Jacob Anderskov Trio

On The Loose
ILK/Scraggly Records

Doctor Structure
Godot … stuck in traffic
ILK/Scraggly Records

By Ken Waxman
April 25, 2005

Both sides of young Danish pianist Jacob Anderskov are exposed on these twinned releases from his own ILK/Scraggly label. There’s no denying his compositional and performance skills – he’s got the music awards from his home country to prove it – but properly rating both session means deciding what he adds to these CDs, a mainstream jazz piano trio and an almost-fusion effort on which he intermittently plays electric piano.

Helped immeasurably by sensitive interaction with American bassist Michael Formanek – who often works with altoist Tim Berne – and veteran Danish drummer Anders Mogensen, On The Loose, the trio’s third outing is easily on the level of – if not more elevated than – similar sessions by North American mainstream pianists of an comparable age. Depending on your tolerance for electric piano, simple vamps and backbeats, however, Godot … stuck in traffic may be the Mr. Hyde to the other CD’s Dr. Jekyll.

Recorded with four players of Anderskov’s vintage – brassman Kasper Tranberg, who has also played with Berne; reedist Anders Banke, who is part of guitarist Mark Solborg’s band; bassist Jonas Westergaard and drummer Jeppe Gram – the quintet outputs a variant of modern day fusion. Unfortunately, some of the heads sound a bit too familiar, the horn lines are often mere riffs rather than expositions, , and the keyboardist appears more assured when he plays acoustically rather than plugged in.

Starting with Dr. Jekyll or On The Loose, the best of the nine compositions – all written by Anderskov, as are all but one on the other CD – are those which give the three players enough space in which to sprawl over the music. For proof: four interludes scattered among them, all of which are less than two minutes in length, are too self-consciously abstract. Echoing, internal key stops, key clips and pedal pressure makes it appear as if the pianist is mouthing “look at me, I’m avant garde” throughout them all.

But Anderskov’s strength as a modern mainstreamer is such that he doesn’t have to flaunt technique to be noticed. On “Tunesian Thorofare” (sic), for instance, his clinking treble notes and adagio chording, offhandedly create the sort of hushed interface in which Keith Jarrett specializes. But he does so without demanding the sort of diva-like attention to his performance in which the American pianist specializes. Strumming lines from Formanek and barely-there snare skimming from Mogensen allow the pianist to set up an allegro swing piece with vibrated overtones. Mogensen clanks his traps exactly on the beat and Formanek’s expansive bass playing becomes a canvas for more dancing chords, which in the penultimate moments reveal a glint of steely resolve.

Conversant with two-handed interface, the pianist initially advances double counterpoint on the nearly 10-minute “What Roots?” until the trickling melody line and dribbling chord expansions unite into a single stream. Moving from snatches of “Jeepers Creepers”, Anderskov backs the bassist’s chromatic exploration of his strings, then adding melodic vibrations, his touch become so buoyant that his instrumental timbres could be electric rather than acoustic.

Additionally Anderskov is sure enough of himself to jocularly put together another piece, “Exercise in Disguise” that evolves from a simple keyboard exercise that uses ringing chord patterns to make it seem more formal. Here the bassist’s legato bowing takes on an almost country-and-westernish accent, thus making his col legno and sul ponticello movements less than abrasive. He continues shuffle bowing, while the drummer thumps out appropriate backing figures as the keyboardist’s phrasing relates back to those eddying and surging melodies Jarrett and Herbie Hancock brought to post-bop.

Realize that it’s the acoustic Hancock piano being referenced, though. Similarly, Anderskov’s playing with the energetic Doctor Structure, which has been together since 1997, is freest on Godot when the electric keys are ignored. With the electronic fillip, all five players become too extroverted, as the riffs and vamps start to inch into the sort of fusion territory bands such as the Brecker Brothers and Hancock’s electric groups simplified their licks to play in the 1970s.This is unfortunate, since every one of the five has something better to offer.

In the case of tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Anders Banke, who has also been in guitarist Pierre Dørge’s New Jungle Orchestra, this is particularly evident on the more-than-13½-minute “Peter@HeavensGate.org”. Initially set up as a menacing face off between the pianist’s unadorned, single note tremolos and the saxophonist’s circling sound shards, it’s rescued from preciousness when Banke takes charge. Entering full force in a 1960s Traneish manner, he eventually breaks the time up into irregularly vibrated smears and snorts, doubling each one of his phrases. As trumpeter Kasper Tranberg riffs muted tones behind him, the reedist extends his notes with doits and smeared falsetto, until overblown pitch vibrated lines disintegrate into sound shards. Anderskov pounds out note clusters underneath the unevenly voiced horns, with the tune’s coda a chorus of repeated, high frequency single tones.

Banke is Ben Websterish breathy elsewhere – smooth as milk chocolate but with accents studding the output like nuts in a candy bar. Meanwhile Tranberg, on cornet as well as the bigger horn, moves from muted slurs to freak notes and plunger quacks, buzzing away so on his horn’s extremities that wah-wahs seem the most conventional result. However drummer Jeppe Gram and bassist Jonas Westergaard stay pretty much in the pocket, except for the odd splat from the former and occasional sul ponticello incision from the later. Oddly enough, as well, Anderskov’s contemporary jazz/post bop manner at one point ends a piece with a splattered arpeggio that could have come from AMM’s John Tilbury.

“Xpressions in print” is another piece which welcomes an approach like that at its finale as its composer uses it and other new stratagems to expand his orchestral colors. Here the brassman adds squeezed chromatic lines to Banke’s slippery, sliding bass clarinet flutter tonguing and squawking. As the reedist shifts up the scale, Anderskov contributes a sparkling, impressionistic run and Gram, a full-fledged bop cymbal thwack. When the clarinet riffs are doubled by Tranberg’s expressions to almost sound like chamber music, tougher piano comping pushes the trumpet solo into jazzier growls. Finally, swelling unison horn lines and low frequency keyboard cadenzas carry the piece to the end, and a coda of descending, right-handed piano patterns.

Deplorably, most of the other work on the CD isn’t up to the inventiveness cited here. At points it threatens to plummet into mainstream or fusion facelessness.

Although he lacks seasoning, Anderskov is still a talent to watch and hear. Nevertheless, until he proves otherwise, he’s best to stick to the acoustic rather than the electric keys, and in trios rather than larger settings.