If openness, with lots of room for light filaments and brushes of sound, is the definition of Norwegian jazz, then guitarist Jacob Young’s new CD Sideways is the epitome of the approach. Employing the same ensemble as on his 2004 Evening Falls CD (ECM), Young’s new CD is a delight of textural colors with warm and open harmonic blending.
Young was born in Lillehammer but introduced to jazz by his American father. Originally self-taught on the guitar, Young eventually studied at both the University of Oslo and the New School in New York. A student of both Jim Hall and John Abercrombie, he’s also studied jazz composition with Richie Beirach, Bob Belden and Ken Werner. Among the musicians Young has worked with include Marc Copeland, Junior Mance and Larry Goldings.
While all of the artists on this recording are well steeped in the modern jazz, and modern Norwegian jazz, language, they each bring a unique element to the mix. Trumpeter Mathias Eick’s amazingly pure and startingly fresh lines sound simplistic enough, until you focus carefully on what is going on around him when he plays. The level of polyphonic interaction he brings to his lines in conjunction with the environment he’s placed is astoundingly mature for so young a musician. Vidar Johansen’s tenor and bass clarinet lines meld with Eick in much the same manner Wayne Shorter’s did with Miles Davis on tunes like "Pinocchio" and "Nefertiti;" together as one yet separate and distinct.
Young’s playing is typical for him, tending towards creating backdrops as both a horn player would during background figures and a rhythmic section artist would in support of another’s solo. It’s not that Young doesn’t have chops, because that he most certainly does, it’s that he views his job as part of the whole and not as the lead slash-and-burn melodic voice.
If there is a star, however, on this recording it’s Jon Christensen’s drumming. How he is able to make melodic statements, fill the holes with the lightest of cymbal work, move the procession along with incessant rhythms yet leave you wondering if he was even there at all, is beyond description. Mats Eilertsen’s double bass playing is smooth and affecting as he finds the perfect note to ground the harmonies of the moment around.
It really doesn’t matter what tune you pick when first listening to the disc, because they all have the same characteristics: beautiful lines surrounded by flowing beds of harmonic motion in medium tempoed hues that swim rather than pulse. In assembling three generations of Norwegian jazz musicians Young has found a respite that deserves attention.