlight and rapture, as the pianist lets loose rich tremolos and orchestral colors. At no point does she rely on the clichéd or familiar. So much here is unexpected, yet it all feels so right. Don't be put off by the strange CD cover—which makes the trio look like a crazed group of assembly-line workers. This is some deep jazz indeed.

January 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Arild Andersen: Independency Part 3

The third section of a suite celebrating a century of the bassist's native Norway's independence from its union with Sweden, "Independency Part 3" probes extemporaneous performance against an atmospheric backwash. Andersen's use of digital string loops is subtle and unobtrusive but adds much sonic heft to the song. Vinaccia does no timekeeping, but his percussive accents give the performance an insistent quality. Smith's tenor sax employs a big, wide tone not far removed from Michael Brecker with lines inspired by Andersen's old boss Jan Garbarek. His phrases are completely unforced, often stating a short phrase and stating it again in longer form. Andersen's well-modulated solo sings in the upper register almost wistfully, and when rejoined by Smith, becomes a musical conversation of profundity and beauty. Like a painting created on the fly by an experienced artist, "Independency Part 3" captures the immediacy often missing from a mostly scripted piece.

December 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Gjermund Larsen: ArriVals

This Norwegian trio could easily fall outside your music radar screens, but their pastoral 2008 release Ankomst is well worth tracking down. Larsen's playing meets at the crossroads where acoustic jazz and folk styles intersect, a rich field only occasionally plowed by American jazz artists these days, but with far more adherents in other parts of the world. This CD covers a range of styles, sometimes even evoking a spirited Nordic hoedown or ECM-ish currents, but "ArriVals" is a simple, heartfelt performance that I found myself listening to over and over, and sharing with others. Highly recommended!

December 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Mathias Eick: October

Mathias Eick received the "International Jazz Award for New Talent” at the January 2007 IAJE gathering in New York. (Remember that event from the Good Ol' Days?) Now he impresses with his debut CD on ECM, The Door. This track is a moody meditation with Eick's trumpet line floating over Jon Balke's stately piano vamp. The rest of the rhythm section somehow manages to sound like the wind blowing through the forest, more an implication behind Balke and Eick than an overt beat. Why are all the lyrical trumpeters coming from Europe these days? Elsewhere (in my article "Chet's Children") I have suggested that Chet Baker's indefatigable gigging around Europe in the 1970s and '80s may have sowed seeds that are now sprouting up around the present-day EU. In any event, Eick is one of the finest of the new generation. Even if you already have Rava, Stanko, Fresu and the other top-flight European trumpeters on your CD shelves, you need to make room for this promising, visionary artist.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Hilde Hefte: Quiet Now

There has been a longstanding belief among medical professionals that, if you can get through med school and survive a residency, you are capable of doing anything – fly an airplane, write a bestselling novel or even play jazz. Of course, any bona fide jazz musician who has ever been invited to sit in with a "doctors' band" will attest to the fallacy of that notion. One rare exception is critically acclaimed jazz pianist, composer and, yes, psychiatrist Denny Zeitlin, who penned the haunting ballad, "Quiet Now."

Hilde Hefte, one of Norway's national treasures, has teamed with her longtime pianist and arranger Egil Kapstad and the Prague Philharmonic to offer a dreamy, luxurious treatment of what is arguably Dr. Zeitlin's finest composition. As always, Ms. Hefte's relaxed interpretation reveals a musician's sensibility and the wisdom to let the melody speak for itself. Dare I say this could be precisely what the doctor ordered?

June 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Hilde Hefte: For Heaven's Sake

Norwegian chanteuse Hilde Hefte delivers an intimate, assured rendering of one of the most intricate and lovely ballads ever written. With a relaxed authority devoid of diva pretensions, her ethereal voice glides through Elise Bretton's intricate changes while Egil Kapstad's deceptively understated piano utilizes space to enhance rather than crowd his lush orchestral arrangement. Captured in a live session with the prolific Prague Philharmonic under the capable Mario Klemens, this is a recording to be savored in a private moment – perfect for lovers in front of a fire on a chilly night. Personally, I can't wait to spend an evening or two in Prague.

May 13, 2008 · 0 comments


Marilyn Mazur & Jan Garbarek: Dunun Song

Building a recording project around sax and percussion, without bass or chords, is a dicey proposition, but these two artists are sufficient unto themselves. A timeless quality permeates the give-and-take between Garbarek and Mazur. Primal, throbbing, hypnotic . . . this is music more suitable for a ritual than a jazz club. Instead of ordering a drink from the bar, you want to join hands in a circle dance and start chanting. A great performance from two very deep artists.

April 12, 2008 · 0 comments


Ketil Bjørnstad & Terje Rypdal: The Sea V

This composition starts with booming tone clusters flying out of the bass end of the piano soundboard, more an aural earthquake than a melody. Then Bjørnstad shifts gears completely, offering up a dose of the 19th-century parlor music that apparently passes for jazz in his mind. But things get very interesting when Rypdal enters with a majestic solo on electric guitar, angry and wistful at the same time. The last three minutes of this eight-minute track are sublime, both players contributing to the potent mood. The Nordic wail, melancholy and transcendent, represents its own distinct jazz idiom, and it comes to the fore in the climax of this quintessential ECM performance.

April 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Marilyn Mazur & Jan Garbarek: Joy Chant

For this tune, Marilyn Mazur chose a single instrument from her hugely diverse percussion kit. It's called a hang and is not much used yet by jazz musicians. It looks a bit like a small flying saucer and sounds halfway between a steel drum and metallic tablas. On this nice repetitive song Mazur has penned, the hang's sound is a perfect match for Jan Garbarek's soprano sax. The Norwegian reed player often had the Danish percussionist in his bands. Now she enlists him for her first ECM record, and shows that Garbarek fits beautifully into her music, which is much more joyous and lively that his usual fare.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Arild Andersen: Pavane

This is one of the European equilateral triangles (Norway/Greece/UK) increasingly common on the Old Continent, as it finds a common vision of jazz parallel to the many local idiosyncrasies. These musicians, masters in their own countries, find common ground in an Impressionist composition that jazz musicians have liked for decades. Alongside the beautiful work of Andersen and Marshall (on brushes), even more remarkable is what Tsabropoulos – still a classical piano player, parallel to his jazz career – does in a trio context, on a tune he may also have played according to Ravel's original chart. Here, only his beautiful piano touch reminds us how familiar he is with the classical approach.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments


Tord Gustavsen: Where We Went

Over the course of six years and three records, Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen and the members of his trio have kept and developed the same aesthetic. But this track from their latest CD shows that their conceptions are not as monolithic as some pretend. No ethereal "Nordic sound" here, but a set of dense chords evolving on a compact rhythm pattern. The simple melody is close to hymns that can be heard in the Scandinavian churches as well as in the gospel tradition, and strangely enough the touch of lightness in this tune is brought by the drumsticks striking the cymbals. Their musicality connects this very earthy song with the air.

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments


Jan Garbarek: Witchi-Tai-To

No record label has done more to establish the unique voice of European jazz -- not as an adjunct to American trends, but as a legitimate source of innovation -- than ECM under the direction of Manfred Eicher. But here Jan Garbarek and the exceptional rhythm section of Bobo Stenson, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen dig deeply into the ultimate American roots music. The Native American-inspired jazz of the late Jim Pepper is still all too little known and appreciated, although it has found a devoted audience that will not let his vital music be forgotten. Garbarek and crew offer an impassioned rendition of Pepper's best-known composition. Stenson starts in a wistful vein, but the energy level gradually increases . . . until Garbarek enters and wails with passion. His work in the upper register is as close as the saxophone can get to a human cry.

December 20, 2007 · 0 comments


Jan Garbarek: A.I.R.

During their respective stays in Scandinavia, George Russell and Don Cherry encouraged Garbarek to bring aspects of his own cultural and musical background into jazz, with Russell asserting Garbarek was “the most original voice in European jazz since Django Reinhardt.” Intensity, space and melody are hallmarks of Garbarek’s playing on “A.I.R.” and although Keith Jarrett later came in for Stenson at ECM record producer Manfred Eicher’s suggestion, this was nevertheless an exemplary album from an exceptional group.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page