Kjetil MULELID Trio: Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House – Rune Grammofon RCD2 2196, (11/17/17) ****:
Another fine example of exciting on-the-edge-of free jazz trio music from Trondheim, Norway.
(Kjetil Mulelid; piano/ Andreas Skar Winther; bass/ Bjorn Marius Hegge; drums)
The title of this new release, Not Nearly Enough to Buy a House, describes the general condition of folk here in Portland, Oregon as elsewhere. The phrase contains neither complaint nor charge, but puzzlement at a setup that is at odds with the aspirations of the spirit. The trio led by Kjetil Mulelid on the piano inhabits a pretty nice musical space, however. There are a few moments of the particularly Nordic loneliness and nostalgia, but most of the session is a busy collaboration on strong melodic shapes. The compositions have no connection to either the American Songbook or the later jazz charts of the post-bop era. Rather the style stands closer to folk music, not least in its surprising intimacy. The rhythmic interactions of the superb Andreas Winther on the kit and the solid Bjorn Hegge on bass are infused with post-free European influences, now floating, now rattling furiously but rarely tapping out a predictable swing pulse.
The first tune, “Entrance”, is a stately dark-hued anthem theme. There is no feeling of gusto or welcoming. It is as if the trio exited shortly upon entering. It is a curious chart, diffident, brief and arresting. The sequel “Fly, Fly” builds with simple diatonic materials, the subject stated in unison. It is the drums which do most of the flying, while the piano evokes revery and earth-bound striving. A great right hand solo demonstrates a jazz sensibility liberated from bebop cliches, freshy inspired with vivid use of dissonant clusters. This piece alone measures up well to the best ECM trio sessions of recent years, but perhaps the pianists aesthetic would be better compared to the Frank Kimbrough at his most free.
“Childrens Song” sounds like a waltz but is in 4/4. A lovely tune, wistfully autumnal. A largely unstructured piece, “You Stood There in Silence”, follows. The restless inquiry of the piano and invigorating clattering of the kit overwhelm the maundering bass. But by the end, we can see that the trio truly has the hang of this group improvised music which succeeds by careful attention to shifts of accent and direction. We are in the mood for something cheery midway in but instead we get a serious and entirely free improvisation. Eerie sound effects, bow on cymbal perhaps, pulseless ostinato on bass. The piano makes a few harmonic suggestions which are eventually taken up with tentative agreement. Not much happens and the piece is carried along by the drummers high spirits.
“From Someone Else’s Point of View” is a minor key meditation which swirls up into luminous fragments. The chordless dreamy abstraction recalls Paul Bley in a gentle mood. Next the striking “Time/Breath” exploits all the textural possibilities of the trio before finding its way into a simple theme. This piece reminds me of the work of Eyolf Dale whose outstanding Wolf Valley was review on these pages a year ago. Perhaps we are beginning to delineate a specifically Nordic musical landscape, its glittering capital Trondheim, Norway. “Leaving Home” swings mightily as if to make up for too much brooding. Perhaps this tune suggests the conditions under which the conundrum of the title revealed itself. No sooner do you leave home than you find yourself in a grungy laundromat pondering the existential quagmire. By now, we come to expect the affirmation to come from the kit and it does. The pianist still resists any well worn blues licks, opting for a nice counter-punching right/left hand separation. The drums steal the show for the last time with an eccentricity which is counterbalanced by the straight and muscular bottom of the bass. “Three Last Words” is a valedictory rhapsody, all sweet arpeggios and swaying lullaby. It avoids sentimentality by abruptly ending, only to reappear as a enigmatic new melody, a final coda that perfectly balances all three instruments.
Overall, we must commend this outstanding trio for its original exploration of the possibilities of the trio. Kjetil Mulelid has a deft pen and great feeling for this musical landscape, the ideals of the equilateral trio are nearly achieved and the scope of the project is modest yet satisfying. This represents just another triumph for that musical epicenter Trondheim and the resourceful Nordic improvisers working there.