Just for the Records
Founded in 2012 by musicians Magnus Wiik and Aksel Jensen, Just for the Records enhances Norway's ever-growing reputation as a leading center of forward-thinking jazz, with in this case the emphasis on three simultaneously released albums originating from the Conservatory of Jazz studies in Trondheim. In the spirit of labels such as Hubro and Rune Grammofon, Just for the Records doesn't limit its vision to traditional jazz (even if one of the three recordings does feature a piano trio) but instead extends its stylistic purview to jazz-rock and fusion, too. While the three albums feature trios, they're stylistically different in kind. And as one might expect from relatively young musicians, their influences are sometimes audible, and one comes away from the releases expecting that with a few more albums under their collective belts said influences will become more absorbed and less noticeable as a result.
Nosejob by Caffeine Patrol, a guitar-led trio featuring axe-man Gudmund Bolstad Skjær and the acoustic bass-and-drum playing of Fredrik Gundersen and Martin Sandvik, provides a good illustration, given the degree to which the group wears certain influences on its sleeve. In fact, the opening track, “Biltema,” is so reminiscent of Bass Desires' “Twister” (composed by John Scofield and featured on the band's 1987 album Second Sight), it almost sounds as if it could have appeared on the earlier release. Other tracks on the thirty-five-minute set suggest Bill Frisell's influence, while those familiar with Hendrix's “If Six Was Nine” might hear echoes of it in “Hoosegow.”
That said, there's no denying the exuberant, good-time feeling driving “Biltema,” especially when Skjær shows himself to be as adept at serving up power riffs as surf-rock twang. And here and elsewhere, Gundersen and Sandvik capably shadow the guitarist's every move, making for some impressive in-the-pocket playing (never more audible, incidentally, than during “Arne is Typing” when Skjær liberally stretches out). Not only does “Boveskov” call to mind Frisell's trio playing with Joey Baron and Kermit Driscoll, the tune's laid-back, waltz-styled lilt recalls Frisell's distinctive compositional sensibility.
Caffeine Patrol's blues-rock side comes to the fore during the bruising “Hoosegow,” which lightens its heavy load with a shuffle, and the bluesy reverie “November,” which includes some strong slide playing by Skjær. It's perhaps worth noting that as the album progresses (its second half in particular), Caffeine Patrol's sound seems to crystallize and come into sharper focus. With all due respect to Gundersen and Sandvik, Caffeine Patrol seems very much to be Skjær's band, given that all six cuts are credited to him as the composer. The group shows a lot of promise, especially when it's able to alternate on Nosejob between lyrical and fiery playing with such apparent ease.
Just as it's almost impossible for a guitarist to avoid being influenced by players like Frisell and McLaughlin, it would be hard to imagine a young jazz pianist being able to sidestep Thelonious Monk and Keith Jarrett. The Sticks, comprised of pianist Oscar Grönberg, bassist Aksel Jensen, and drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen, is naturally the group with the strongest ties to the jazz tradition, and admittedly moments do arise on the thirty-six-minute outing where one might be reminded of Jarrett and Geri Allen, among others. But The Sticks honours that tradition by executing its material with integrity, and the recording impresses in the way the three effectively straddle structure and improvisation in the seven pieces.
The album also effectively balances solo spots and group interplay. Jensen, for example, introduces “Copenhagen Douche” and “NSB” with solo spotlights (the latter bowed), while Johansen is able to indulge his free-wheeling side during the loose-limbed “4000” and rambunctious “Göteborgsyndromet.” As the lead melodist Grönberg understandably solos more than the others, though even when he's soloing Jensen and Johansen are with him toe-to-toe. He's an adept pianist who's as comfortable playing with lyrical restraint (such as during the stately “Skjærtorsdagsraggare”) and doling out Monk-ish lines (“The Contest”) as unleashing a no-holds-barred attack (“Dr. Pizza”). As a group name, The Sticks is an interesting choice, considering that one of the connotations associated with it is “the middle-of-nowhere.” Based on the high-energy evidence at hand, the trio sounds as if it knows exactly where it's located.
Null took as its starting point a collaboration that never happened: the proposed 1970s showdown between trumpeter Miles Davis and guitarist Jimi Hendrix. That hoped-for recording session never happened, of course, due to Hendrix's death. Null's members are guitarist Viktor Wilhelmsen, bassist Aksel Jensen, and drummer Stian Lundberg and thus doesn't include a trumpet player, but the point is made nonetheless: Null's channeling the incendiary spirit that presumably would have infused the Davis-Hendrix meeting, not the literal sound that would have filled the room.
Of perhaps greater import is the fact that Null's self-titled set is the one where influences surface less conspicuously, due in large part to Wilhelmsen's oft-textural execution and the rhythm section's muscular attack. Think forty-six minutes of fearless combustion and you'll have a pretty good impression of the result. In this case, Jensen's generally the one holding things in place, which grants the guitarist and drummer ample freedom to express themselves. All three are, needless to say, exceptionally skilled players, and the level of telepathic interaction is at a consistently high pitch. That's especially audible in tracks like the ferocious opener “First Meeting” and motorik, ten-minute throwdown “Rust,” though not everything on the disc's so intense. The contemplative “Right Now” allows Wilhelmsen an opportunity to indulge his lyrical side, while his acoustic slide playing lends “Adult Contemporary Music” a country-blues feel; Null also dials it down a level or two for the curdling blues of “Slow Down” and even lets traces of funk and R'n'B seep into its sound during “Phaselift.”
Though the three albums are obviously very different from one another, there is one thing they share: an appealingly loose vibe, the kind of feel that's preserved when a recording is done with dispatch (The Sticks' disc, for example, was laid down in two days in Skansen Studio in Trondheim) and consequently avoids ending up sounding laboured.