Harald Lassen – Rainbow Session
Hagen Recordings – Digital download 01. CD review by Rob Mallows
This album is like the Nordic noir TV which is everywhere on our screens at the moment: deep, challenging, somewhat slow burning and uncomfortable but, ultimately, rewarding of the effort put in by the viewer or, in this case, listener. Norwegian sax player Harald Lassen’s solo debut uses a traditional jazz format of sax, drums (Lander Gyselinck, bass (Anneleen Boehme and piano (Bram de Looze – known collectively as LABtrio), but the outcome is modern, a chilly, sparse soundscape that is recognisably cutting-edge and northern European. The title alludes to the fact that it was recorded in Rainbow Studios in Oslo, under the supervision of Jan Erik Kongshaug.
This short, six-track release offers up a broody, nervy start, with Gyselinck’s rolling drums suggestive of stormy skies into which Lassen’s characteristic trills and super-fast runs crash, setting the tone on first track Life so far (hasn’t been that bad), which clicks into gear with some angular, unruly piano and chippy beats over a tune with a simple harmonic structure that still leaves the listener constantly on edge.
Life so far indeed hasn’t been that bad for the twenty-nine year old Lassen who, with his bands Pixel, Mopti and Duplex is one of the bright young things of Norwegian and (in the case of Pixel), European jazz. Challenging himself by recording with a totally new line-up of Belgium’s finest players, all of his generation or slightly younger, Lassen took just five hours to map the waypoints that characterise his musical journey so far: major chords, classical influences, impressionism and the ‘seventies. “I think the ad hoc form is too undervalued in jazz music at the moment,” he has said of the album in this interview.
Second track Gayspectations – is slow of tempo and lacking in colour, plodding along at first before picking up as Gyselinck’s cymbals and Boehme’s bass dominate proceedings before de Looze seeks to bring balance to proceedings and provide space for Lassen’s breathy, stop-start playing that is defiantly temperamental in eschewing the need for any sense of swing in favour of rhythmic and harmonic flips and flops that seem random but do, ultimately, resolve. Lassen’s friendly, laid-back temperament comes through on third track Okay, I’m Harald which has a jumpy feel similar to that of a learner driver getting used to the clutch. Fourth number 13.03.87 – presumably his birthday – is the most conventional of the six tunes, all graceful piano and unobtrusive brush-work from Gyselinck on top of which Lassen spins a simple melody, rather sweet but again, the chords don’t allow the listener to drop his or her guard.
Fifth track Etter storm kommer det sol – og kudos [After the storm comes the sun – and kudos] does indeed begin with free-jazz-style stormy weather before resolving into a musical rainbow-like tune that is almost glacial in its movement. The last cut, Your Impression, is reserved, all potential energy – like the still waters held behind a dam – with sparse piano couplets, single bass notes, a whistling sax. It leaves the listener feeling chilled and desirous of the comfort of others as the storm returns towards the end. It’s a sombre end to the album, but beautiful in its simple composition.
This short album is symbolic of Lassen’s sense that he needs to make his mark now, while the inspiration strikes. Produced on a low budget, with Lassen acting as composer, producer, cover designer and label executive, it’s a very personal statement and, while it lacks a little polish, certainly shows a maturity and promise that bears watching.