Nordic Circles ‘Winter Rainbow’ (AMP Music & Records) 4/5

nordic-circlesScandinavian jazz has sometimes wrongly been pigeonholed into atmospheric and somewhat bleak sounding music, and that would be to do the multi-dimensional musicians a great disservice. However, following the early noughties worldwide success of EST who were anything but bleak, the wider jazz public has woken up to the upsurge in younger musicians springing up from this part of northern Europe and, with this mind, up surges another exciting new band with a distinctive sound, not dissimilar to that of artist on the ECM roster, but with their own individual voice nonetheless. Nordic Circles are a quintet comprising trumpeter Tore Johansen, pianist Helge Lien, guitarist Per Orvang with Anders Ljungberg on bass and Anders Thoren on drums. Recorded at the Rainbow studios in Oslo, this is a wonderfully relaxed melodic outing with the emphasis firmly on creating beautiful music rather than blowing the listener away with youthful virtuosity and it is that quality which makes the album so enjoyable. The uplifting and optimistic ‘New Song’ typifies the Nordic Circles sound and here pianist Helge Lien seems to have been influenced by Brad Mehldau and there is fine interplay between pianist and trumpeter, Tore Johansen. What is compelling is the utter simplicity of some of the pieces with the gentle lyricism of ‘Melting’ an outstanding example and lovely guitar and piano blending in. In a more experimental vein, ‘Free for five’ is an all too brief number with bass and trumpet working out rapidly. If there were to be any direct comparison with the classic ECM sound, then it would most likely be on the melancholic hues of ‘Dreaming’ with atmospheric trumpet, intricate work by the rhythm section and the addition of subtle guitar licks from Orvang. The album ends on a triumphant note with another ECM sounding number in ‘Spiral Circle’ that features fine piano playing from Lien and empathetic accompaniment from bass and drums. This is a band on a clear mission and the space that they afford one another allied with the lyrical qualities of the music is a sure sign of the growing maturity of the band members.

Tim Stenhouse