Sometimes when it comes to listening to music, patience is a virtue…
Imagine cueing up a record by a jazz bassist and being greeted with the ornate sounds of a timpani, harpsichord and bowed bass. I was all ready to dismiss this or some kind of stuffy, archaic chamber jazz, when the album took an interesting turn right around the two and a half minute mark: Tony Malaby’s lightly dancing alto sax rises above the drone. That helped a bit. On the next track, Kenny Wollesen trades in the timpani for some modern drums booming out a loping beat, and joined by dissonant, ominous drones. Yeah, that’s better. The third song begins by playing up the date of its title, “1786″ (YouTube below), but something happens in the middle of this, too. Wollesen’s and Jacob Sacks’ harpsichord begin a rolling pattern that kicks off a hard rocking sequence, and Malaby is going nutso on his sax. By this time my ears are perked straight up. The next song goes soft, but this compelling combination of vibraphone (Wollesen), harpsichord and the leader’s weeping bowed bass renders a beautiful melody. Later on is a total rock freakout, with Brandon Seabrook’s wailing guitar and Stack’s farfisa organ leading the way. It’s only 100 seconds long, but they ensemble makes the most of it and I’m left grinning widely by the end of it. And then the next song alternates between an urgent funky riff and a sweeping rock-jazz motif.
This isn’t even the full extent that the leader, Eivind Opsvik, goes for his forth album, called Overseas IV (I’ll let you figure out what the first three albums are called). Currently in New York but hailing from Asker, Norway, this prodigious bassist skillfully sketched out a vision for experimental jazz that’s way out in the forefront precisely because he reaches way back to the golden era of European chamber music, i.e., the late 18th century and the 19th century. Though IV isn’t intended to be a classical jazz record—and it isn’t even close to that taken as a whole, actually—Opsvik sought to evoke cultural references to an era that happened to be resplendent with classical music. At the same time, his music lives firmly in the present scenes of the progressive fringes of both rock and jazz, accentuated with touches of ambient and electronica. As clever as that might be, these stylistic blends and odd instrumentations are in the end just vehicles for Opsvik’s compositions, which are full of dramatic build ups and releases of tensions.
So what to make of the music? Opsvik calls it “experimental cinematic music.” I think that for this ingenious mix of the very old with the new, that’s an apt description.