ECM debut for accomplished Norwegian guitarist, teamed with a band including veteran...
Peter Marsh 2004
Any guitarist signing up to Manfred Eicher's ECM label is in good company; over the past 30 or so years, the label has done much to redefine the role of the instrument in contemporary jazz by providing a home to players as diverse as Pat Metheny, Terje Rypdal, Bill Frisell and even Derek Bailey. Guitarist Jacob Young is yet another prodigiously talented player from the Nordic jazz genepool, here making his debut for the label.
Young has played with both Rashied Ali and Nils Petter Molvaer, but any tendencies towards free jazz blowout or ambient electronic fusion are kept well clear. A quick look at the supporting cast (which includes Jaga Jazzist's trumpeter, Food's bass player and legendary drummer Jon Christensen) might suggest the music could go anywhere. But it doesn't. Instead, the guitarist gives us melancholic, tasteful chamber jazz, immaculately produced and played; typical ECM fare, all in all.
Young studied with John Abercrombie, and like his teacher is capable of the most yearning introspection, particularly on acoustic guitar. In fact, he sounds most like Pat Metheny when he's unplugged; "The Promise" could be an out-take from 80/81. That's not a bad thing, by the way. On electric he adopts a muffled, classic jazz tone, replete with shifty chordal improvisations worthy of Jim Hall. Meanwhile Matthias Eick's agile trumpet has a touch of Kenny Wheeler about it, and his interplay with the guitarist recalls the latter's various pairings with Abercrombie.
Vidar Johansen's doleful bass clarinet completes the front line. He plays (uncredited) tenor on occasion, notably on the slightly fractious "Presence of Descant", where he reels off a rubbery solo that's languid and irritable in equal measure. This is about as energetic as the album gets, and the emphasis on ballads or slow, waltz time swing does get a little bit wearing over the album's 50 minutes.
Christensen and bassist Mats Eilertsen do their best, and the elastic balladry of "The Promise" offers probably the best music of the set. Here, the ever inventive drummer strokes tiny splashes of melody from his cymbals in counterpoint to Young's sweet improvisational flow. It's beautiful stuff, but the overall impression is that for this album at least, Young's not managed to make the album he's obviously capable of. Here's to the next one...