Trondheim Jazz Orchestra/Christian Wallunrød

Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses
Hubro CD 2566

Waldemar 4

Waldemar 4

Gigafon Giga 016

One of the few Norwegian improvisers known outside his country through his membership in Dans les Arbres and other groups, keyboardist/composer Christian Wallumrød is also part of a minority of Scandinavian players not affiliated with any particular local coterie. Although often linked to the so-called frigid northern sound, a disc like Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses prove that like a dour accountant who is a flamboyant roué after hours, Wallumrød is conversant with divergent styles. Slightly younger, Oslo-based pianist Håvard Wiik is making his presence better known with membership in Atomic and projects with Ken Vandermark among others.

In the Waldemar 4, Wiik functions as an effective sideman and contributes one composition to the all-acoustic Freebop quartet led by bassist Trygve Waldemar Fiske, featuring drummer Erik Nylander and André Roligheten on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet. As different as Trondheim is to Tijuana the four-part Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses finds Wallumrød playing piano, harpsichord, synthesizer and drum machines as part of a dilatory four-part program developed with the 10-member Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (TJO) that includes two keyboardists, electronics, and two guitarists, one of whom is Dans les Arbes’ Ivar Grydeland. With Grydeland’s pedal steel reverberations often extrusive as the narrative involves at a pace more leisurely than Marco Polo’s voyages to the Orient, the program appears to consist of the kernel of Morton Feldman-like indeterminacy mixed in with a tang of Sneaky Pete Kleinow-like steel guitar vibrations.

Introduced by foreshortened piano textures that are as reminiscent of Floyd Crammer as David Tudor, mewling electronics keep a consistent droning sounding throughout. Elaborated as if each TJO members is enclosed within a box, during “Part 2” and “Part 3”, the unfocused theme is only sporadically interrupted by stuttering guitar licks, rubs on double bass strings, piano string plucks, choked horn breaths and rattling jounces from little instruments such as gongs, bells and glass bottles. Next to atmospheric pedal steel whines the only constant is repetition of the initial theme, although whether played by Wallumrød or Anja Lauvdal, also featured on piano, harpsichord and synthesizer isn’t clear. The effect is oddly disquieting, like the build-up in tension during a horror flick, with the idea that an undefined menace is looming; but here it’s one that never arrives.

If the previous sections could be defined as stasis, then “Part 4” provides the vigorous climax and release. With a stormy crescendo every musician is heard to the extent that together the orchestra resembles the bellowing of a mammoth pipe organ. Twanging electric guitars cut through the electronic mist at the same time as trumpeter Eivind Lønning, tuba player Heiða Karine Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck and tenor saxophonist Espen Reinertsen modulate their collective timbres to passionately and decisively embrace the electric – and electronic – output.

While the TJO’s performance is low-key enough to be intriguing, if lacking in dynamics, then the Waldemar 4 are spirited without let-up. Yet by sticking close to FreeBop conventions, the CD while lively is a bit like fast food. Hearty enough when consumed at the time, but creating a yearning for more nourishing fare soon afterwards.

It’s not that the band is musically deficient. Fiske is an all-around bassist, whose walking thumps easily power all eight of the selections, and as Poncho to his Cisco Kid, drummer Nylander never loses the time or tempo, even though his playing is as discreet as a progressive voter at a Donald Trump rally. A well the bassist’s six compositions have elements that that make them sound familiar without wearing out their welcome, and appear uniquely reminiscent of vaporous Cool Jazz as much as weighty Hard Bop. Solidly biting into his solos with a hard reed and harder intonation, Roligheten’s tenor saxophone recalls outside-Sonny Rollins, circa “East Broadway Rundown”. On bass clarinet, while the road map may have been supplied by Eric Dolphy, his asides, slurs and split tones show that he isn’t averse to chugging through some unexplored territory.

Some of Roligheten’s most notable playing is on his own “Mass Awareness of a Certain Avian Variety” where his strident high-pitched rasps and exploration of low tones that appeared rooted in his horn’s bell intensify the emotionalism. Here and elsewhere, Wiik comps with all the prudence of a Wynton Kelley backing John Coltrane. The pianist’s “Sysophean Labour”, finds Roligheten on bass clarinet, pushing out staccato articulation as the pianist extends the theme as if it was made of plasticine. Although Wiik’s lines are as polyphonic as the reedist’s are multiphonic, the tune is conventional enough to have a recapped head.

The remainder of the tracks composed by Fiske is given a contemporary twist atop of expected FreeBop styling. On tenor Roligheten can skip between Ben Webster-like breathiness to Stan Getzian cool, as he demonstrates on “When the Time Is Right”. That same tune and “Big Fish”, which precede it, evince the skill with which the bassist can inject either choked arpeggios or rock-hard pacing extending melodies and keeping them grounded. The latter tune also provides Nylander with a chance to step forward. His brief solo spot soon evolves into stop-time as he trades fours with moderato bull fiddle stops and impressionistic piano chords.

Like a brand-new auto that includes state-of-the art navigation features as well as classic engineering, the Waldemar 4’s vehicle is roadworthy without bringing undue attention to itself. Firmly in the modern Jazz tradition its CD’s tunes offer a comforting sameness that isn’t any less impressive because of its familiarity. It may not be Fiske’s intention, but now that he’s proven he’s mastered the idiom, it’s time to see if he can alter it as well.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Untitled: 1. Part 1 2. Part 2 3. Part 3 4. Part 4

Personnel: Untitled: Eivind Lønning (trumpet); Heiða Karine Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck (tuba, electronics); Espen Reinertsen (tenor saxophone); Christian Wallumrød (piano, harpsichord, synthesizer, drum machines); Anja Lauvdal (piano, harpsichord, synthesizer); Lars Ove Fossheim (acoustic, electric guitars); Ivar Grydeland (electric, pedal steel guitar, synthesizer); Michael Francis Duch (bass); Siv Øyunn Kjenstad (drums); Fredrik Wallumrød (drums, electronics)

Track Listing: Waldemar: 1. Got It Jimmy! 2. Sysophean Labour 3. Dualism 4. Dance Obscure 5. Mamma Gillar Jazz 6. Mass Awareness of a Certain Avian Variety 7. Big Fish 8. When the Time Is Right

Personnel: Waldemar: André Roligheten (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet); Håvard Wiik (piano); Trygve Waldemar Fiske (bass) and Erik Nylander (drums)