Jakob BRO:  Bay of Rainbows – ECM 2618, 47:00, (10/5/18) ****:

( Jakob Bro: guitar, Thomas Morgan: double bass, Joey Baron: drums)

Some readers might wonder if the artist under consideration here, Jakob Bro, might have lost the better part of his patronymic at an Ellis Island immigration desk. But the last name, which means “bridge,” is common enough in  Denmark, his country of origin. There is a brusque principle of subtraction to his musical concept on this, his second ECM release. As in its predecessor “Gefion,” (ECM 2381) we start with a perfect triangle: guitar, bass, drums. Here, on Bay of Rainbows, drummer Joey Baron takes over for Jon Christensen, while Thomas Morgan stays on bass. Very little that we associate with jazz guitar remains in Bro’s playing. Absent are bebop licks, blues gestures, scales, and velocity in general. At one moment, the ghost of John Abercrombie steals into the studio on a thick textured theme, but for the most part even the ECM guitar tradition seems to have been avoided.

Bro starts with minimalistic doodles, sketches too diffident to be called melodies. These are subjected to the electronic modifications of loops or echoes. There is a heavy dose of the neutrality of electronica, but the music is not without enticing ravishment of sound and a surging emotion, much of the latter coming from the heat of the rhythm section. The initial Mild features a slow finger-picking chord sequence, allowing the bass to deliver sweetness. Thomas Morgan is freed of his normal timekeeping duties to explore melodic figures or sonic effects. On Red Hook, we have nearly free jazz with the trade-mark beeps and loops and heavy chorus effects. If there is any sort of motion other than a gentle sway, it comes from the dazzling polyphony of Joey Baron’s kit.

Copenhagen drifts in irenic triads with the bass providing most of the melodic definition. As always, Baron adds subtle mostly swirling metallic currents. Even by the standards of ECM, this is a remarkably moody affair. If it refers to the bustling city, it is a portrait of the sleepiest early morning hours when only a solitary walker and a cat are about. Dug announces itself with some portentous double-stops on the bass and a hovering electronic cloud, out of which emerges the aforementioned Abercrombie tribute. It is a fierce and beautiful piece with all trio members locked in a trance like dance. The following Evening Song tries to combine triads into a light melody that searches for a major key; Thomas Morgan works a independent counterpoint which seeks to coax the guitar out of its insipid revery. Joey Baron’s busy figures are light but peppery.

We arrive at the end of this live performance with a reprise of Mild, this time even slower and more meditative than the opener; a musical savasana.  By now we are able to hand-out two awards, neither one for the original concept of the Jakob Bro trio, however. First is a ravishing guitar tone; this concentration on tone and layered sound is the essence of the label’s aesthetic. Second, the drumming of Joey Baron is a wonder. It is no wonder that adventurous artists recruit him, for he brings a serious musical sensibility as he knits together the communications of a small ensemble like no other.

This a fine record, an advance on the studio album Gefion, which has just a little too much standing around with hands in pockets waiting for someone to say something. However, curious Bro fans will want to chase down this artists earlier records Balladeering and Evening Song on Loveland Records. They show his method still in its incubation and feature improbable collaborations with American jazz giants Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, and memorably, Lee Konitz. All of Bro’s works will be of abiding interest to the emulous guitarist who will want to expand his effects and tone repertoire.

—Fritz Balwit

Link to Jakob Bro’s web site here.

Link to more information from ECM Records here.