It all makes sense, even the recording dates: 8 and 9 December 2015. In Norway it’s likely to be chilly, and the evocative cover photograph of snow-clouded pines is an accurate reflection of the beautiful music that is contained within.
Pianist and composer Eyolf Dale has an octet at his disposal – three horns, vibes, violin and rhythm section – and he uses it to create richly stacked harmonies against often tight rhythms. The vibes sparkle like crystal, low clarinet suggests a dark cave beneath piled-up drifts of trumpet and trombone, the violin flies, its shadow clear on the surface, the piano and drums crackle underfoot and the double bass acts as supporting trunk.
Dale’s melodies and harmonies strike a fine balance between cosseting warmth and cool detachment. I am sometimes reminded of Wayne Shorter, both his writing and his distinctive tone, which has a similar reconciled dichotomy about it. And when André Roligheten’s tenor emerges from the ensemble, the Shorter connection is even stronger.
There are similarly perfectly balanced textures in the arrangments – sometimes fast moving solos are happening over sustained cushions of horns, sometimes the slow, extended chords are in the foreground and the rhythm is busy beneath. Dale says of the track Ban Joe: “I love the feeling of something loose and oval on top of something square.”
The pianist now has five albums to his credit and has been an important sideman, crucially for me on fellow Edition artist Daniel Herskedal’s Slow Eastbound Train, but here he has the chance to expand his ideas, surrounded by outstanding players who also happen to be good friends – among them are bassist Per Zanussi, American-born vibraphonist Rob Waring, UK-born trumpeter Hayden Powell and drummer Gard Nilssen.
Dale’s piano is always at the centre of things, whether adding to the percussive rhythm in a similar way to Swiss minimalist Nik Bärtsch (as in Sideways) or introducing all the crucial, crisp harmonic content (as in Teglstein), but he generously gives a lot of the music’s foreground to his band. Try The Creek for funkiness and Silent Ways (Zanussi on saw) for icy calm (and a very near Shorter quote).
Wolf Valley (it’s a literal English translation of his name) is, I suspect, Dale’s breakthrough album into a more prominent international career. It is creative jazz, atmospheric programme music, an imaginary film soundtrack, a travelogue in sound, a chamber ensemble, depending on one’s mood, and it certainly deserves to be heard very widely indeed. Whatever you want to call it, it’s absolutely gorgeous.
Categories: CD review