As long time readers of the blog may recall, I’m rather partial to some Scandinavian music, especially when it features on the good old ECM label.
“Streams” by Jakob Bro is the second ECM LP that Bro has led, following last year’s “Gefion”. It is just perfect for these darkening autumnal days.
Bro is from Copenhagen and has been releasing music for the last 13 years, initially on his own Loveland label and before gaining a wider distribution via Manfred Eicher’s ECM label. Bro has already played and recorded with some of the greats in the European and American jazz scene, such as Paul Motion and Tomasz Stanko. He’s even had Lee Konitz and Bill Frisell guest on his records, a mark of the esteem in which he is held.
Both “Streams” and “Gefion” are a similar format, with Jakob playing in a trio with Thomas Morgan and Joey Baron. Baron in particular has an interesting back story having played in the New York 80s scene with Bill Frisell and even making it onto David Bowie’s brilliant but underrated “1. Outside” in 1995. One of the things I’m loving about the new wave of jazz creativity are the way dots are being joined up, and it is telling Donny MacAslin’s fantastic new album features a version of “A Small Plot of Land” from that same Bowie album. In hindsight, “1.0 Outside” was very much a pre-curser of “Blackstar”. It was blessed with the same wonderful angularity. Baron worked with Carlos Alomar on the early sessions and helped demo “Oxford Town”.
“Streams” and “Gefion” are cut from similar cloth. The spare format of the trio gives everything room to breathe. There is little that is not captured live, overdubs aren’t discernible.
The opening “Opal” proceeds at a stately place, not sending a zillion miles away from a jazzier version of Codeine. Bro has a lovely rich baritone, like a cross between Frisell and Hank Marvin. It brings to mind some of Frisell’s more twangy offerings such as the recent “Guitar In The Space Age” from 2014. Bro is like the mirror image of Frisell, in so much that Bill has looked eastward towards Europe to help create an alternative jazz canon whilst Bro is looking westward and absorbing not only the jazz and blues but country, folk and rock elements that America has to offer.
“Heroines” is like an English madrigal, something unexpected which is returned to later in the record. “PM Dream” is a tribute to his old mentor Paul Motian. Motian was a drummer who played with many of the aforementioned alumni and died aged 80 in 2011. He was still recording challenging material into his dotage. He was the driving force behind Bro chancing his arm in New York. The track is very much the centrepiece of the album, opening with skittering drumming, electronic washes and bass figures played high up the neck by Morgan. After 6 minutes, Bro enters with a more distorted tone than on the rest of the LP. It has the same sense of spirituality that Lou Reed’s magnificent “Magic and Loss” had, combined with a similar palette. The following “Full Moon Europa” is the closest the LP gets to pure improv and it still feels gloriously restrained yet loose.
“Shell Pink” is great deal more gentle, casting its way through a more country path finishing with a fantastic bass solo from Morgan.
Here’s a clip from 2015 of the Trio playing “Evening Song” from Gefion.
Stick with it until two minutes in when Bro moves up the neck of his Tele and the groove locks in. I really get a great deal from Bro’s ECM LPs. They seem of a spirit with the likes of Sonic Youth and Oren Ambarchi but are a lot more gentle and approachable. There doesn’t appear to be much that is left field at present that is pushing the guitar in different directions and it is fantastic that Eicher is grasping these projects, along with the likes of the Lumen Drones LP, which Nils Oklund appeared on.
There’s a lovely video interview with Jakob on Youtube. In it he describes being addicted to music as a teenage, taking in Miles, Coltrane and Monk – no surprises there. But as the camera pans out around his home, we see his record collection. In amongst the jazz is a Joanne Newsom album and a box set of Robert Quine’s Velvet Underground bootlegs. The connection is definitely there between jazz classicism and left field rock. By the way, if anyone wants to check out more Robert Quine, I mentioned him recently in reference to his work with Lloyd Cole.
“Streams” is picking up a great deal of positive press. He’s currently touring Europe. I’ve contacted him via Facebook and there does appear a possibility that he will come to the UK in 2017, but who knows what the fluctuating currencies does to the economics of touring at the moment, especially for European artists.
I’ll be definitely taking in one of his gigs if he does.