Finland: Rainy Omen

Monkey Plot: Angående omstendigheter som ikke lar seg nedtegne

Skydive Trio: Sun Moee

These recent releases from Hubro remind us once again why the Norwegian imprint is one of the best labels around. While all three are essentially instrumental recordings with connections to jazz and rock, they're also fundamentally different from one another and thereby hint at the label's stylistic range.

The most dynamic of the three (loudest, too) is clearly Rainy Omen, the first release from a quartet that's existed since 2010, and a mere scan of the personnel involved—guitarist Ivar Grydeland (Huntsville), drummer Pål Hausken (In the Country), keyboardist Morten Qvenild (In the Country, sPaceMonkey, Susanna & the Magical Orchestra), and bassist Jo Berger Myhre (Splashgirl, Nils Petter Molvær)—goes a long way towards explaining why. Finland's sound is rock-oriented and exuberant, and the band's a democratic project in which all four members contribute pieces. That being said, it's hard not to hear Grydeland as the group's leader, given that it's his guitar lines that often voice the tracks' themes. While rock is the basic reference point, Rainy Omen more precisely tips its hat in the direction of post-, prog-, folk-, and noise rock over the course of the album's thirty-nine minutes.

Elements of folk and prog weave their way into the chugging locomotion of “George Lumineux,” with the group using guitar picking (acoustic and electric), drum brushes, and keyboards to generate an alluring pastoral moodscape. Entrancing, too, is “Magnetic Sail” in the way it merges a sleepy, slow-motion pulse with pedal steel-like guitar shadings. All such tracks are fine, but the album really catches fire with the long-form stormer “No Low Voices.” Delivered at a rapid clip, the piece achieves liftoff immediately, but a breakdown eventually occurs, after which the musicians regroup and ready themselves for a greater ascent. That arrives about nine minutes into the piece, and the material grows ever more combustible until the detonation hits at the eleven-minute mark, the music threatening to splinter in all directions. It's unquestionably the release's noisiest moment and its climax, too. The positioning of the comparatively bucolic title track (graced by a mantra-like “For a rainy moment” vocal line and 7/8 lilt) at album's end indicates that Finland carefully considered the sequencing of the five tracks. Though Rainy Omen is the group's debut, Finland's personality is established clearly, and the band comes across like a cohesive outfit that's been together a long time.

The Skydive Trio operates at a slightly more subdued pitch compared to Finland, but the trio's music is no less engaging. The material played by guitarist Thomas T. Dahl, double bassist Mats Eilertsen, and drummer Olavi Louhivuori on Sun Moee might be classified as trio jazz of a particularly melodious kind. Though all three are established players, it's Eilertsen whose name will be most familiar to readers of this site: he's issued four albums under his own name on Hubro, including 2009's Radio Yonder and 2011's SkyDive, both of which feature Dahl and Louhivuori. Just as he does on his own recordings, Eilertsen anchors Skydive Trio with a warm and fluid attack that's as unerring as Dave Holland's.

The trio format suits the musicians well in granting space to their collective playing and interactions, and each roams freely without getting in the way of the others whilst also attending closely to what they're doing. Throughout the fifty-two-minute date, Dahl's jazz-inflected sound is clean and free of distortion, and Eilertsen and Louhivuori provide a solid yet still limber foundation for the guitarist to play against. The trio's relaxed swing is nicely captured in the breezy opener “Bravo” and lyrical ballad “Becks Back,” while “Talbot,” a flattering showcase for Dahl's soloing chops, makes a compelling case for the telepathy the three seemingly share. Eilertsen's no slouch in the soloing department either, as shown by the introductory turn he takes on “Slow Turn.”

All three contribute tunes to the recording, but it's the cover of Portishead's “Sour Times” that's an understandable drawing card. While connections between the trio version and the original are audible (Dahl's melodic voicings reference Portishead's song, as do Eilertsen's descending phrases and Louhivuori's quasi-martial groove), the tune becomes as much a Skydive Trio performance as anything else on the release. As ear-catching as the cover is, the title track is even more memorable for the way it punctuates its languorous flow with aggressive flourishes, and hearing Dahl augment his electric with acoustic guitar adds to the appeal. While a bit of John Scofield seeps into his playing on the cut, Dahl's generally his own man throughout the recording, and one comes away impressed by the high level of the performances.

Like Skydive Trio, Monkey Plot is guitar-led, but there's a key difference. Though the group came into being as an electric outfit, it decided at some point to unplug, resulting in an unusual acoustic guitar (Christian Winther), double bass (Magnus Nergaard), and drums (Jan Martin Gismervik) setup. The group's follow-up to 2014's debut outing Løv og lette vimpler is Angående omstendigheter som ikke lar seg nedtegne (from Swedish poet and sound artist Pär Thörn), a forty-minute collection whose unpretentious vibe and laid-back spirit is easy to warm up to.

It is, however, the least dynamic of the three Hubro releases, and melodically and compositionally less strong than the others, too. It's this latter aspect that's the primary weakness as the album's perfectly fine otherwise; certainly the playing's good, and Monkey Plot also establishes its identity clearly. Many of the twelve pieces play like low-key, improv-based experiments that could have withstood further development; tellingly, “Undertiden” engages all the more powerfully for the simple reason that a discernible riff is present to help kick the energized tune along. There are memorable moments, such as the prepared guitar treatments Winther drapes across Gismervik's workshop-like clatter during “Som Om Husene Ikke Vet,” but one still comes away from the recording wishing the trio had put a little more compositional meat on the tracks' bones.

July-August 2015