Danish guitarist Gorm Askjær founded Secret Safari back in 2016, he also leads the Gorm Askjær Trio and is involved with the promotion of Denmark’s Aarhus Jazz Festival. Meanwhile, Secret Safari aim to approach their music with ‘orchestral composition techniques but in a small group setting’. They draw on a disparate set of influences, classical, rock, surf rock, serial music and the soundscape of the small jazz ensemble. All this is threaded together with wit and dexterity in a way that isn’t jarring but instead smoothly rendered.
A fine example is the tune ‘Phantasie Gymnopedie’, an interpretation of Gymnopedie No.1 by Erik Satie. Askjær joins an eclectic roster of artists who’ve reworked this from Blood Sweat and Tears to Sky and even the great Gary Numan. It’s instantly recognisable and retains the melancholic atmosphere, ambient space and the dissonance characteristic of Satie. There’s a horn arrangement that is Spartan enough to give Askjær’s sublime guitar work the room it needs to breathe freely. As his solo ends the rest of the band come back in with faint echoes of the main theme before gently easing off. It’s like a warm bath, you just don’t want to get out.
Askjær’s sense of humour is apparent on the album’s homage to surf rock and the Danish surfer’s paradise of Cold Hawaii. It comes in the shape of ‘Slow Surf in Cold Hawaii’ a track that seems to exist in the previously uncharted hinterland where Dick Dale and His Del-Tones meet Tomasz Stańko. The reverb-heavy guitar and percussive evocation of crashing waves set the scene before Tranberg’s trumpet steer it back into the realms of jazz with a tone reminiscent of Stańko. There are some sharp changes in tempo before the guitar catches another wave. There’s plenty of wit and invention here and the mood swings between light and dark like a distant metallic object glinting in the sun.
Talking of light, the next track is the fabulous titled ‘In the Dark of the Light’, The horn intro sets a cinematic mood and creates an echoing sound akin to a scene from a sixties or seventies movie at the moment the film’s hero is experiencing a flashback or some sort of drug-induced hallucination. At this point in the music Askjær’s guitar is a brooding undercurrent before emerging into the light to spar once again with Kasper Tranberg’s trumpet.
The record closes with the aptly titled ‘Three Dances’ a tune of three distinct parts. It opens with guitar and horns riffing around some delicate brushwork from drummer Marten Nottelman before the guitar plays a rock-inflected rhythm which Christian Vuust’s sax dances sinuously around. The piece then shifts to a march and it’s the trumpets turn to dance to its militaristic tune. The intensity thankfully eases somewhat for the closing notes. At this point, skipping back immediately to ‘First Movement’, the album’s opener, which actually flows beautifully from this final tune. Its guitar is reminiscent of serial music with repeated phrases and post-rock beats. There’s a nice circularity to the music, each track making sense in the context of its predecessor. This genre-fluid album is a pleasingly cohesive statement which I know I’ll be going back to.