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2L-131-SABD (SACD hybrid and Blu-ray discs) [57:03]

11.1 Dolby Atmos + 9.1 Auro-3D + 5.1 SURROUND + STEREO




1. Värmlandsvisan (Swedish trad.)

2. The Elder

3. Playground

4. God Only Knows (Brian Wilson)

5. Absence

6. Figment I

7. Good Things

8. Answer Me (Gerhard Winkler)

9. Figment II

10. Within

11. Stranger

12. Blossom

13. Figment III

14. Journey Home

15. Reminiscence

Jan Gunnar Hoff (piano)

Recorded at Sofienberg Church, Norway, August 2016

Stories is Jan Gunnar Hoff’s third solo piano album on the 2L label, though this is the first time I’ve come across him. The Norwegian 2L label is very much an audiophile concern, and the package for this release comes not only with a multi-layer stereo and surround sound SACD disc, but also with its own separate Blu-ray version in surround and stereo. The piano sound is a real treat here in all its formats: at least it is in SACD as I don’t have Blu-ray, but as the song goes, ‘things can only get better.’

There’s a minor-key sentimentality to most of these tracks, but there is a certain amount of contrast with some lively improvisatory swing here and there to add verve to the proceedings. On his own work, Jan Gunnar Hoff writes that "music for me, as pianist and composer, is a quest for depth and a quest to find a bridge between my emotions and the piano. When I begin I am uncertain about where the journey will take me and how it will end. It is important that compositions and improvisations constitute a natural whole. And classic songs like “God Only Knows” are stories and they must be told in a personal manner.”

Stories is the perfect title for such an album, with most of the tracks having a distinctive narrative character. These are all finely crafted and beautifully played with considerable style and panache, but as the titles suggest there is an overall mood of soulful nostalgia, wistful longing and poetic musing, and you might find this working on you as a potent depressant after too long. This is the case even with major-key pieces such as The Elder, which does however have a good tune and builds to a powerful climax. Playground is also more animated but clings to fairly ordinary tropes above its rolling bass and doesn’t really go anywhere really inspired. The two ‘standards’, God Only Knows and Answer Me receive a similar treatment, and in the end these all begin to sound like Keith Jarrett encores. Tastes will differ, and this is of course one musician’s very personal journey so in terms of content is to a certain extent immune from criticism, but I for one found myself longing for just a bit more balance, with perhaps one or two more fun-filled Dave McKenna-like pieces.

The Figment tracks are the release from this general atmosphere of blueness, flying off into more abstract realms with some virtuoso rhythmic invention and dextrous fireworks. I will certainly be looking out for Jan Gunnar Hoff’s name in the future as he is clearly an artist of skill and stature, with an expressive lyrical touch and a fine sense of colour and harmony. I have a feeling Stories will however be held in reserve for special moments such as when the cat dies.

Dominy Clements


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