Jeppe Zeeberg: The Four Seasons
Barefoot Records

Jeppe Zeeberg's third album, a seasons-inspired suite, is even more audacious than the extended piano trio sets he released earlier (he's also issued two releases as the co-leader of the Scandinavian septet Horse Orchestra). It's also, by the Danish artist's own reckoning, an extremely personal one: he wrote and arranged the material, produced it, created the cover art, and co-owns the label on which it appears. Yet while this ambitious, concept-driven album is an intensely personal one, it couldn't have been realized without the contributions of the participating musicians: augmenting the leader's piano, synth, and organ playing are Erik Kimestad Pedersen (trumpet), Lars Greve (saxophone, clarinet), Petter Hängsel (trombone), Kristian Tangvik (tuba), Henrik Olsson (guitar), Casper Nyvang Rask (bass), Teis Søgaard (drums), Rune Lohse (drums, percussion), and Jonas Graverholt (percussion). The Four Seasons is not, by the way, a cover version of Vivaldi's work, though it does traffic in a similar theme: according to Zeeberg, “This album is very much about cycles, and how everything repeats itself all the time. The different parts are not so much about depicting each season than about depicting how they constantly change, develop, and start over.” In keeping with that idea, the musicians are grouped into different formations, trio as well as nonet.

Zeeberg's boldness of concept and execution makes for music that's never less than compelling and at its best is exhilarating. Caution is thrown to the wind, so to speak, in those instances where the Danish composer most completely pursues his vision, and the rewards for the listener are plentiful. Two pieces in particular show that boldness at work in their compositional form and arrangements. With an urban field recording as connective tissue, “Winter: Segway to Hell” opens with short, staccato bursts by drums, guitar, and synthesizer that initially seem random and unrelated. Yet as the gaps between their statements diminish, the parts begin to connect and the overall picture starts to come into focus—the sonic equivalent of puzzle pieces gradually cohering into a meaningful image. Ultimately we're presented with a hammering ostinato that briefly blossoms into a prog episode before the pattern repeats all over again. The subsequent “Spring: Yellow Fingers of the Morning” is striking, too, but in a different way. Here Zeeberg challenges his musicians with an arrangement that, following a horns-and-woodwinds intro, gains momentum and shifts into a hocketing-styled sequence, with multiple instruments voicing at a rapid tempo melodic phrases that, again, meaningfully cohere when the parts assemble into fast-moving wholes.

As serious as he is about the project, Zeeberg's not without a sense of humour. During the collage-styled “Summer: For Those Now Gone,” a deafeningly loud field recording of train clatter is framed by the gentle voice of a music teacher, her initial “Do you hear that sound?” followed by “Okay, now play something else for me, anything you love.” “Spring: Dancing Like a Dane” plays like some mutant riff on ‘50s rock'n'roll, with Zeeberg's electric piano and Olsson's guitar trading solos, the latter indulging in the kind of no-wave skronk associated with the NY downtown scene of the ‘90s and bands such as Material, Golden Palominos, and Massacre. The forty-two-minute album isn't without its jazzy moments either, among them the piano solo the leader takes during “Spring: Yellow Fingers of the Morning” and the turns taken by Pedersen and Hängsel elsewhere, but affixing a single label to The Four Seasons sells the music short. There's jazz, yes, but also rock, R&B, classical, and prog, with a Bach-styled chorale in one track, for example, (“Summer: For Those Now Gone”) followed by dizzying spirals of prog patterns and wild organ soloing in the next (“Summer: The Mess and the See-Through Dress”). It's impossible to know what the next piece will bring until it arrives, which is in itself something rare and worth celebrating. Whereas many a recording quickly lapses into predictability, Zeeberg's, which travels from Denmark to Memphis and New Orleans like it's the most natural thing in the world, offers one surprise after another.

June 2017