Label: ECM, 2018
Personnel – Jakob Bro: guitar; Palle Mikkelborg: trumpet; Thomas Morgan: double bass; Jon Christensen: drums.
Danish guitarist Jakob Bro might not be a heavyweight like Rosenwinkel, Frisell, or Metheny, but is a legitimate owner of a sui generis sound whose rich tones usually translates into intimate musical settings.
On Returnings, his third release on ECM, the guitarist plays alongside the sought-after American bassist Thomas Morgan, a regular in his bands, and a pair of veteran musicians: Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen. The latter returns after a one-year hiatus, retrieving the drum chair that, two years ago, was occupied by Joey Baron on the previous recording, Streams.
The album starts with “Oktober”, a compassionate, stagnant song previously recorded in the album Gefion, and rearranged at this point with a combination of idyllic, cordial, and intensely emotional manners. The balmy trumpet-led melodies tell a story, conveying a comforting tonality and reinforcing what Bro had delivered in the original version.
On the following tune” Strands”, the quartet presses on with the contagious languor that characterizes their routines. Sticking to light textures, Bro fingerpicks beautiful voicings while Morgan’s touches show how wide can the possibilities be when he’s around. The percussion, simultaneously unobtrusive and unflashy, really makes the difference in the creation of an ultrapolished fascination that gains further emphasis throughout the melodious routes of “Lyskaster”, another original from Gefion. The piece, strongly influenced by folk and pop idioms, have all the four instrumentalists taking part in a circular congruity.
Although composed for the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, we can picture icy landscapes while listening to “Hamsun”. This guitar/bass duet, partly inspired by Paul Motian, has the bassist nodding to the lyric suggestions of the bandleader.
Standing out from the remaining tunes due to a more experimental sonority, the title track features Bro’s curious electronic effects, Christensen’s unflappable drumming, Morgan's unremittingly spot-on bass notes, and the precise trumpet lines uttered by Mikkelborg, often mirroring or matching the guitarist’s melodic suggestions. Mikkelborg co-wrote this song with Bro, but also supplies a couple more compositions of his own: “View” and “Youth”. The former defies form as it operates outside the conventional, having drums and bass pairing down to create moments of orbital suspension. The latter, solely outlined by guitar and trumpet, sheds tears as it evokes nostalgia, wistfulness, and abandonment.
With mood transcending any language or tempo, Returnings draws emotional vulnerabilities from the prevailing, slow-moving instrumental streams. This is a great record to have at hand whenever you need to disconnect from the ‘outside’ world.
01 - Oktober ►05 - Lyskaster ►07 - Returnings