The first impressions are disarming.
Jakob arrives on stage with his bass and drum playing cohorts, Thomas Morgan and Joey Baron respectively. It is his second gig of the week at the Pizze Express underground jazz club in the heart of Soho and his third in twelve months. He’s clearly comfortable here.
His boots are kicked off and he is sorting out his effects pedals in his stocking feet. The standard monochrome ECM issue stagewear isn’t Jakob’s thing either. He is wielding a slightly battered and rusty pink Telecaster which picks up the loud floral floral patterns in his shirt, possibly fuschias. He’s just celebrated his fortieth birthday and is hanging loose.
Joey strikes up a rhythm of sorts, brushing the cymbals, tapping the snare with his hand. Morgan is up and down the bass but it is splashes of colour rather than anything that is rooted in driving the song forward. Jakob’s guitar flourishes are understated. In two hours of performance, we get what amounts to five songs and I doubt he played a chord of more than two notes at any point in the proceedings.
Less is definitely more though.
The pace is glacial, the atmosphere spare most of the time. It brings to mind American slowcore band Codeine or third album Velvet Underground as much as any jazz reference. The VU reference is particularly apposite with the band introducing the space that the likes of “The Ocean” or “Pale Blue Eyes” inhabited with just the merest smidgeon of feedback or guitar effects.
Bro has just released his third album for ECM, “Returnings”. It is the first for the label that goes beyond a trio with Palle Mikkelborg providing some Miles-esque trumpet and flugelhorn. The album was recorded in Oslo almost two years ago though and for the performance in Soho, Jakob adopted a minimal light approach. I’m a bit of a fan. I wrote about Jakob previously here. I missed him last time due to illness (mine not his) and I’m damned pleased that I made this one.
The guitar work was very reminiscent of the great Bill Frisell who Bro had played with on previous albums and with whom Morgan had released last year’s brilliant ECM duo album “Small Town”. Having seen Bill play a storming set at the Jazz Cafe last year, it was interesting to see the difference in approach between Bill’s more energetic music and Bro’s spare calmness. Baron’s drumming was fascinating, with him all over the kit at odd angles and even banging what looked like a couple of pebbles together at one point.
Jakob is his own man though and whilst his guitar playing brought Frisell to mind, it was entirely his own creation, even when he was drawing on Wes Montgomery-like octave playing or repetitive filigree patterns up and down the fretboard.
Ultimately I felt like I was heading into dub territory, the echo and gaps in the music calling to mind the best that Jamaica can offer in turning music upside down and back to front, whilst not being jarring or abrasive.
It will be interesting to see where Jakob Bro goes next with ECM. There is a rumour of a live album which would be fascinating given his studio work with the label inhabits a different place, based on shorter, more direct material.
In the meantime though, more floral shirts and more pink guitars please, Mr Bro.