Lage Lund ‘Idlewild’ (Criss Cross Jazz) 5/5

lage-lundThis album reminds me of why I love listening to jazz. Ok, I’ll confess, I am something of a trioholic. The thing about a great trio is this; the instruments used are almost incidental, they all have their own place, it’s the spirit, understanding and togetherness with which they are played that makes the difference. Paul Motian trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny with Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, Keith Jarrett with Jack Dejohnette and Gary Peacock; all prime examples of how a living, breathing, evolving trio work so well. I often find it taking me to places that little else can. It’s a trio thing, that’s all.
And so when a good one, a really good one comes along, it feels very special indeed. I take it to heart. And I feel the need to shout about it from the rooftops in the hope that someone shouts back “Yes!, I understand exactly what you mean!”
“Idlewild” is the latest album from Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund. Released on Criss Cross Jazz, Ben Street on bass and Bill Stewart on drums complete the trio. Before I talk about the music itself, I’d like to give a mention to Michael Marciano who engineered these sessions and mixed the recording for Criss Cross, along with producer Gerry Teekens. Put the headphones on and you’ll hear the bass just a little to the left, the drums a little to the right and the guitar up the middle. No swamping of sound or over clever mixing, you can picture the trio performing in front of you. Simplicity is sometimes the hardest thing to achieve. Quality of the highest order.

Lage Lund was born and raised in Skien, Norway, before relocating to Boston. Now living in New York he has quietly, yet relatively quickly, garnered an enviable reputation as a highly skilled, thoughtful and inventive guitarist, having performed with the likes of Seamus Blake, David Sanchez and Maria Schneider. As a leader he has released previous albums with Criss Cross, working with both Ben Street and Bill Stewart on various sessions. “I’ve worked with Ben for almost ten years now.” says Lund. “His control and creativity when it comes to harmony and voice leading, is absolute. He is a bit of a rogue element in any band, always up to something possibly dangerous, musically speaking. That gives the music a certain edge that can be very exciting and keeps you on your toes at all times.” To my mind this is very apparent throughout this recording, as is the incredibly natural and vibrant understanding between bassist Street and drummer Bill Stewart. As for Stewart, little introduction is needed. His work over the years with some of the Jazz greats have wowed the listener time and time again. For me, he is one of the few drummers who truly have their own sound and style. Lund himself picks up on this: “He comes up with these drum parts that sound so unmistakenly Stewartish in nature, yet so absolutely perfect. Nothing with Bill is ever contrived or forced.”

“Idlewild” is a stunning album. The trio’s performance here is cohesive, intuitive, bold, confident and exciting, with exceptional interplay between the musicians and a wonderful use of space and adventure that the trio platform provides. The album itself is a mix of Lund originals and well chosen standards. “Idlewild” the title track is a highly original piece, somewhat reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s “Story from a stranger” or an ECM era Bill Frisell composition. Lund cleverly uses an acoustic guitar to add some gorgeous textures and subtle colours that sit gently behind the main motif of the tune. As with many pieces on this release, the bass and drums provided by Street and Stewart are never quite what you might expect, always surprising you with a little unexpected twist and a bang on the money driving force. Another great example of this is heard on Bobby Hutcherson’s “Isn’t this my sound around me”, where Street and Stewart don’t just drive the tune, they practically reinvent it in their own style. Lund’s use of warm, chordal textures alongside some outstanding soloing is always well measured and thoughtful. His sound is so relaxed and at ease with what he’s doing it’s a joy to listen to. On “Mirrors”, a Joe Chambers composition, Lund serves up his melodic phrases and lush chords with a rare majestic beauty. This relaxed, lush feel is also prevalent on Lund’s intro pieces to “Chance” and “Rain” where he lets us hear the true clarity of his sound. “Rumspringa” reminds me of an old Marc Johnson tune in its easy-natured, sound of summer style. “Come rain or come shine” and “So in love” may be time-honoured tunes that any respectable jazz musician can recite by memory, but therein also lies the challenge; how to make something old new again. This trio have no problem with that, each bringing their own individual talents to the table and successfully combining them into a meeting of minds with a fresh and interesting take coming out the other side.

“Idlewild” is how a trio should sound… all three musicians contributing with sumptuous ease, sounding like they know each other well enough for insightful introspection, but still with an uncertain edge that sparks excitement and vitality. As with most great albums, repeated listening rewards the listener with even more delights than were evident on the first few plays. I’ve listened to Idlewild repeatedly for three weeks now, and it still keeps on giving. I so hope that this trio continue to develop and evolve and continue making music together for many years to come.

Mike Gates