Anders Aarum – ‘Shakin’ Our Souls’ (2018)

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Oslo’s Anders Aarum is a jazz pianist capable of tackling just about any style of jazz, from his membership in the New Orleans jazz troupe Funky Butt to the downtempo soul of Beady Belle to free jazz with the legendary Sonny Simmons. Aarum has led on his own dates since 2000 but Shakin’ Our Souls is the first one to incorporate a lot of the modern sounds he’s sometimes been associated with as a sideman, but he brings his own personal flair to it.

Shakin’ Our Souls, his Ozella Music debut, is likely going to be the introduction to Aarum for a lot of people, especially to those on the left side of the Atlantic. As on his 2000s albums, Aarum’s base band is a trio, with the Thormodsæther brothers, Magne and Ivar, on double bass and drums, respectively. But Aarum himself sheds piano and mans a Fender Rhodes, a Moog and various analog keyboards.

The changeup in tools signal a change in approach, but Aarum’s vision borne out on these recordings confirm it. Aarum’s willowy Rhodes can often push the music in a modern, dreamscape direction, but Magne Thormodsæther’s acoustic bass has a way of grounding things, as heard on “Another Day In Suck City.” In spite of using vintage keyboards, the sound coming out of them isn’t pegged to the 70s or any other particular time period, and that’s all in the un-peggable way Aarum is prone to use them. Or maybe because Aarum often employs ethnic fusion grooves, as with the Caribbean pulse that frames “If I Was A Panda.”

Aarum takes a modern jazz motif in “Where The Wild People Go” and grafts it on top of another, percussion-laden Afro rhythm. Out of nowhere, Aarum uncorks a Moog solo that resists the temptation to go Atari cheesy and keeps an effective low key vibe. “Master Of Disaster” is a nod to straight ahead jazz and Aarum is heard approaching his Rhodes like a Steinway. When Aarum is not groovin’ or swinging, he delves into lush soundscapes, as the one he devises for “The Perks Of Being A Loafer.” In another example where the song takes a bit of an unexpected turn, Magne Thormodsæther gets a bass exhibition on “The Slenderman Can” just when it appears that Aarum was gearing up to spool out on Rhodes (he does after the bass turn).

Though it’s the album’s only non-original, “Una Muy Bonita” is undertaken with a looseness that sort of sums up the whole album and in doing so, it doesn’t stray far from the rambling spirit of Ornette Coleman’s original presentation. When Aarum wanders around, he seems to understand that breaking a sweat defeats the purpose of sounding natural, and natural to him has a festive streak. This includes briefly stepping aside to let Ivar Thormodsæther and guest percussionist Hermund Nygård put the beat up front and then returning to speed up the tempo until the song takes a crash landing.

Far from using electric powered keyboards as a crutch, Anders Aarum finds ways to make them mechanisms for his ingenuity that he wouldn’t have been able to achieve on merely an acoustic piano. Pulling together world rhythms, textural shapes and free range playing against the backdrop of modern jazz, Aarum has found a unique voice that’s as attractive as it is distinctive.

Shakin’ Our Souls is set for release on September 28. 2018.

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