Together since 1999, Poing, the Norwegian trio featuring Rolf-Erik Nystrøm on saxophones, Frode Haltli on accordion, and Håkon Thelin on double bass, clearly seems to be enjoying itself on Sur POING, the outfit's third formal release (following 2003's Giants of Jazz and 2006's Planet POING) and tenth, if its collaborative efforts with other artists are counted. Poing's no po-faced project: though the players are well-schooled on their instruments, humour is a central part of the mix; that the photos adorning the latest release show the members lounging about rather than onstage says much about the off-the-wall sensibility in play. Not only has the trio performed covers of Metallica, Primus, and Kurt Weill as set-closers, it's also fried waffles on stage while playing—you get the idea.

All of which suggests that Sur POING will fire on all cylinders; in truth, it doesn't, at least not for this listener. As much as I applaud the group's irreverent approach, I still would have liked to have heard more straight-up playing on the sixty-two-minute release, the opener in particular. On paper, Helmut Oehring's “Sur POING: Prolog” promises much: the patchwork collage is a sixteen-minute ‘double portrait' that blends compositions by Oehring with sound clips of the trio talking about their instruments plus field recordings from their career. It opens with early morning sounds of someone puttering around in the kitchen, after which the individual instruments enter, they too sounding as if they're just waking up. Audience applause, a stage introduction, and the members' voices follow in due course, all of which is interesting but only moderately so. It's telling that in the brief interjections that feature the trio playing, the engagement level goes way up. Interesting also is the fact that there might be more actual music in the three minutes of Oehring's album-closing “Sur POING: Epilog” than there is in the opener.

What follows is a whole lot more compelling, musically speaking. The trio wastes no time at all digging into “Cell,” an energized mix of composition and improvisation credited to Welsh composer Richard Barrett. For sixteen minutes, the music oscillates between raw freewheeling and controlled trio passages, with all three players attentively reacting in the moment and responding to one another. Here there's no shortage of musical expression on offer (some excellent unison playing, too), and the result is far more satisfying as a result. Drummer Paul Lovens joins the trio for “Blow Out!,” a twenty-seven-minute improvisation recorded live in Oslo. Par for the free improv course, there's some degree of meander, but the title generally proves apt: Nystrøm wails in places with ferocity, Haltli and Thelin attack their instruments with gusto, and Lovens keeps things moving from start to finish (jump to the twenty-minute mark if you want to catch the four in full flight).

April 2016