Mats Eilertsen Trio: Sails Set

Splashgirl: Field Day Rituals

Mats Eilertsen's late-2011 release on Hubro, SkyDive, received justifiable acclaim, in part because of the stellar quintet the double bassist-composer featured on the recording. His latest, Sails Set, is a different beast altogether: issued under the Mats Eilertsen Trio name, the disc presents the same line-up heard on the 2010 trio set, Elegy, specifically pianist Harmen Fraanje and drummer Thomas Strønen (neither of whom appeared on SkyDive) in addition to Eilertsen himself. Like SkyDive, the new release was recorded at Rainbow Studio in Oslo, but the similarities largely end there.

Sails Set is generally subdued, for one. Fraanje is an understated, rather impressionistic player uninterested in dazzling the listener with virtuoso displays, and Strønen and Eilertsen bring a similarly restrained attack to the material. In Eilertsen's own words, “For us it's all about shaping a trio where the three of us are equal members in creating our sound and where we take turns being the focal point, carrying the melody, developing the sound, determining the basic principles, being storytellers and prime movers, and varying how each of us is distributed in the soundscape.” Nowhere is that democratic sense more audible than in trio settings such as “Orbiting” and “Monument” where the bassist and drummer contribute as much to the sonic goings-on as the pianist. In places Strønen supplements his drumming with bells and gongs, the latter of which are used to atmospheric effect on “Lunar Light,” a memorable set-piece for Eilertsen's plaintive soloing, while Fraanje's soft voice occasionally can be heard alongside his piano playing (e.g., “Currents”).

One of the less satisfying aspects of the album is that all but two of the eleven pieces extend beyond the three-minute mark. That's not always a negative—a case in point “Stellar,” a lovely, two-minute setting for solo piano—but it does leave many a track feeling like its potential for development has been negated by a too-short duration. The improvised character of the album also comes through at times in pieces that feel more like sketches than formally worked through compositions (“Sails Set”). Only “Monument” and “Stone and Sand” are long enough to allow the trio to stretch out and the difference felt is key. Eilertsen begins the incantatory “Monument” with a nice solo spotlight before Fraanje appears to deepen the Eastern tone of exotic mystery and Strønen surfaces with his own loose-limbed colourations, whereas “Stone and Sand,” nine tracks into the album, works some much-desired heat into the proceedings. That Sails Set ends with a solo setting for Eilertsen “Alone” is very much in keeping with the album's less-than-fiery tone.

By contrast, Splashgirl's fourth album, Field Day Rituals, expands boldly on the sound-world of 2011's Pressure by adding violist Eyvind Kang to three tracks and Timothy Mason's modular synths to several places on the album. On paper, Splashgirl might appear to be a jazz trio but, on this latest recording, pianist Andreas Stensland Lowe, double bassist Jo Berger Myhre, and drummer Andreas Lonmo Knudsrod often extend their collective sound into realms that one would hardly classify as jazz.

That expanded palette asserts itself at the outset when layers of keyboards appear alongside the trio's dramatic treatment of “Long Story,” its dirge-like quality also suggesting that the album will hew to an unusual stylistic programme. The subsequent title track plods portentously, with arco bowing by Myhre an ear-catching complement to Lowe's ruminations. The trio's intimate side is showcased in the delicately rendered ballad “All the Vowels Missing,” whose elegant piano playing exemplifies as much of a classical influence as it does jazz, and “I Feel Like I Know Her,” where Knudsrod's brushes provide a soft counterpoint to Lowe's reflections.

But it's the settings where the guests join in that stand out as the most memorable. Kang's string presence elevates “Dulcimer” by giving its slow crawl an hypnotic melodic character, while Mason's synth accents lend it additional colour (he similarly spreads all manner of synthetic sputter across the slowly swaying stylings of “The Portal”). Hypnotic too is the drum-less meditation “Mass,” especially when Kang and Myhre's bowed instruments unite to voice the tune's ululating melodies. At such moments, Splashgirl is about as far removed from traditional jazz trio playing as could be imagined, and it's a key reason why Field Day Rituals makes as strong an impression as it does

March 2013