Mathias Eick's warm, pure trumpet tone sounding almost like a brassier counterpart to fellow Norwegian Jan Garbarek makes Eick a perfect addition to the Scandinavian squadron of the ECM army. Skala follows by three years his debut, also on ECM, The Door. Eick had already recorded for the label as a sideman, including Manu Katché's excellent Playground album, his distinctive trumpet being a major component of Katché's sonic character for that standout album.
Skala is electric music, but lightly so. Combining that with Eick's airy, poetic horn and that ECM production makes this about as ultimate of a Scandinavian new age jazz record as one can be without the presence of Garbarek. Tore Brunborg, a fellow Norwegian who appeared on Katché's Playground followup Third Round, is his sax foil on the elegant opener Skala," and the strident march of Day After," but the regular squad consists of Andreas Ulvo (piano), Audun Erlien (electric bass), Morten Qvenild (keyboards), and not one but two drummers (Torstein Lofthus and Gard Nilssen).
Eick wrote all the tracks, and this Nordic folk-infused style remains consistent throughout, as improvisation takes a back seat to melody but the spacious, unfolding songs manage to be distinctive from each other. There's no tracks that I could even remotely call throwaways, while the aforementioned Skala," Biermann" and Oslo" (video below) are among the high points. On the brief but sweeping Epilogue," Eick also plays double-bass and vibraphone, as well as little electric guitar on Biermann."
Skala, which went on sale April 12, is easier on the ears than most ECM records but maintains all the integrity found on records typical from that label. That makes it a good introduction record of the label for the uninitiated, and even veteran followers of the marque like me find much to savor from it as well.