“Continuum” is Bridges second studio album, following up on their 2016 debut release, both featuring saxophonist Seamus Blake. The full quintet are Blake on saxes, Hayden Powell on trumpet, Espen Berg on piano, Jesper Bodilsen on bass, and Anders Thorén on drums, the original idea being that of a modern, Nordic jazz project with a vision to construct musical bridges between Norway and other parts of the world. Well, whatever the basis for the band’s name, I have to say this quintet are performing some of the finest original acoustic jazz anywhere in the world at the moment.
This recording has such a lovely feel to it. The chemistry between the musicians is obvious from the outset, with Blake and Powell’s sax and trumpet having forged such a seemingly inseparable bond. The rhythm section with pianist Berg at the helm is clearly sharp and focussed, with Bodilson’s bass and Thorén’s drums cutting a crisp and rich bedrock of sound for the fluent and lyrical expression that flows throughout the album from all of the musicians.
This beautiful set of tunes also benefits from an equally beautiful sound recording. The album was recorded in legendary Rainbow Studio, Oslo (home of many ECM sessions of course), and was then mastered by Jacob S. Worm at Finland Studio in Aarhus. The resulting sound has an impeccable warmth and precision to it that certainly increases the listening experience.
There are nine original compositions on “Continuum”, written by several members of the ensemble, helping to achieve a musical diversity whilst retaining an identity that represents well what this band are all about. There is an integrity to this project that suggests a clear understanding of what the quintet were looking to achieve, and the tunes are best described as melodic layers of lyrical beauty combined with some intense and emotive creative virtuosity.
The strength of “Continuum” is in the writing and this is then matched by the performances. As the luscious “Introduction” leads the listener into “The Clues” I am reminded in a way of Tony Williams’ Lifetime, with the intertwined sax and trumpet colluding in unison before Seamus Blake is free to break out into some inspired improvised soloing. Pianist Berg brings the fireworks with a wonderful depth of feeling in his playing. The more gentle “Andromeda” is stunningly beautiful, with the combination of Berg’s gorgeous chords and Powell’s evocative trumpet moving me intensely as I lose myself in the true beauty of this wonderful music. “Slightly Behind” is like a musical sleeping beauty, with Bodilson’s quiet groove of a bass line gradually leading to a waking musically enchanted journey. Blake’s playing over Berg’s lyrical magnificence on “Two” is a highlight and a perfect example of how musical minds coming together can create something so resplendent in nature that one simply has to sit back, quietly marvel, and enjoy the ensuing music. “The Jupiter Line” captures well how this quintet work so wonderfully together as a unit. The synergy between these five musicians in incredible, with an urgency and flow to this tune allowing for Berg to express his characterful playing to the full, with dazzling support from the bass and drums of Bodilsen and Thorén. The introspective nature of “Mareel” has a kind of twisting folk-tale element to it that reminds me of an Andy Sheppard tune. Sax and trumpet combine perfectly as the piece rises and falls with an emotive simplicity and complexity, like two worlds or two races trying to understand one another, before eventually listening together and becoming one voice. “No Road For Readers” captures the imagination with Powell’s crystalline trumpet setting the tone for a tune which releases the soul and frees the singing heart. And almost as an ode to the place where the music was recorded, “Fanfare” echoes a Keith Jarrett 70’s era ECM recording of spiritual intensity and depth of beauty that we rarely get to hear these days.
“Continuum” is an album of rare beauty and one that I will enjoy returning to time and time again. Undoubtedly one of the finest releases this year so far, it shines a clear, contemporary light on melodic, lyrically engaging and satisfying acoustic jazz at its very best.