Since the 1960’s Nordic jazz has slowly but surely found its place in the world with its unique blend of traditional folk and contemporary music. Helped along the way not least by labels such as ECM and ACT, with now familiar artists such as Jan Garbarek, Arild Anderson, Bobo Stenson and EST to name but a few, some of the finest, most innovative jazz from this last half century has been originated and exported from Scandinavia. Whilst Norway and Sweden have arguably produced the majority of the music we are accustomed to hearing today, this year in particular has seen some wonderful music coming out of Denmark. Frekvens Frekvens are a Danish quartet, with Frej Lesner on drums, Nis Helleroe Myrtue on baritone sax, Mathias Jaeger on piano and synth, and Tejs Dragheim on bass. ‘Vandborg’ is their debut album, released on the small ‘Jaeger Community Music’ label, based in Aarhus, Denmark.
One of the things I love about reviewing album releases is that I get the privilege of listening to new music from around the world that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise heard of. This is a perfect example of such music. Frekvens Frekvens certainly capture that Nordic sound that as jazz listeners we have become somewhat accustomed to hearing, but as with much of this region’s music, it continues to develop and sound fresh and invigorating. This band employ an almost ambient, minimalistic approach to music making, successfully crossing the borders of jazz, folk and classical music, whilst benefiting from a quirky avant-garde leaning that is both surprising and adventurous, despite its minimalistic nature. The group communicates basic emotions such as love, fear, hope and friendship through wonderful melodies, free play and musical conversations and connectivity between the musicians.
The album takes its name from Vandborg, on the West coast of Denmark. There is an atmospheric peace and clarity to the music that suggests tranquility and reflection coupled with a sense of hidden longing and love. I particularly like the fact that this is far from what you might expect a jazz quartet to sound like. Yes it’s jazz, but there’s a unique sound to this 4-piece that sparkles with a fresh originality. The music is at times fragmented, almost awkward, and yet lovingly crafted in a way that what you might think shouldn’t work, but obviously does. Nothing sounds forced and the music itself suggests warm companionship with a natural glow of inner beauty. The opening track “Skumring” is gentle yet decidedly eery with its gorgeous piano offset by the disjointed sax. One of the key elements to this album is the drums/percussion. To be honest, it’s quite unexpected in such a positive way, the textural embellishments adding light, depth and at times humour to the proceedings. The melodies are strong, with a haunting quality to them that range from stark, breathy interludes, to quietly meandering adventures with a sensitive lyricality. The closing track “Hjemve” is a masterful piece of writing and is performed with a quiet elegance that suggests a skill and intelligence from a band that have been performing together for years, not one who are making their debut. “I morke Haender” is reminiscent of the 70’s ECM sound brought to us by the Garbarek/Stenson quartet. But that said, it has its own feel and touch to it, and as the track gradually winds down, it conjures images of footprints slowly disappearing into the snowy distance. The more conversational “Svanesang” offers a delightful example of how many of the tunes ebb and flow, rising and falling like the sea breeze on a forgotten shore.
‘Vandborg’ is a wonderful debut album. Lovers of Nordic jazz should make this release a priority. There are more than mere glimpses of brilliance here, and I truly hope the band continue developing their own unique sound and successfully manage to find an audience that grows in numbers in the years ahead.
Incidentally, for further reading on the history and impact of Scandinavian jazz, I recommend reading “The Sound of The North – Norway and The European Jazz Scene” by Luca Vitali; a fascinating read.