Pixel – Golden Years (2015)

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photo credit: Lasse Flodo, courtesy of Cuneiform Records

The beauty of the Norwegian-based quartet Pixel isn’t the fact that they play a delicious amalgam of indie pop and jazz, it’s that they pull this off without diminishing the ‘jazz’ part of it at all. What’s more, is that they’re able to do this also without the help of a chorded instrument.

Ellen Andrea Wang (bass, vocal), Jon Audun Baar (drums, percussion, vocal), Jonas Kilmork Vemøy (trumpet, vocal) and Harald Lassen (sax, bongo, vocal) have been doing this for a few years now, and more than three years following their Reminder debut, Pixel constructed their third album Golden Years (Cuneiform Records) maintaining their mastery of the stylistic mesh, but also expanding its depth and sobriety.

Not that they can’t put on a charming pop face while laying down a hip-shaking organic groove (“I Have The Right To Go To Syden”, “Slinky”), with “Syden” most like the engaging confection of “Call Me” or “Space” where sharp horn quips are coyly inserted alongside and in opposition of Wang’s sweet but firm vocal. They even slide in Lassen’s galloping sax solo from alongside Wang’s popping bass pulses. On the purely instrumental side, the tough rhythms typical of Pixel show up on “Nothing Beats Reality,” which chugs like a runaway street party, assimilating fusion, funk and straight-up improv jazz as a single, tight unit.

Even among the lyric-laden songs and some of the other tracks, there’s a growing sense of somberness and self-reflection revealed more than before; “People Pleaser” grapples with the burden of altruism and “Move On” means ‘moving on’ from a relationship, but Wang’s chorus vocal sung in unison with Vemøy’s trumpet sticks with the winning ways of getting their instruments to share in the lead with a voice.

The solemn groove of “Rainforest” might actually be a bit closer in character to a Euro ECM recording, like say, Manu Katche, than Pixel, and is actually inspired by a fellow Norwegian, the trumpeter Arve Henriksen (who once recorded on ECM). Restrained use of effects on the horns strike breezy moods, such as billowing and soaring sax that offers up a counterpoint to the spare stomp of “Our Beauty.” The hushed, lyrical “Dani Anana” is a tenor sax showcase for Lassen, as Wang is holding down the harmony with proficiency.

A good, young band shows growth with each release; a great one shows growth even if they don’t need to. Pixel had from the get-go developed their own, appealing engaging personality they’ve could have churned out forever. Golden Years retains that spirit while reaching out a little beyond it.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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