Arne Torvik: Northwestern Sounds
Øra Fonogram

A superb example of small group Norwegian jazz, Northwestern Sounds speaks highly on behalf of Arne Torvik, who hails from Molde, a relatively small town known for its international jazz festival and beautiful surroundings. The pianist has called the place home for six-plus years, studiously composing music and assembling an ensemble boasting five exceptionally gifted Norwegian jazz musicians, trumpeter Kristoffer Eikrem, alto saxophonist Martin Myhre Olsen, guitarist Espen Jørgensen Bjarnar, bassist Dan Peter Sundland, and drummer Tomas Järmyr, to play and record his material.

Torvik's debut album, which was released in Norway last year and is now being promoted outside its borders, is distinguished by a number of things: the high level of musicianship on display; the equally impressive quality of the compositions and arrangements; and finally, the ease with which jazz and pop forms are blended. Without any compromise to the integrity of the material, Torvik threads elements of R&B and melodic pop into many of these compositions, resulting in a highly harmonious fusion that can be soul-stirring.

There's no stronger argument for Torvik's music than the album's opening tracks, both of them fabulous. Up first, “Heart” is one of those to-die-for compositions that one could easily imagine being adopted by any number of groups and worked into their own set-lists. As its sweetly melodic sounds appear, one visualizes a crowd of distracted festival attendees slowly turning their attention to the stage, seduced by the music's pull. With Sundland and Järmyr locking into a tight jazz-funk groove, the tune's gorgeous theme appears, first voiced beautifully by guitar and then in unison by trumpet and sax. Eikrem's solo infuses the performance with smooth jazz flavour, after which Bjarnar, ably supported by the rhythm section's percolating swing, brings out the tune's funkier side. A subtler but no less potent spell is cast by “Leaving,” a pensive ballad that after an elegant, chamber-styled intro blossoms into a thing of beauty. Before that ascent arrives, Torvik backs Eikrem's gentle solo spot with electric piano shadings, after which the stirring main theme appears, voiced in unison by Eikrem and Olsen, to lift the tune to rapturous heights.

After the opening tracks, the album downplays the pop dimension for a purer jazz presentation that sometimes recalls the playing of other artists. The guitar-sax lines animating “Once More” call to mind John Scofield and Joe Lovano on the guitarist's early-‘90s quartet recordings, and further to that Bjarnar serves up a distortion-tinged solo that's also somewhat Scofield-like. “Ørsta” bolts from the gate with Eikrem blazing like some reincarnated Freddie Hubbard and the band now channeling the sound and style of Tony Williams' late-career acoustic outfit (Bjarnar's electrified presence excepted). Interestingly, Torvik, while certainly audible throughout, gives much of the spotlight to his bandmates; on “Oslo S,” however, he moves to the forefront for an extended solo on a trio setting that eventually begins to sound like a homage by the pianist, Sundland, and Järmyr to Keith Jarrett and his trio mates Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette.

Simply put, any release boasting playing and arrangements of such estimable calibre as well as material as excellent as “Heart” and “Leaving” definitely earns its recommendation. Torvik clearly sounds like one to keep an eye out for on the festival circuit.

March 2017