Jakob Bro ‘Returnings’ CD (ECM) 5/5

This is as much an album of Palle Mikkelborg contributions as it is of the official leader, guitarist Jakob Bro. However, do not let that, or, on the surface, the minimalist musing of the guitarist fool you. This is unquestionably a sumptuous recording in the very best tradition of ECM; empathetic relations between the musicians, a warmth of sound that every other label out there can only envy, and above all else stunningly beautiful music that blows away the stresses and strains of daily life. ECM have come up with a real winner of a recording here, and yet again the youthful bassist Thomas Morgan is directly involved in proceedings. Bro is simply not a guitarist who likes to be excessively showy, nor an extrovert. The complete opposite in fact, yet it is precisely that introverted approach that works so well here, and from the very outset on the reposing ‘Oktober’, with the echoey trumpet and the intimate bass being just two of the delights to take in and admire.

Sounding as though it was an off the cuff improvised duet between bass and drums, ‘View’ actually breaks the mould of the rest with drummer Jon Christensen and Thomas Morgan engaging in a highly entertaining conversation on their respective instruments. Dissonant guitar greets the listener on the title track. Elsewhere, the folk ambiance of ‘Strands’ showcases some beautiful ensemble performances, with a natural empathy between guitar and bass, and on top of this lushness, Mikkelborg laying down an exquisite, if somewhat restrained solo, which is entirely in keeping with his fellow musicians. For those not familiar with Mikkelborg, his stunning contribution to the Miles David mid-1980’s album ‘Aura’, makes that a personal favourite of this writer, and he must surely be a candidate for the most underrated and seldom heard nowadays, which is why his participation on this album is such a treat.

A triumphant return then for Jakob Bro and Palle Mikkleborg, reuniting them for the first time on ECM since the 2007 album for Terje Rypdal, ‘Vossabrygg’. This may just be an early contender for album of the year and will most certainly feature in the most enjoyable albums of the year. This writer seriously doubts whether a more relaxing recording is currently out there. The National Health Service should consider making this compulsory listening.

Tim Stenhouse