Norweigan saxophonist Tore Brunborg is more than likely one of those musicians you have heard many times without realising it is him. Having collaborated with many of the better known Scandinavian musicians, Arild Andersen, Jon Christensen, Manu Katche and Bugge Wesseltoft, to name but a few, he has now released his debut as a leader for ACT; “Slow Snow”. With guitarist Eivind Aarset, bassist Steinar Raknes and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen, “Slow Snow” features 10 compositions and relies heavily on the textures and colours created by the sublime, innovative guitar/electronics of Aarset. The album as a whole is frustrating and pleasing in equal measure. There are moments of brilliance with some of the tunes being of such a high quality that in a way this makes the lesser tracks seem a little dull in comparison. Most of the tunes drift and weave a spell of intrigue, breathy and intimate they seem more like explorations of sound rather than full on compositions. And this is fine… when it works.
The opener “Shelter” features Brunborg at the piano. A deep, soulful sound that gradually pulls the listener in. Sparse drums and a slow thoughtful bass add to the cool vibe of the track, with textural guitar gradually building nicely behind the main tune. Brunborg’s effortless, spacey sax weaves in and out, creating the Nordic landscape one might well expect from the musicians on show here. “Tune In” is a killer track. From its delicate beginnings, guitarist Aarset cranks up the volume and then slaps us around the face with his overdrive/distortion, the tune building to a grunge-jazz-metal crescendo of sound. The whole quartet let loose here and the tune is all the better for it. For me though, the first two tracks are a wonderful start to the album, but a few of the remaining pieces just fail to deliver in the same way. Too many times they seem to meander and not really develop into anything of substance. Instead of the mood changes being enthralling they just appear to drift aimlessly, leaving me asking myself if I missed something. There are exceptions though, oh yes. And when they arrive they are magical. “Tree strong, tall swaying, swinging, sighing” has a depth of character to it, largely created by Aarset’s jaunty guitar, offset by Brunborg’s confident sax lines. I love the menacing “Wherever you go”, a dark, multidimensional piece that highlights guitarist Aarset at his best. The subtle melody provided by the leader helps create a surreal, shadowy picture. “Lost and Found” benefits from its stark, gentle approach and envelops the listener in its warmth. A cool groove laid down on bass leads us into the closing track “Light a fire, fight a liar”, a rockier, kick-ass tune that allows the band to stretch out and play with an unbridled freedom behind the saxophonist’s composed melody.
“Slow Snow” is well worth exploring. It comes with its highs and lows, some parts working better than others, but it’s an interesting listen that, by the end, leaves the listener wanting to hear more.