Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Ole Morten Vågan

Happy Endlings

Tucked away in the central Norwegian city, the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (TJO) has been defining its identity among (Free) Jazz, notated, rock-like and vocal traditions for almost 20 years. Although it’s not the 13-piece ensemble’s endlimg (sic) CD, this almost 72-minute set is a comprehensive contemporary portrait of the TJO. More to the point, Happy Endlings reflects the ongoing musical vision of the TJO’s artistic director and bassist Ole Morten Vågan who composed all eight tracks. Interested in Norwegian folk and other ethnic musics, the bassist has also been a part of Jazz-oriented groups such as Motif and ones led by Håvard Wiik's. Luckily, the ever-shifting make-up of the TJO on this CD allows him to achieve many of his objectives.

In spite of most performances advanced full blast by high-pitched horns, spiccato strings and the five-person rhythm section including two drummers, piano and organ, the arrangements are still well balanced. Organically organized, repeated motifs are often spearheaded by slap bass and multiple keyboard tremolos. Interestingly enough the CD’s several shorter interludes float among musical currents with allusions to disparate motifs such as Trad Jazz, chamber music and soothing near lounge music sounds, sometimes toughened wriggled and then bled into one another. Plus the concluding “Slob Rock” while more refined than the title would suggest, sneaks awfully close to becoming a Fusion music parody with a shuffle-cymbal dual drum showcase, ProgRock dual keyboard excess, slurping and puffing horns and only a HardBoppish tenor sax solo exist as respite to the so-called heaviness.

Lengthier and more substantial tracks are more illuminating. The polyphonic expression from the massed horns which define “The Sussex Pub in Essex (Or the Essex Pub in Sussex)” follows thematic elaboration by clarinet trills, organ glissandi and wordless vocalizing and is further inflated with hard split tones from the reeds, growling brass tones and balanced percussion fills with Sofia Jernberg’s breathy vocalizing adding emotion and humanity. Her effervescent lyrical soprano is used in a more spectacular fashion on “Disco Dreams” (! and sic), harmonized with trumpeter Eivind Lønning’s honks and trombonist Øyvind Braekke sliding stutters. Again bisected by earthly tenor saxophone work from Fredrik Ljungkvist or Espen Reinertsen that just skirts atonality and bomb dropping percussion from Gard Nilssen and Håkon Mjåset Johansen, the key part of the arrangement is a stop-time narrative played with locomotive-style power and which continues through bel canto vocalizing and animalistic horn cries to a thumping rhythmic finale that involves the entire bands

Having organized an aggregation that can interpret and propel his compositions to an elevated and exciting level Vågan and this variant of the TJO can be justly praised for their achievement. Now they have to expose their skills to more non-Scandinavian audiences.

—Ken Waxman

Tracks Listing: 1. Vilken Låt Ska Vi Inte Spela Nu 2. The Sussex Pub in Essex (Or the Essex Pub in Sussex) 3, Me Tar Sand, You Jane 4. Far Ago and Long Away 5. Disco Dreams 6.Un-Merry-Go-Round 7. The Barrage Jam 8. Slob Rock

Personnel: Eivind Lønning (trumpet); Øyvind Braekke (trombone); Eirik Hegda (alto and baritone saxophones, clarinet); Fredrik Ljungkvist (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Espen Reinertsen (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet); Oscar Grønberg (piano); Ståle Storløkken (Hammond organ, effects); Ola Kvernberg (violin); Øyvind Engen (cello); Ole Morten Vågan (bass); Gard Nilssen and Håkon Mjåset Johansen (drums); Sofia Jernberg (vocals)