Albatrosh: Night Owl
Rune Grammofon

Making a strong case for the vitality of Norwegian jazz, pianist Eyolf Dale and saxophonist/clarinetist André Roligheten team up for their second album on Rune Grammofon (and fifth overall), with the duos-only Night Owl a different animal than the recent Tree House (Losen Records), a large ensemble outing on which the two are joined by the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.

Dale and Roligheten, who co-composed two pieces and contributed three each to the forty-four-minute Night Owl, have played together since the age of seventeen and formally established their Albatrosh partnership in 2006. Generally speaking, their music might be described as contemporary jazz of a particularly accessible and melodic type. The compositions are clearly structured, yet improvisation is also central to the group's approach, and a song-like skeleton typically functions as a foundation of sorts that the two both stray from and return to over the course of a song. In the opening “Duvet Day,” for example, a defining reference point is a wistful theme that's voiced repeatedly, and in many pieces, a melodic line receives extra emphasis when the two state it in unison before separating to explore different yet still complementary territories. Though “The Liger” appears to depart conspicuously from that pattern when both players cling resolutely to a rapid, cyclical pattern of Glass-like design, it gradually opens up when Roligheten solos at length against Dale's unwavering backdrop.

In addition, “Nut Job,” following a dazzling bop-styled intro that's as much Lennie Tristano as Charlie Parker, decelerates for a brooding episode before returning to the uptempo style with which it began. The sleepy pace and meditative tone of “Early Bird” provides a soothing respite from the intensity of the other pieces, and welcome too is the sound of Roligheten's clarinet when it's the saxophone that's most often heard. With one exception, all of the settings are in the five- to six-minute range—not terribly long by jazz standards, yet long enough that the two are able to work a generous amount of free playing into the tunes' taut structures. Recordings featuring large ensembles can conceal individual players' shortcomings and hide errors; no such protections are evident on a recording such as Night Owl where the musicians are so nakedly presented. Dale and Roligheten need feel no insecurities on that count, however, as the calibre of musicianship on the recording is unfailingly high.

January 2015