Billy Mohler

July 11, 2022

Contagious Music CGM 007
The Source
…but swinging doesn’t bend them down
Odin Records ODIN CD 9577

Double bass directed if not bass lead, these quartet session are from different countries by long-established or ad-hoc bands but share the common approach of not abandoning a swinging pulse even while stretching past standard tropes. Interestingly enough the members of both groups have connections with Pop and other musics, but these sound deviations only amplify their improvisations.

First organized in 1993, the Norwegian The Source band has had varied configurations during its history, adding and subtracting local and so-called World musicians, although its core line-up has been constant for the past two decades. Mats Eilertsen who also plays with the likes of Arve Henriksen brings a solid bass tone to the band, which otherwise includes trombonist Øyvind Brække, who also played in the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra; saxophonist Trygve Seim who leads his own bands and composes notated music; and Oddvar Johansen, who has recorded with Håvard Wiik among others. Meanwhile Los Angeles bassist Billy Mohler, who as a session musician has played with everyone from Dolly Parton to Lady Gaga, also leads this Jazz combo with close friends, trumpeter Shane Endsley and drummer Nate Wood, both also part of Kneebody; and tenor saxophonist Chris Speed who has been in bands with Tim Berne and Kurt Rosenwinklel.

Although a couple of tracks showcases Mohler’s well-articulated and lower quadrant-directed spiccato plucking and heads that are introduced by his heavily vibrated pulsations, the bassist isn’t a space hog here. Instead there’s room for all, with some post-production editing adding distant electronic shimmers and palimpsest-like buried timbral suggestions, usually when Endsley and Speed play. The trumpeter also makes the most of his position. Alongside many bridge elaborations, he and Speed create upbeat Jazz Messengers-like unison affiliations, tracks like “Nightfall” and “Perseverance” are enlivened by his playing. On the first brassy portamento triplets and smears carve a place among slippery reed vibrations and cymbal slaps before ending on funky high notes after intersectional horn motifs. Endsley’s double and triple tonguing, dissent squawks and brassy shakes evolve at a prestissimo tempo on the second tune, joined by Speed’s irregular vibrated slurs and slathers. Still, the Mohler’s preserved pulse keep the track’s horizontal evolution engaged and powerful. Speed’s lightly vibrated trills that with overblowing turn to irregular vibrations are most prominent on “Exit”. Where they’re extended with programmed shooshes Yet once harmonized with Endsley’s half-valve effects they lead to a quieter ending. As for Wood, moving among backbeats, thumps and shuffles, he creates the proper rhythms for the tracks, whether the horn playing is mellow or multiphonic. Plus locking in with the bassist’s walking he confirms the set’s propulsive but not overdone direction.

While the other CD isn’t led by Eilertsen, it’s his steady bass work and Johansen’s four-square drumming that centre the session. From the disc’s real beginning on “Monday”, string modulations and drum ratamacues create the ambiance that is The Source. From that point on space is made for Brække’s plunger attacks and Seim’s shifting reed forays into honks and overblowing. Often the two horns combine brassy smears and horizontal saxophone trills to more the themes forward at bouncy and andante tempos, but rarely does it stray from tonality. Brække’s most descriptive exposition is on “Monk” where meeting harsh sax lines and the drummer’s rat tat tat ending he works backwards through vocalized tones from Roswell Rudd to Kid Ory emulations. Seim’s sophisticated bluster is highlighted elsewhere. But the defining tracks are those when the band ventures out of its regular patterns. Narrow reed whines coupled with a shimmering brass burr that seems to be part Nordic and part Middle Eastern makes “Spring Psalm” stand out. Meanwhile “Limbo” comes across as a stop-time Norwegian Blues. Its slithery sax lines, bass slaps and drum rolls gradually build up pressure and climaxes some R&B-like split tones and smears from Seim and rollicking puffs and pumps from Brække.

While neither session is a heralded breakthrough to new territory, each is a notable expression of hard swinging, professional sounds.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Anatomy: 1. Abstract 1 2. Fight Song 3. Nightfall 4. Equals 5. Abstract 2 6. Exit 7. Perseverance 8. Abstract 3 9. Speed Kills 10. Moonglow

Personnel: Anatomy: Shane Endsley (trumpet); Chris Speed (tenor saxophone): Billy Mohler (bass) and Nate Wood (drums)

Track Listing: swinging: 1. Rusletur 2. Monday 3. One Step Further – Three Back 4. Limbo 5. Rubicon 6. Spring Psalm 7. Raag Löyly 8. Rubata Alla Grande 9. Something’s Motion 10. Big Shuffle 11. Responsorium 12. Monk 13. Theme For Alvar Wirkola 14. Dawn

Personnel: swinging: Øyvind Brække (trombone); Trygve Seim (tenor and soprano saxophones); Mats Eilertsen (bass) and Oddvar Johansen (drums)