Horse Orchestra

Living the Dream
Barefoot Records BFREC033LP

A New Yorker cartoon once showed a couple asking the person at a cinema box office about a film on the marquee. “It’s a Swedish film,” she replied, “but very, very, very funny”. Genuine or not, the idea of any Scandinavian country being filled with humorists is usually a non-starter. The Horse Orchestra appears intent to explode the stereotype. Not that this trans-Scandinavian septet is a band of comedians. But the orchestra approaches the compositions written in the main by pianist Jeppe Zeeberg, trombonist Petter Hängsel and bassist Nicolai Kaas Claesson, with such self-possessed joy that, to indulge in another nationalist cliché, you’d think this was a band from Italy or the Netherlands.

Recorded live in Copenhagen where all the members reside, there’s a club ambiance to the session in that the music, which is pretty good from the get-go, and becomes more memorably energetic as time goes on. Besides Zeeberg and Claesson, the other Dane is drummer Rune Lohse. Sweden is represented by Hängsel, Norway by tubaist Kristian Tangvik and trumpeter Erik Kimestad, while Icelandic reedist Ingimar Andersen completes the line-up. Working together in various combinations, these younger improvisers are also committed post-modernists.

Take what the band does with “Doctor Jazz” for instance. As arranged by Zeeberg, the group takes King Oliver’s stomp showcase and adds sophisticated connections along with a two-beat drum break, some tuba bleats and a pseudo scat vocal. It’s possible that the pianist’s super-fast comping prevented any of the assembled from doing the Charleston, but the drawn-out ending would be perfect for a Viper’s Drag.

Although there are times throughout when the soloists evoke memories of the likes of trombonist Kid Ory, clarinetist Albert Nicholas and drummer Paul Barbarin – to cite some Oliver associates – this Horse is anything but a one-trick pony. “Erbarm Dich Mein, O Herre Gott “matches Bach harmonies with the drummer’s clashes and clunks; while the concluding “90” rushes along on high-velocity glissandi from Zeeberg to end with a dramatic brass fanfare, following a modernized slap-bass solo. “Peck” on the other hand contrasts lip-bubbling excitement from Kimestad and composer Hängsel, but also shows off Andersen’s smoother side among the vamping horns.

But perhaps the best demonstration of the band’s skillful immediacy is when it completes the wild and woolly “Nackte Frau Mit Brille” and immediately segues into “Voice Audition” which further subverts big band vamping with nods to Free Jazz. This sound emancipation comes via Andersen’s split-tone melisma and off-side clatter from Lohse.

Living the Dream is a fine and fun introduction to a party band whose performances almost negate Scandinavians’ reputation for humorlessness. At the same time the soloists’ strength and the arrangements’ sophistication suggest investigating the players’ style in less raucous surroundings.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. 2 2. Doctor Jazz 3. 3 4. Everything Is Relative – You’re An Idiot 5. Erbarm Dich Mein, O Herre Gott 6. Nackte Frau Mit Brille 7. Voice Audition 8. Perk 9. 90

Personnel: Erik Kimestad (trumpet); Petter Hängsel (trombone); Kristian Tangvik (tuba); Ingimar Andersen (alto saxophone and clarinet); Jeppe Zeeberg (piano); Nicolai Kaas Claesson (bass) and Rune Lohse (drums)