Bridges with Seamus Blake ‘Bridges’ CD (AMP Music & Records) 4/5

This is a de facto ECM release in all but name. Recorded at the famous Rainbow studio in Oslo, engineered by Jan Erik Kongshaug, and comprising a Nordic rhythm section of pianist Espen Berg, drummer and producer Anders Thorén, with Ole Morten Vågan on acoustic bass. The omnipresent Scandinavian influence is supplemented by two American musicians in Hayden Powell on trumpet and Seamus Blake on tenor saxophone. All the original ten pieces are relatively concise at just under forty-five minutes, with only three numbers exceeding the five minute mark, and, as with ECM albums proper, there is a long silence before the music commences.

There is certainly something about that distinctive Oslo studio sound that creates a feeling of space and on the expansive title track, horns operate beautifully in tandem with piano underneath cementing the cohesion of the band. Blake in particular is in smouldering form here on this number. Middle Eastern flavours open up on the introductory piece to the album, ‘Heart in mind’, with Berg taking the first solo. The most delicate of melodies is generated on the reposing piece, ‘Song for Karla’, with horn ensemble work adding to the sensitivity, and the sweetest of flugelhorn solos, as well as a lovely piano solo that recalls Bobo Stenson in his prime with Jan Garbarek.

In general, the music has been carefully thought through with pretty melodies a key feature and yet there is still enough going on underneath it all retain the listener’s attention over repeated listens. Of note in the creative inner sleeve, are the black and white photos of the band members that is like a trip back in time to the ECM releases of the mid-1970s. ECM fans should ignore this release at their peril and one wonders whether even Manfred Eicher blindfolded could tell the difference. One suspects that with his finely tuned ears, he might well do so. A real slow burner of an album.

Tim Stenhouse