CD review

Toivo Quintet – “View”

Toivo Quintet – View
(Losen Records LOS 243-2. CD review by Sam Norris)

Double bassist, composer and recent graduate of Bergen’s Grieg Academy Arne Toivo Fjose Sandberg is as yet a relatively unknown figure on the international jazz scene. He has a wide-ranging freelance performing career in his native Norway. The quintet he has formed for his debut release View brings together a cohort of his alma mater’s finest to perform six texturally intriguing compositions.

The Toivo Quintet asserts a distinctive approach from the outset. Shipyard blatantly subverts the traditional A-B-A form, its driving 5/4 groove sandwiching a frenzied free-up of toots, honks and distorted guitar. The tune has an urban edge to it, something which guitarist Mathias Marstrander’s overdriven duo with drummer Sigurd Steinkopf totally embraces; by the time Sandberg enters to complete the rhythm section, the vibe is almost Scofield-ish. Andreas Hatzikiriakidis’s trumpet has the final say, his wild gestures and resistance to traditional jazz language yielding anarchic musical results.

BGO, the longest track on the album, is steeped in the joyous avant-garde of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Again we hear a mix of structured sections and freer sound-worlds, the childlike simplicity of the melody speedily corrupted by a lengthy, winding soprano solo from saxophonist Axel Røed which eventually descends into chaotic collective improvisation. A more spirited reading of the opening theme caps the piece off, Steinkopf’s ‘falling down the stairs’ accompaniment putting one in mind of the great Jack DeJohnette.

210’s heavy backbeat and quirky tune could be off a Bill Frisell album and Marstrander’s solo certainly acknowledges this, embodying the spirit of the blues in a way which he does so well throughout the record. Sandberg plays a more than solid supporting role here, but it is the later tracks on View that show off its leader’s virtuosity to the full; Kiev sees him stretch out under wistful guitar arpeggios, pedal steel chords (again very Frisellian) and luminous horn balloons. The bass player’s rounded, woody tone shines through despite the tune’s complex orchestration.

Tonally different but just as technically impressive is his blow on The Park, an up-tempo swinger with a fractured melody. The bassist is melodic and groovy here, engaging in sophisticated hook-ups with his drummer that only come from years of improvising together. Røed steams in with a blaring, prickly solo on tenor, bringing the band to a climax; the subsequent solo bass passage clears the air and sets the band up for a final ominous chorale turned devilish compound-time romp entitled GBG.

This debut represents a smart blend of older and more contemporary influences to forge a nuanced group sound. In equal measure rocky, folky and avant-garde, Sandberg’s compositions are well thought out and give his musicians lots of room to explore – particularly Marstrander, whose wizardry on both guitar and pedal steel gives the album a very strong identity. Some of the tunes are slightly derivative of players the bassist clearly admires, but his and his bandmates’ passionate improvising coupled with a well-struck balance between space and freneticism ensure that View is a highly enjoyable listen.

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