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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Amalie Dahl/Henrik Sandstad Dalen/Jomar Jeppsson Søvik- Live in Europe (Nice Thing Records, 2024)

By Martin Schray

Free jazz trios consisting of saxophone, bass and drums have a hard time these days, because - let’s be honest - the paths on which they travel are largely explored: whether it’s classic free jazz like that of Alberts Ayler’s legendary Spiritual Unity Trio, which revolutionized the genre for this line-up, the finely chiseled playing of the Evan Parker Trio, David S. Ware’s trio with William Parker and Warren Smith, which combines tradition with modernity, Peter Brötzmann’s various projects, most of which used an iconoclastic philosophy and influenced newer trios such as The Thing and Ballister - detecting something new with this line-up is almost impossible. But Amalie Dahl (alto saxophone), Henrik Sandstad Dalen (double bass) and Jomar Jeppsson Søvik (drums) actually succeed in finding something at least slightly different. Their approach is diametrically opposed to power trios such as those of Brötzmann, Rempis and Gustafsson (which are mentioned above), because they don’t rely on energy and don’t accelerate non-stop. Instead, they remain consistently on the brakes. Like a minimalist painter, they sometimes add a splash of color here, sometimes a brushstroke there. However, they always leave some space. Dahl plays ballad-like lines, but the results aren’t truly ballads, because the bass and drums pursue completely different interests. The same applies to the moments when she tries to break out. Sandstad Dalen and Jeppsson Søvik never lose their nerve and maintain their line, which is particularly true of the bassist. The trio continuously creates tension potentials, but the energy of the process is constantly kept in check, no fires explode, the flame is always low, yet dangerously concentrated. The improvisation appears as a momentum of radical limitation, its purpose is self-imposed reduction, which his why the fusion reactor seems to be on the verge of bursting. Rarely has chamber music sensibility been so concentrated and energetic.

This mainly goes for the first part of this album, which is simply entitled “Prague, March 8, 2023“. The second part, “Brussels, March 10, 2023“, then lets the reins slip a little and the tempo increases. Again, bass and drums are primarily responsible for this. They even provide hints of a groove and allow Dahl to gallop off in some places. In these moments the saxophonist shows her full potential of expressive possibilities, from clicking noises to fragmented wails and overblown howls. But here, too, the charm lies in the detail, in the nuances that make the music spin like it was in a high-speed particle accelerator.

Live in Europe is like a large-scale camouflage, many things are not as they seem. Turns are made, the listeners are lured onto false trails. In any case, we are dealing with musicians here who you have to keep an eye on. Absolutely exciting.

The album is available as a download. You can buy and listen to Live in Europe here: