Torben Waldorff – Holiday On Fire (2017)

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Torben Waldorff had assembled what he is proud to call his ‘dream’ band and armed with six new compositions, broke a lull in recording activity. Holiday On Fire — the guitarist, composer and producer’s first release in five years — continues an unbroken streak of quality, rock-tinged jazz striking the right balance between euphony and chops that’s been his hallmark from 2006’s Brilliance on to today.

Now out via Artistshare like his prior four releases, Holiday offers some distinction in the way of a completely different band. Two of Nordic Connect linchpins, Ingrid Jensen (trumpet) and Maggi Olin (piano/Rhodes) are present, as are bassist Drew Gress and drummer Johnathan Blake. All are equal in ability to past Waldorff sidemen like Donny McCaslin, Matt Clohesy and Gary Versace, but bring their own personalities, too.

Most notable, perhaps, is Jensen, fast becoming one of the most widely regarded trumpet players on both sides of the Atlantic, and often serves as Waldorff’s latest foil. She’s the first thing heard on the record: “Thyst Intro” is a quiet introduction that belies the energy that follows.

There are plenty of bona fides found in Olin (Waldorff’s wife), Blake and certainly Gress as well, and they bring a subtle but distinctive texture to Waldorff’s music. But the sustaining things carried over from Waldorff’s prior records are his flair for hooks within sophisticated harmonics and a resonant guitar that rocks with intelligence. Those things are exemplified on “Thyst,” which features a signature Waldorff theme and of course, a signature lead that effortlessly combines elements of jazz, rock and blues into a consonant whole.

“Off To Far” and “Ironic Tonic” both boast sophisticated melodic development, making something catchy out of something that has harmonic heft. The former dances to Blake’s spry waltz and Waldorff later puts together an ebullient solo that closely conforms to the character of the song (after which Gress and Jensen deliver on their own spotlights).

Waldorff doubles up with Jensen while the laddering up three keys on “Combust” and Olin’s slightly fuzzy Rhodes conforms to his slightly fuzzy guitar. Meanwhile, Jensen’s urbane muted horn supplies a welcome contrast. Belligerent Beauty” features another great mesh between Waldorff and Jensen, uniting to make the thematic lines resonate louder, taking turns on inspired solo turns and offering complementing lines.

The graceful ballad “Our Sound of Love (and Charles’s and Duke’s)” puts Olin’s piano out front and Gress leaves behind a pretty aside as well. Halfway through, Waldorff and Jensen gently assume control as the melody settles into a two-chord pattern. Though nearly ten minutes long, the song evolves and flowers in such a way to hold interest all the way through.

Because of the leader’s deepened composing savvy and heightened symbiosis among everyone in this ensemble, Holiday On Fire sounds good on the first listen and great on the tenth. It might have taken a little longer this time, but Torben Waldorff has done it again.

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