Nordic Connect - Spirals (2011)
By S. Victor Aaron
Nordic Connect is a grouping of musicians from Canada (Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Ingrid's sister Christine Jensen, alto and soprano saxophones), U.S.A. (Ingrid's husband Jon Wikan, drums), and Sweden (Maggie Olin (piano, Fender Rhodes; Mattias Welin, acoustic bass). The name points up to the Scandinavian ancestry of all its members, and the shared heritage provides common ground that is used as the basis for a consistent but never repetitious brand of jazz. Though led at least nominally by Ingrid Jensen, most of the members are leaders in their own right, and though Olin, who Ingrid met while both attended Berklee, wrote most of the songs, there's a strong cooperative spirit that pervades this record. This is the followup to their first album Flurry (2006), and as in that previous project, the members went the ArtistDirect route, recording the album in NYC back during 2008 and getting the record out with the help of private sponsors.
Though the Viking blood runs through all of the players, this isn't the Scandinavian jazz of Jan Johansson or Jan Garbarek. It's more of the modern but still tradition-grounded jazz that hearkens back to a time when the line between jazz and rock fusion was still a little blurry. More Continental in nature with a smidgen of classic ECM, Nordic Connect makes a few nods to the contemporary scene (such as the drum 'n' bass rhythms that pops up all over Travel Fever"), and then there's Olin's ever-present Rhodes. However, most of modernity is derived from the melodic, almost pop intonations of the original songs themselves that make the music pleasant to listen to, but the meticulous way it flows means there's no guilt associated with it. If that sounds a little like Torben Waldorff's music, his role here as co-producer might have little to do with it, though I suspect the members of Nordic Connect came to this shared vision on their own.
After the melody floating carefree over Wikan's urgent beats is heard on Fever,," Song For Inga" waltzes with a folk-tinged measure. On that track, Ingrid's trumpet sings with the directness and unadorned agility of Dave Douglas, and she puts on a similar performance for 66 Mike." When the mute is on her horn as is it for M-Oving," she pour her heart into it without over-emoting it. Christine's Castle Mountain, is fine example where the harmony and the bass line moves faster than the melody, and this is where her soprano sax recalls a bit of the dulcet mastery of Jane Ira Bloom. Wikan gets his turn to show his stuff all over Brejk A Leg," pumping out a pulse that derives this song to a furious pace that stays well in control.
The artistry of Nordic Connect is best displayed on Ingrid's Earth Sighs." It's a fascinating trip down modal lane that takes the lessons learned from In A Silent Way" to heart, full of intrigue, mystery and multiple facets. But always light on its feet. Ingrid's trumpet makes masterful use of the spaces between the notes, and Christine goes down her own path of expression that intertwines well with her sister's. Composition wise, Ballad North" provides the bast example of Olin's pen on the album, a beautiful classical-folk piece that draws intelligently from the formula of Eberhard's Weber's Colours.
Released informally last spring but officially released this past January 15, Spirals is a warm, mellow record that doesn't put its ample musicianship in your face, but invites you to listen closer where you'll sure find it. As of this writing, Spirals has been available only on Ingrid Jensen's site.
Visit Ingrid's site here.
Purchase: Nordic ConnectSpirals