Wako ‘Wako’ LP/CD (Øra Fonogram) 4/5

If you like something diverse and intriguing with a vivacious blend of cross-pollinated jazz seeds that have grown into something fresh, wild and adventurous, this is an album well worth checking out.

Coming from the vanguard of the New Wave of Nordic Jazz, Wako are one of the most original and innovative groups on the scene. Their music is vibrant with flair and dynamism, impressively traversing the full spectrum of jazz-fusion and beyond. Touring extensively since 2015, they have honed their stagecraft and performances, garnering a solid fanbase and critical acclaim along the way.

Individually, the members are part of different bands and projects, such as Hegge (Norwegian grammy award winner 2017), Megalodon Collective (Norwegian grammy nominee 2016), Espen Berg trio (NTNU ambassadors 2016), Kjetil Mulelid Trio, Kjemilie, MMO-Ensemble and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. Collectively on this recording, they enjoy a free-spirited romp that is bold and adventurous, with a playful exuberance that suggests they’re totally immersed in the joyfulness of making music together.

Martin Myhre Olsen and Kjetil André Mulelid’s compositions interweave order and chaos, dissonance and harmony, light and shade, and all manner of musical grit and gusto in a unique fashion. Moments of pensive serenity collapse into ecstatic frenzies. Other moments appear saturated in colourful abstract expressionism. Wako’s healthy disregard for any kind of musical purism actually makes their music a delight to experience, bringing a sense of risk-taking to music which has to be a good thing.

This isn’t one of those albums where you can judge the consistency of the music as a whole. Wako’s musical palette is so varied, that the listener has to take each track as it comes, taking each piece on its own merits. Some tunes hit the spot straight away, whereas other tunes might not ever quite get there, the cohesive glue occasionally coming apart at the seams, but the accomplished way with which the musicians weave their sounds in such a decisive way is very impressive.

Personally, I love the textural layers that are used to alter the mood, highlight the drama, and heighten the tension, like a movie score or avant-garde soundscape from a different planet, the music flickers in and out of individual virtuosity and group interaction. All of the musicians involved rise to the sense of occasion on this session, including Arve Henriksen’s mercurial trumpet and sampling contributions, Rob Waring’s dynamic vibraphone playing, inventive sax performances from Jonas Kullhammar, Espen Reinertsen and Sissel Vera Pettersen, and the use of occasional synths and vocals all adding to the eclectic mix.

Band-leaders Martin Myhre Olsen and Kjetil André Mulelid have made a fine job of piecing together fragments of sound that form loose, entangled and multi-faceted melodies. Listening to this album is a little like almost completing a complicated jigsaw, only to find the last piece is missing. Rewarding, yet frustratingly not quite the finished article.

Mike Gates