CD review: Mathias Eick

Skala
(ECM 274 3228)

The Norwegian trumpeter who started out in Jaga Jazzist , has always been at the pop end of jazz. He made increased solo impact with his first album, The Door, and as a member of other bands which record for ECM, including Manu Katche’s and Jacob Young’s.

He won the prestigious Statoil Talent Award in 2009 which enabled him to tour extensively, and it is from that tour that a lot of this new material comes. I first heard Edinburgh, written a couple of nights before in the Scottish capital, when the band played The Edge in Much Wenlock.

This album has received a mixed response – enthusiasm from some reviewers, a panning from others. I’m with the first group. The album it reminds me of, despite the actual sound being quite different, is the white covered Pat Metheny Group album that came out in 1978. Like that LP (and it’s of LP length, available on vinyl as well as CD), Skala is filled with hooky grooves and melodies that have less to do with jazz, but which use jazz sensibilities and technique to give them extra subtlety.

The core band has Eick’s trumpet over electric bass, two drummers and piano,  with Susanna Wallumrod’s one-man Magical Orchestra, Morten Qvenild, on keyboards, some choice harp texture  and everybody’s saxophonist of the moment, Tore Brunborg, added for some tracks.

The double drums are used quite far in the background, and Torstein Loftus and Gard Nilssen use dampened sounds to form more of a cushion to the harmony and melody instruments. Eick, on the other hand, plays close to the mic much of the time to exploit his rich, multi-harmonic texture and near vocal phrasing. He whispers, stutteringly, at the beginning and end of Biermann, for example, and soars between the two.

There is some strong soloing from Brunborg, too, especially on Day After.

The song writing influences seem to come from Radiohead and Sting and Joni Mitchell (overtly declared in the track Joni which uses her open-ended narrative style) with lots of tunes you can find yourself whistling long after the CD has ended. and the production procedure was, as I understand it, very much in the rock mould of layering rather than a one-shot live session.

To ears accustomed to a lot of busyness, punky attitude and upfront cleverness, this disc might sound a little bland, but I think that is to miss the point and to misunderstand Eick’s purpose. Within the mellifluousness there beats a strong heart and some forcefully building rhythms.

Hopefully, marketed in the right way, it will find its true home, which is in record collections that include E.S.T. and Metheny and Tord Gustavsen alongside the Jobim and Kenny Wheeler and Chet Baker. There really is nothing wrong with prettiness.



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