Nordic Connect – Spirals – ArtistShare AS0097, 59:53 ****:
(Ingrid Jensen – trumpet, Flugelhorn, electronics; Christine Jensen – alto and soprano saxophone; Maggi Olin – piano, Fender Rhodes; Mattias Welin – acoustic bass; Jon Wikan – drums, cajón, percussion)
Nordic Connect is a global quintet which shares two commonalties: the musicians all have Viking ancestry and they create music which has an organic core related to nature which also has links to modern, electric jazz and acoustic post-bop.
Spirals is Nordic Connect’s sophomore release and displays compositional and improvisational advancement which is leaps and bounds more advanced than the band’s previous output. Leader Ingrid Jensen – who plays trumpet, Flugelhorn and adds electronics – only wrote one of the nine originals but her presence is front and center throughout the hour-long program. She is joined by fellow Canadian and sister Christine Jensen on alto and tenor saxophone (who contributes two tunes); Ingrid’s Seattle-raised husband Jon Wikan (a noted Pacific Northwest drummer who also penned one of the compositions presented here); Ingrid’s former school friend, the Swedish pianist Maggi Olin (a prolific composer who brings five pieces to the album); and Swedish bassist Mattias Welin.
Ingrid’s spiritually-inclined liner notes talk of the confluence of nature and the soul, of the interior world and its correlations to the external universe. That context is expressed on Olin’s lively album opener, “Travel Fever,” highlighted by Olin’s coolly penetrating Fender Rhodes, Christine’s ample soprano, Ingrid’s strikingly focused trumpet and Wikan’s eddying breakbeat which is reminiscent of what is typically heard in the drum ‘n’ bass genre. Along the same thematic line is Ingrid’s contemplative “Earth Sighs,” which has a jazz/rock shading akin to 1970s Miles Davis but without the funk undercurrent. Especially noteworthy are the dynamics between trumpet and sax alongside the haunting electronics and expressive keyboards. “Earth Sighs” calmly transitions to another discerning fusion track, Christine’s “Castle Mountain,” which is slightly more forceful, particularly because of Wikan’s brisk Tony Williams-esque drumming and Welin’s ignited bass lines. A counterpoint to the same environmental subject matter comes during Olin’s quietly affecting “Ballad North,” which is nearer in disposition to Scandinavian Terje Rypdal’s lyrical aesthetic. The cut features Olin’s understated acoustic piano which rides comfortably beneath soaring trumpet/sax interaction.
The most beautiful piece is Christine’s placid ballad, “Yew,” where her warm likeable tone is suggestive of Jane Ira Bloom’s indicative use of space. Christine shows a light and appealing sonority, while never abandoning an absorbing mix of flourished notes which flow from her imagination. Near the end, Ingrid also demonstrates her equal facility with the use of extended tonality.
Fusion also influences Olin’s closer, the wittily-titled “Brejk ä Leg,” which evokes Weather Report with its outward bound electronics which are conspicuous, but do not get in the band’s way as they maintain a tightly controlled structure. The Weather Report parallel is also brought to the forefront with the musical exchanges between Olin on Fender Rhodes and the horn section, which alludes to Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter’s vaunted communication.
Nordic Connect is going to be a group to pay attention to. This quintet is only two releases into their career and already they are crafting music which compares favorably to their antecedents.
1. Travel Fever
2. Song for Inga
3. Earth Sighs
4. Castle Mountain
7. 66 Mike
8. Ballad North
9. Brejk ä Leg
— Doug Simpson