Song for Nicolai
Recorded July 2016, Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Danish guitarist Jakob Bro is an alumnus of one of Paul Motian’s highly
regarded bands and has worked widely with players as distinguished as
Tomasz Stanko. His latest album, for ECM, with Palle Mikkelborg (trumpet),
Thomas Morgan (double bass) and Jon Christensen (drums) proves to be 42
minutes that veer from the intimate and withdrawn to more dark hued work,
redolent of terse listening experiences. The eight to-the-point, even terse
track titles complete the air of focus and self-discipline.
The hypnotic figures of the withdrawn, ascetic opener, Oktober,
with Mikkelborg’s muted, Milesian trumpet to the fore, announce the
expressive breadth of the band – reserved, allusive, elusive even. The
trumpeter’s richer, open sound in Strands augmented by Bro’s deft,
stylish playing suggest a more extrovert mood but the mute announces the
resumption of a circumscribed soundworld – aurally atmospheric but not
always permeable to those unsympathetic to the aesthetic. There are many
moments of attractive lyricism to be encountered, nevertheless, as in Song for Nicolai, a tightly and tautly insular opus avoiding
extraneous gestures and exaggeration of timbre or tempo; colour however is
The band’s interweaving is at its best, perhaps, in View - bass
over percussion, a true consonance of sound, and a sense of greater
angularity all round, including the use of electronics: this track lasts
nearly nine minutes and stretches out. Lyskaster is one of the
most immediately appealing pieces, lingeringly lyrical through hardly a
swinger – a stern critic might term this the insipid ECM ethos. Electronics
also appear in Returnings, a dark opus, full of terse and
tangential lines; there’s nothing vapid here though, with the trumpeter’s
abrasive calls and the band’s taut support very much in evidence.
If this disc was weather, I’d term it ‘unsettled’. Its emotive state is
frequently fragmentary, fugitive, prone to changes of mood and texture.
Bro, Mikkelborg, Morgan and Christensen are outstanding instrumentalists
but sometimes they sound like a hermetic quartet and one doesn’t always
know whether to wear shorts or pack an umbrella.