I’ve got a casual relationship with jazz. At times, in the right mood, I can really love it. Other times, I find it an irritant. This can apply to the same piece of music at different times and no other genre polarises my own tastes. I’ve been playing jazz guitar for five years and am still only marginally closer to get my head around it.
I generally tender to go with labels when discovering new music. I still love the aesthetic of the golden age of Blue Note. I also like the ECM label created by Manfred Eicher. Eicher created the album in 1969 and has mostly produced all of the releases on the label. There are sub labels as well which cover some lovely classical music (Arvo Part, interpretations of Bach’s repertoire, Steve Reich) and also some more avant garde stuff. If anyone wants to explore the ECM canon, here’s a great website that has a mission to review every release, far more eloquently than I am able to. ECM albums have a recognisable artistic style as well – these are items of beauty to be displayed.
By the way, there is a reason why Eicher can personally supervise so many albums. Jazz albums are generally recorded very quickly – a couple of days. This is because jazz musicians are more accomplished than rock musicians so fewer retakes are needed. Also because jazz is generally recorded with groups playing together rather than individual instruments, things tend to bump along more quickly.
Each year, I pick out a couple of ECM records to try.
This time round there are a couple of albums that I’ve really enjoyed, both very different and both by Norwegian artists. Both were released in 2014 but in fairness I didn’t pick them up until this year.
The first is “Mira” by Arild Anderson. Arild is 70 years old and is from Lillestrøm. He played with many of the American jazz greats such as Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon and Chick Corea when they toured Scandinavia in the 1960’s. He started recording for ECM in the mid 70s and has made 12 LP’s with them to date.
The line up is a trio. Arild plays double bass primarily, Tommy Smith plays sax and a something called a Shakuhachi and Paolo Vinaccia handles the drums. It’s a spare line up. The majority of the material is written by Arild with the exception of a lovely version of “Alfie”, the classic movie theme made famous by our Cilla.
The opening track “Bygone” is a lyrical ballad. It is melodic but the spare nature of the trio produces enough grit to stop it becoming too smooth.
“Blussy” is a personal favourite. The beat drags just behind where it probably should be. The sax is deep and chunky.
The album is consistently varied and listenable. As for all ECM albums it is immaculately recorded with crystal clear sound. Some of the tracks have a Nordic feel to them, the closer Stevtone for instance. This is stuff to be played over BBC4 9:00pm Saturday crime dramas.
The other album is also on ECM and is “Forever Young” by Jacob Young (see what he did with the title). The group is much richer sounding that Arild’s outfit. It is lush and more fully formed than Arild, something closer to Ralph Towner or even Pat Metheny’s more gentle moments.
He is from the next generation of artists. Born in 1970 in Lillehammer (home to the enjoyable eponymous Steve Van Zandt comedy on Netflix), Jacob spent time in New York before returning to Oslo.
He has a smooth tone and is very easy on the ear. Opening track “I Lost My Heart To You” has a touch of “Everytime We Say Goodbye” in the melody. Much of the music is groove based with soft guitar picking that is sometimes feels like it has a bossa nova background.
Here’s a song from the album called “Therese’s Gate.” It features that nylon string guitar and a beautiful sax lead. The band then revert to a piano/bass/drum trio, before the melody comes back in with the two other instruments. It is very tasteful, maybe too polite for some tastes. It is representative of the mood of the album and if you like this one, then it’s a good bet that you will like the rest.
By the way, top marks for Trygve Seim’s beard – it really is up there with Billy Gibbons in the pantheon of musical facial hair.
There isn’t much of Jacob’s work available on the internet via Youtube or via Spotify. ECM don’t do Spotify, as they don’t think the economic model works in terms of remuneration for them or their artists.
I’ve posted another link below to “Point Of You” which is a new track. This one’s marginally more challenging with a more traditional electro-acoustic guitar part.
Anyway, if you fancy something a bit different then give them a go. They are both very enjoyable.
Just to sign off, here’s Arild’s version of Alfie.