Losen Records: New Norwegian Sounds
Urban Country is a journey through many moods, from the electric country-funk of "Simon Says" to the acoustic balladry of "Signes Sang." If there's one thing that unites the compositions, it is the focus on melody and the merging of roots music with a modern sensibility and sound. Fredriksen has created his own musical space and it is place that is well worth the visit.
Michael Aadal Group
Like Christer Fredriksen, guitarist Michael Aadal is also interested in creating a distinctive musical universe and he certainly succeeds on Abigail where the familiar jazz line-up of saxophone, guitar, piano, bass and drums is supplied by Anders Hofstad Sørås' sweeping pedal steel. The result is wide open panoramic soundscapes where a cool Nordic sound merges with dusty western twang.
There is something cinematic about the music, which is underlined by the choir of male voices on "November," which could have been taken from a western soundtrack. Aadal and his group is interested in texture and atmosphere and the narratives that music can provide, but at the heart of it all lies a natural gift for melody. In fact, the litmus test of the album seems to have been whether the melody was strong enough to carry any given composition. Aadal isn't satisfied just to paint moods, he also wants to tell a story.
The strength of the melodies is underlined by the title track, which comes in two versions. An instrumental version that opens the album and a vocal version with singer Stein Roger Sordal. The vocal version brings the tune closer to a band like Calexico, but the strength of Aadal's group is its hybrid between the aesthetic pioneered by saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the exploration of American roots music examined by a guitarist like Bill Frisell. Each member of the group has wide stylistic scope. Thus, saxophonist André Kassen is able to shift from a lean singing tone to the intense throaty outbursts on "The Way Home." Abigail shows a group that travels wide in sound and creates a soundtrack for an imaginary movie.
One of the influences that Michael Aadal has mentioned is guitarist Lage Lund. Since Lund moved to New York in 2002, his profile has been on the rise. In the Owl Trio he plays with the equally illustrious Englishmen, saxophonist Will Vinson and bassist Orlando Fleming.
All three musicians are known as marvelous technicians, but on their self-titled debut, the Owl Trio uses the chamber setting without drums to get into the mood of the music. It is not about speed and restless rhythm, but more an exploration of space and texture. Quite significantly, the album was recorded in an old church and it is indeed a work that invites contemplation and sometimes leans towards the spiritual, as in the reading of saxophonist John Coltrane's "Dear Lord."
The repertoire shows an awareness of jazz tradition with standards like "I Should Care" and "Yesterdays" and a masterful reading of Duke Ellington's "Morning Glory." On the latter, warm texture and carefully ornamented guitar lines sing in tandem with the soulful sound from Winson's saxophone while Le Fleming's elegant walking bass provides a secure foundation.
It is not only about the past seen in new light, the trio also gives a reading of a modern jazz classic like Jim Hall's "All Around the City" and new original material like the meditative "Hallow" fits perfectly with the introspective aesthetic of the album.
Oyvind Nypan is another Norwegian guitarist, who has been part of a jazz scene in another country. He has lived in Paris for many years and it was here he met an international gathering of musicians who became part of his band. On Republique, American tenor saxophonist Rick Margitza is the most prominent name, but it isn't a blowing session where individual skills are in the spotlight. Instead, the focus is on Nypan's compositions.
Nypan writes strong melodic grooves like "The Chat and Cut" and the laidback "Shades of Blue" with a catchy riff. He is equally comfortable in ballad territory as he is spinning eloquent narrative lines on the guitar. The pianist, Leonardo Montana, is a key- player. Whether he is vamping to maintain a groove or supporting the melody with fresh improvisations, he is always in the middle of the music and understands how to navigate in changing waters.