Let’s start with the background to the recording of Momentum with this from drummer Frederik Villmow:
I would like to provide a few more details about how this music came about and the process along the way. We had two recording sessions at Musikkloftet in Asker, just outside of Oslo. On the first of the two recording sessions we recorded compositions by Gisle, Olga and me that reflect our different approaches to composing and the different sides of us as musicians and individuals.
One thing all compositions on this recording have in common is that they have their own character and that they leave plenty of space to be formed and interpreted by the musicians playing them. Gisle’s tune ‘Ali kurerer gruff’ and my two compositions ‘Momentum’ and ‘Eternity’ have a written theme and are based on a chord-scheme that we improvised on in the solo sections. On Olga’s tune, ‘B-flat’, we worked without any lead sheets at all and got only a few verbal guidelines. The second session was a fully improvised session.
‘B-Flat’ grows, slowly, from the swirling brushwork of Frederik Villmow, piano and sax add the melody (great left hand sound from Olga Knokova). The way the two saxes are used is fascinating, the bass line gives another layer of tone that drifts in and out and then the piano and saxes move from a clear melody to something freer before re-establishing the central theme. The tune then returns to the swirling brushwork of Frederik Villmow to close. For some reason I connected with this number from the first listen through, and it is the track I keep returning to. It is organic in substance and style, the tonal variations and textures constantly shift and enthral. I would go so far to say that this is one of the best album opening tracks I have heard this year but, does it act as a taster or did the band save the best to first?
‘Trio Improvisation (Seagull)’ has an open space feel about it but it is Gisle Johansen’s vocals that stand out for their husky tone and phrasing. The piano accompaniment is slow, mellow then a deep chord is struck followed by a short decorative but not florid run before the focus returns to the sound of Johansen’s voice. This is a short but very effective piece, though I am not sure that the bird sound added anything to the playing.
‘Ali kurerer gruff’ is one of three chord scheme written numbers where the musicians improvise in the solo sections. The tune opens with the thumping bass of Julian Haugland Bjorå, who is quickly joined by the uptempo beat of Villmow on drums. Erlend Vangen Kongtorp and Gisle Johansen play blistering saxes on this contemporary jazz number. This is a terrific tune and just check out the rhythm section as they maintain a solid foundation under the blowing from the saxophonists.
‘Duo Improvisation (Long Ago And Now)’ is a drum and tenor (Gisle Johansen) duet that holds the listener’s attention throughout its running time. As a non-musician I find it compelling how players work in the improvised setting. Johansen moves the sound of the sax with ease, weaving tonal patterns across the register all the while being matched by the drumming of Frederik Villmow who, throughout, does not dominate but supports and encourages the piece forward. ‘Momentum’ is the second of the three themed tunes and this has a more straight-ahead jazz feel about it. Pianist Olga Konkova leads on the melody and I do like the way she phrases her sound. Gisle Johansen picks up the melody on soprano sax before Kongtorp steps in on tenor creating a nice contrast in tone. I very much enjoyed the way this tune played out particularly the off-centre way it weaved into the dissonant final few bars.
‘Eternity’ is the last of the three themed pieces. There is a wistfulness about this number captured beautifully by the bowed bass playing of Julian Haugland Bjorå. The use of keys and piano by Konkova brings in a nicely contrasting sound dynamic on this gently alluring tune. The album finishes with ‘Trio Improvisation (Let The Music Speak For Itself)’, which opens with a wordless vocal, drums and piano accompaniment. The vocal sound is powerful, spiritual, and earthy. The piano solo has a thoughtful quality to it as if Konkova is wondering how best to respond to Johansen’s vocal call. Villmow’s drumming, as it has been throughout this album, is perfectly matched to what is going on around him but the beauty of this final track is in the piano lines of Konkova.
There are two drum solo tracks on this album and regular readers of my blog will know that I am not a big fan of the drum solo. Frederik Villmow may have made me reconsider my views but only because they work within the context of the album as a whole. Momentum is a very good album! I like the structure of the release in terms of the running order, the length of play, and the mix of groupings. The variations in style keeps the listener engaged as does the layering of sound and texture. ‘B-Flat’ is, for me the standout track, but the remainder of Momentum does not live in its shadow, far from it.
Momentum is available to stream and download from the qobuz store
Musicians: Frederik Villmow – drums; Olga Konkova – piano (tracks 1/2/6/8/9); Erlend Vangen Kongtorp – tenor saxophone (tracks 1/6/7) & alto saxophone (track 3); Gisle Johansen – tenor saxophone (tracks 1/4) & soprano saxophone (tracks 3/6/7) & vocal (tracks 2/9); Julian Haugland Bjorå – double bass (tracks 1/3/6/7).
Tracklist: 1. B-flat. 2. Trio Improvisation (Seagull). 3. Ali kurerer gruff. 4. Duo Improvisation (Long Ago And Now). 5. Drum Solo Improvisation (Kaiyõ). 6. Momentum. 7. Eternity. 8. Drum Solo Improvisation (Leaves). 9. Trio Improvisation (Let The Music Speak For Itself).
Compositions by: Olga Konkova track 1; Frederik Villmow, Olga Konkova & Gisle Johansen tracks 2 & 9; Gisle Johansen track 3; Gisle Johansen & Frederik Villmow track 4; Frederik Villmow tracks 5,6,7 & 8.