Eyes Of A Blue Dog ‘Hamartia’ (Private Press) 3/5

eyes-of-a-blue-dogTaking its title from an Ancient Greek word meaning error of judgement, or moral mistake, “Hamartia” is the second album by this Anglo-Norweigan trio. Trumpeter Rory Simmons, vocalist and lyricist Elisabeth Nygaard and drummer/sound creator Terje Evensen have put together a poppier, more song based album this time round, compared to their first release, 2012’s “Rise”. The band’s title is borrowed from a short story of the same name by novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and not unlike the great writer’s literature this is a brooding, sometimes gently, sometimes powerfully burning affair, in this case punctuated with a heady mix of pop, rock and electronica. Special guests on this session include Tim Harries on bass, Paloma Deike on violin, Guillimots frontman Fyfe Dangerfield and former Fringe Magnetic band member Natalie Rozario on cello.
First off, this is not a jazz album by any stretch of the imagination. If we must give it a label then I guess pop/electronica would sum it up nicely. However, as is often the case, there is much more to it than that. There is a warm atmosphere throughout the recording, created by Evensen’s lush soundscapes, with broken beats, and some lovely jazz/folk influenced melodies from both vocalist Nygaard and trumpeter Simmons. For me personally, I much prefer the more atmospheric tracks with a thoughtful, quirkier edge to them, than the more straight-ahead pop/rock tunes. Although the rockier tunes may appeal to a larger market, they lack the subtlety and beauty created by the dreamier, contemplative pieces. The trio are far from alone here, walking a tightrope on that difficult path between integrity and commerciality. A prime example of this would be the opening track “Spin Me”. Nygaard’s vocals are provocative and beautifully delivered, but seem to lose their relevance somewhat in the haze of the tune itself. It reminded me of the way I felt when hearing the more recent releases by Zero7; their first couple of albums being a superb mix of electronica, jazz and melodic pop, compared to the more recent efforts that sound “chart-driven” and formulaically pop based. There’s a definite influence of Bjork in Nygaard’s vocal style, more prevalent perhaps on the slower pieces, with well thought-out lyrics. Excellent arrangements add a certain class to the proceedings and the trio obviously share a close connection, creating a natural ambience from the music they make. Although the album is largely song based, there are some wonderful instrumental cuts hiding away in there. They may be short and sweet but Simmons is in his element here, washing our worries away with his deft, multi-layered trumpet playing. Music to lose yourself in, creative and elegant. “Vicario Square” and “Luminescence” both invoke thoughts of Nils Petter Molvaer, produced with skill and dexterity. One of my favourite tracks is “Before The Night Ends”, which features Fyfe Dangerfield duetting with Elisabeth Nygaard. It has that gentle, haunting, Civil Wars feel to it, a beautifully constructed piece of music that provides one of the rarer moments of pure emotion on the album. I also particularly enjoyed the cool groove of “Unhappy Mondays” and the deeper, darker, overtones heard on “Drug I can’t deny.”

All in all an enjoyable album, but for this listener if the focus leaned more towards the eclectic, slightly more experimental side, it would be all the better for it. I couldn’t help thinking of another band whilst listening to this… A band that also integrates electronica, trumpet and vocals; Blue-Eyed Hawk. Their stunning 2014 debut “Under The Moon” (Edition Records) perhaps provides a good example of how a clear musical vision can work so well. “Hamartia” doesn’t quite rise to those heights, but it is well worth checking out and there will undoubtedly be many people who enjoy the pop/rock elements of the album more than I do.

Mike Gates