Welcome is Danish pianist Nicolai Majland’s first release for Oslo based label AMP; it follows his 2015 GTW debut, Leaving and Believing. He is a musician very much focused on melody which he describes as his ‘north star’. The framework for this album was put together in just a week on a summer vacation in Sutri, Italy on an old piano located in the apartment in which he stayed. The ethos of the recording developed out of a sense of gratitude and joy in life, Majland is not afraid to admit that his approach to the music is shamelessly sentimental. The other members of the trio are Thomas Fonnesbæk (bass) and Morten Lund (drums). Both Lund and Fonnesbæk are of an earlier vintage to Majland; they were born in the 70s and have more extensive back catalogues to their names. Lund co-leads a trio with pianist Stefano Bollani and bassist Jesper Bodilsen. And anyone who can make an album entitled Groovements as Fonnesbæk did in 2015 with Aaron Parks and Karsten Bagge must be okay in my book.
Incidentally, the label’s name has a dual meaning, AMP stands for Ambitious Mindful Projects but was also chosen as an abbreviation of the word AMPlify. The commitment is to bring ambition and mindfulness to all projects in the expectation that this will amplify the whole process. Majland studied at Vestjyksk Musikkonservatoriam and lives and works in Copenhagen. I suspect he casts his net wide as far as influences go, elements of Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Vince Guraldi, Tord Gustavsen are apparent. One less obvious one is Joni Mitchell – he does a great interpretation of her song ‘Both Sides Now’ which features on his YouTube channel.
‘Sutri’, the album’s opener, is as light as a feather and its melodious heart is very easy on the ear. As it becomes more involved there’s some fabulous interplay from drummer Morten Lund. He and Majland flow around each other with great sensitivity and empathy, it’s so light yet so taut. The second track, ‘Welcome’ delivers a little piece of the sentimentality promised in the publicity material, it treads a fine line but manages to remain engaging with a few surprises. The song celebrates the arrival of a child into the world and exudes a contemplative small hours calmness. The early year’s theme is followed through on the much more uptempo ‘What’s Your Name?’ It’s got a sublime groove with a 60s vibe to it. Thomas Fonnesbæk’s bass is very lively on this tune and it’s his turn to provide satisfying tension and interplay with Majland’s piano. It’s definitely a contender for the strongest track on the record.
The pace slows down again for some ‘Gratitude’, in a similar vein to ‘Welcome’ though in my opinion the sentimentality is signposted just a bit too clearly, I’ve no objection to experiencing sentimental feelings towards a piece of music though I’d prefer it not to have this as such an obvious goal. Next up is ‘Who Cares?’ which is made of much funkier stuff. The tonal undercurrents offer a satisfying contrast to the lightness of touch which is so prominent on the rest of the record. ‘Minor Minutes’ is exploratory with a certain mystery, there’s a bluesy swing to it recalling an earlier jazz era. Another highlight is ‘Off Road Blues’ with its clean, fresh and sharp sense of precision.
This album has drawn me back quite a few times, I’m not sure I’ve fully understood it yet, there’s plenty going on underneath its lightweight hood and the agility of the playing is marvellous.