What's great fun about getting to write for Free Jazz Blog is that you get to hear an awful lot of music, much of which you probably wouldn't have bought in the first place, after all there's only so much money in my pocket (and yours also I suspect). And what's more is that you (often) receive a copy of the CD your reviewing yet the music is so interesting you end up buying a hard copy for your own collection. Yes, it does happen to me at least and this is one such album. It's also one that got the readers at the blog reacting to the 3½ star review written by the blog director Stef. It's certainly difficult to sum up and write about such albums - a 3 CD box set covering from 2007 to 2010 - and as always we don't always agree (luckily), nor do the readers. So here's the review I was writing for Free Jazz Blog except Stef wrote his a little quicker than I ... and believe me there's an awful lot of music in there to write about!
Motif - Facienda (JazzLand 2011)
What a mammoth task to present and review such a sprawling work as this. A 3CD (21 tracks) box set which covers concerts and studio work from another top Norwegian jazz unit from 2007 to 2010. Motif is the compositional baby of bassist Ole Morten Vågen a prolific writer and player who seems to be very active on the Nordic scene. The music of Motif is a brilliant mixture of improvised and composed, probably even more developed than their label-mates 'Atomic' (a favourite on this blog). Many people talk about the way Ole Morten Vågen mixes classical, jazz and folk together in the compositions, also true for the musicians on here who draw from such diverse areas for their own improvisations. You're just as likely to be reminded of Keith Jarrett or Dewey Redman, as Misha Mengleberg and Evan Parker. In fact it's in part this which for me makes the record so interesting the music doesn't let itself be pigeon holed in one area although I should add that this doesn't make for a confusing mixture, the compositions and improvisations really flow easily between styles. What makes Motif different from Atomic is the writing style which for me (at least) is less immediate (catchy themes) and isn't such a bad thing as often the compositions take time to unfold themselves. As anyone knows who's a wine fanatic (such as I), the first sip is often not the whole story, it takes time for the flavours to reveal themselves.
The box set has various line ups due to the 3 year period that the music covers (see below for complete details). The first CD represents the group as it is today and is a studio album. The second CD is a special expanded line up, a live concert that includes guitar and vibes along with an extra sax and a violin (not on all tunes). CD 3 is a collection of concerts from the 2007 Molde Jazz Festival, The Victoria in Olso and also the Pit Inn, Tokyo both 2009.
Die Kunst (TK 5 - CD 1)
The first CD is probably the most developed in terms of composition and improvisation and it seems this is a direction that the group is now moving towards. It also has the new trumpet player Eivind Lønning who now replaces the original member Mathias Eick. Lønning has to my ears a slightly more modern approach to playing, incorporating several extended techniques into his soloing such as half valves, flutter tonging and the likes. Strangely the album seemed on first hearing almost laid back in approach, however after a few listens I realised that due to the way the compositions often wove their way between themes, solos or duos one is not immediately aware of the intensity of the music. Nymo's Ayler-esque attacks after Håvard Wiik's flowing piano solos can take you (and your stereo) completely by surprise. However it's true to say that most of the themes on this CD use a sort of rubato to introduce the music ..... but it doesn't stay like that, not for long! You also get a clearer picture of the classical influences in the writing such as Tk3 Seksten and Tk5 Die Kunst (featured above).
The second CD is an expanded group or as Ole Morten Vagan told me : "The box covers the end of the quintet with Mathias, which was 2008 more or less, and the rise of the new and more open quintet with Eivind Lønning, and also our 10-year anniversary projects, featuring some of our friends like Håkon Kornstad, Mathias Ståhl, Ola Kvernberg and others." I guess this is the result of one of these projects as the expanded group plays some excellent up front music which is less introspective than the rest of the box sets offerings. With the addition of extra sax, trumpet, violin and guitar/lap steel guitar from time to time, the music takes off in a different way, the music is no less daring and still uses modern compositional ideas. Krakatau is an excellent example of the mixing of styles and one that (on the box set) really features Vagan playing his bass, it's also one of the highlights for me on this CD. In fact on the this CD Immunoflourescence is another bass feature (maybe a bass improvisation?) and it seems as though Vagan had more space for himself in these concerts. The titles also give us an idea of the general fun being had with the likes of Paddy Wack and Korean Barbecue Smokeout. You can hear how the audience really enjoyed these sets recorded in several places in 2009
I Distinctly Heard the Sound of.... (Tk 3 CD2)
Finally the third CD in this set is the collection of live material from the original line up and is maybe where one might find traces of the initial influences from Atomic, as mentioned. I found the music more 'bop orientated' with strong swinging riffs. You get a good view of the interaction between Håkon Mjåset Johansen and Vågan a very strong bass/drum team. To a certain extent a tune such as Allkiss also has elements of Keith Jarrett's quartet featuring Dewey Redman and Co. There's also the trumpet of Mathias Eick on this CD who approaches the music differently again and gives a slightly less 'avante-jazz' edge to the music. There are many fine passages here and an excellent choice of music to finish of this mammoth collection and one that if you're curious to discover this group it's certainly well worth the effort to find.
Personnel: Atle Nymo: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Eivind Lønning: trumpet (CD1, CD2, CD3#2); Håvard Wiik: piano; Håkon Mjåset Johansen: drums; Ole Morten Vågan: bass; Håkon Kornstad: tenor saxophone (CD2); Petter Vågan: guitar (CD2); Mattias Ståhl: vibraphone (CD2); Mathias Eick: trumpet (CD2#1, CD2#3, CD3#1, CD3#3-6); Ola Kvernberg: violin (CD2#1, CD2#3).
Sorry for such a long blurb, but it was difficult to do justice to these 3CDs (and 21 tracks) in only a few words. And after all that's what's blogging's about, eh!