Eyolf Dale – Wolf Valley – Edition 1073, 51:28 (6/10/16) ****½:

(Eyolf Dale: piano/ Per Zanussi: bass & saw/ Gard Nilssen; drums/ Andre Roligheten: tenor sax, clarinet/ Hayden Powell: trumpet/ Kristoffer Kompen: trombone/ Rob Waring: vibraphone/ Adrian Loseth Waade: violin)

Inspired chamber-jazz octet on a cohesive set of original compositions by leader Eyolf Dale.

The number eight, so auspicious for the ancient Chinese, has pleasant association for me as well. There is the brainy pelagic mollusc of eight arms, the month of October, the stout pawns lined up on the second rank. There might be some redundancy involved, as we we see in Mendelssohn’s marvelous Octet, compounded of two string quartets. Yet the other chamber masterpiece by Schubert suggests the principle of ampleness and generosity, a perfect garden party of all available personality types. In a Jazz ensemble, the number is especially lucky for the front line. There are no hard choices between the instruments; all can play.

Thus, I was especially happy to see an octet offering by Edition Records, a label that has recently scored a very big hit on this site. The recording under review, led by Norwegian pianist/composer Eyolf Dale, carries the bilingually eponymous title Wolf Valley. The Norwegian provenance of the musicians (there is one American) is reinforced by the misty winter mountain scene on the cover.

Mr. Dale and his worthy men set off on Furet with a meticulous dotted theme played with understated finesse. There is some Third Stream (or is it Nordic) reticence which finally gives way to a modulated uplift on the bridge. While the horns speak in unison, the vibraphone, nicely placed in front, plays off the beat with bell-like accents. The entry of the leader on the piano makes a striking impression with a simple left-handed passage in the middle and lower register of the piano as if he is still directing the ensemble with his right hand. The expressive content of the music might be felt as more related to landscape than to human doings and sayings. It is a language of sturdy things standing up to time and weather.

On the second track Fernanda, there is a lot of vibraphone mist and a haunting clarinet which wends its way through just a few chords. It sounds like one of Manfred Eicher’s better-than- average ECM recordings. On Ban Joe, Eyolf Dale shows off his enormous technical prowess on a swinging and beautifully constructed solo over some swooping ensemble passages.

Sideways begins with some low plonking on the piano and a four-note theme based on jarring intervals. It seems we are faced with a qualm or nameless menace.  Our suspicions are underscored by the entry of the saw, which hovers like eery ectoplasm. The ensemble gathers its courage to investigate what might be something quite nasty in the woodshed. With strength in numbers, and in spite of the sinister plonking, they advance down a sinuous musical path, although it is not quite clear if they discern the shape of the bad thing lurking in the dark. When the theme returns, all harmless shadows now, we are on the edge of our seat, and deeply admiring of the taut, compact narrative of the composition.

By the middle of the disc, we begin to expect that each piece will demonstrate this sort of well- crafted compositional design, and we are not disappointed. Throughout the rest of the disc, there are commendable individual performances, an affecting trombone solo here, and crisp violin playing there. The rhythm section is first-rate and benefits from excellent sonic positioning. This recording represents very high-levels of artistic commitment by all concerned. For some, there may be just a bit too much coolness and sobriety; It seems that an octet should be allowed one big Mingus-style wild rumpus. But what we have in the end is something contained, subtle and expressive of things hewn out of tough material and designed for daily use and contemplation. Overall, this is a first-rate recording.

TrackList: Furet; Fernanda; Shostachoral; Ban Joe; Sideways; Tegelstein; The Creek: Silent Ways; The Walk

—Fritz Balwit