I Am Awake
Two words permeated my first and consequent familiarity with this album; authenticity and authority. The first is in regard to the overall sound. It’s pure jazz – and it’s GREAT!
The sense of authority is due to the masterly musicianship, belying the band’s average age of 28. Every note by every instrument counts and contributes. The band is Norwegian – which, these days, is almost an automatic qualification of excellence. ‘Samspill’ is one of those concise Scandinavian hybrid words, which can be loosely translated as ‘musical interaction’. It is devotedly presented here – throughout the album.
The self-descriptive opening track, Lift Off, is courtesy of Børge‐Are S. Halvorsen. His very first striking solo bars invite both his band and us to join an extravaganza of jazz exploration. From this point we rapidly meet his co-musicians – all highly equipped and ultra-educated to drive us through immaculately arranged soul-searching music. The very grammar of jazz, its twists and turns, highs and lows, its tension and release is displayed with, yes, authenticity and authority. This track serves as a microcosm of the entire album. Børge‐Are is a most mature jazz musician, a superb soloist and technician. His CV reveals him to be a top flight and in demand instrumentalist, big and small band leader, composer, arranger and educator. 300 gigs a year sort of sums it up! We also hear the first of many thoughtfully styled solos by pianist, Martin Sandvik Gjerde and SO importantly, the empathetic, all-hearing, all-supportive rhythm section of Alexander Hoholm on bass and Henrik Håland on drums. With these guys onboard, you know you’re in safe hands.
On Atlantis we hear Børge-Are’s sophisticated soprano. He plays not as a tenor saxophonist trying his luck on the higher-pitched instrument, but as a thorough soprano stylist. The tune, mostly in 3/4 time, swings relentlessly.
Unspoken is a haunting, contemplative ballad with an interesting history. Børge-Are says: “I wrote ‘Unspoken’ during a break in a band rehearsal because we didn’t have a ballad of our own!”
A charming ostinato bass-led figure provides the platform for My Sentiment Exactly. An attractive, interweaving theme stated by the soprano sax leads to delightfully configured solos on sax and piano.
Jazzvals (Jazz Waltz), written by Martin and the only tune on the album not written by Børge-Are, is a beautiful piece that further showcases the talents of soloists Alexander and Martin.
The imposing theme of Gara leads to a delightful tenor sax solo and is a great showcase for Børge-Are’s creative and technical prowess. Martin’s inventive piano solo builds and builds reaching a rewarding climax as the theme is peacefully restated.
We go funky with Tajta Jeans. The theme is perhaps reminiscent of the Mintzer/Ferrante collaborations in Yellowjackets. Alexander and Henrik shine on this track providing a massively solid and inventive rhythmic backbone.
Navigare Necesse Est opens with delightful piano musings and evolves into flights of imposing unison passages followed by superb solos from sax and piano.
The album concludes (all too soon!) with Science Fiction Jazz. A beguiling unison theme leads to a contemplative yet probing solo by Martin and a very tasty solo by Alexander, his faultless technique mastering the full range of his instrument.
Børge-Are again: “The band got together in 2016. We met at Norges Musikkhøgskole (Norwegian Academy of Music), where the others studied at the time, and quickly realised we enjoyed each other's musical company and energy enough to want to create a band sound and build a repertoire together. Weekly rehearsals and monthly gigs led to a desire to cut our first album, book more gigs, gain listeners and keep the snowball rolling!”
This band is a very tight unit. They play with facility, they tête-à-tête and they heart-to-heart; they talk jazz! And so, I humbly reinstate my previous declaration: This album is pure jazz – and it’s GREAT!