CD review

Wako – “Wako” and Kjetil Mulelid Trio – “What You Thought Was Home”

Wako – Wako
Kjetil Mulelid Trio – What You Thought Was Home
(Øra Fonogram OF157 / Rune Grammofon RCD2208. CD reviews by Mike Collins)

A brace of releases in the depths of lockdown provided light and inspiration during difficult times, and a promise of good things to come when these bands can get back on the road. Wako by the adventurous quartet of that name, and What You Thought Was Home, by Wakos pianist Kjetil Mulelid are two stylistically contrasting but equally engaging sets from a group of Norwegian musicians who are becoming firmly established and earning recognition and plaudits all round.

Wako is the band’s fourth release and the simple title seems like a declaration of a kind, a milestone reached perhaps. Previous releases have had a distinct character, Modes for All Eternity (review by LJN here) was a collaboration with Oslo Strings, and Urolige sinn a free-er, largely improvised outing. Wako is a varied, always engaging set, bringing all those flavours together and adding some new ones. Writing credits are shared by saxophonist Martin Myhre Olsen and Muledid, and regulars Bárõur Reinert Poulsen and Simon Olderskog Albertsen complete the line-up on bass and drums respectively.

For this album there are a series of collaborations with a hatful of guests adding strings, more saxes, synths, vibes, ghostly voices and, on one track, Arve Henriksen’s trumpet and imagination. It all makes for a richly varied journey.

There is chamber jazz, with strings adding both texture and evocative melody to the quartet’s sound on the yearning For Those We Love; intense counterpoint on Dagdrømmeren before dissolving into atmospherics behind spiralling flights of fancy from Olsen. Savage Detective could be an Ornette Coleman theme for strings and horns, a folk-tinged melody with the propulsive, bowed bass figure kicking hurtling improvisations along. Other tunes have a rockier edge. Grown Up Life has plenty of hard blowing solos with Albertsen’s drums providing a relentess barrage and just a hint of a shuffle; Wako Amok lives up to its name, with the rhythm section never letting the pulsating energy drop; Trakterer du musikk is a standout moment, a bouncing bass riff under a rocking groove anchors a series of melodic motifs, progressively embellished and coloured by elaborate backings, Arve Henriksen’s trumpet insinuates itself into the mix as they build to a clamorous high. There are quieter moments, Le tapis volant and Stjerneskipet both unfold with meditative lines allowing atmosphere and space to bloom.

What elevates this set beyond a diverse, but still engagingly coherent, group of tunes is the confidence and quality of the individual and group performances, which are by turns thrillingly exuberant, then poetic and passionate.

Wako by Wako is highly recommended.

On his release What You Thought Was Home, Kjetil Mulelid explores melodic and bittersweet harmonic material with his trio, offering an appealing contrast to Wako.

Mulelid is joined by Bjørn Marius Hegge on bass and Andreas Skår Winther on drums for a suite of nine originals, mostly from the pen of Mulelid apart from one contribution by Hegge. There’s an unmistakable tilt towards hymn-like themes, folk-flavoured melodies and country-gospel-like grooves creating an intimate, warm and reflective air to the set.

Winther’s lightly scurrying kit heralds the melody of the title track, a gently arcing melody buoyed by rich harmony. Rather than overtly solo, Mulelid allows the theme to evolve and the harmony sing with thickening intensity. Folk Song has an urgent marching momentum; a repeating figure in the bass, doubled by piano, provides an anchor for flurries of twisting lines from the piano and clattering bursts from the drums. Bruremarsj (Wedding March) is a resonant, hymn-like theme, allowed to swell and punctuated by a singing bass solo. Tales is all moody atmospheres, dark tones from hanging piano chords and furtive scribbles from the bass. Far Away is a solo piano piece, stating and developing a soaring melody, before subsiding into meditative chords. On Waltz For Ima the trio cut loose and after the dancing theme, bass and piano take flight building an irresistible momentum. When Winter Turns Into Spring could be a direct nod to Jarrett with its pulsating, dancing groove and looping, fluid melody. Mulelid’s glittering, mazy runs ramp up the energy. The gently rocking Homecoming with its elegiac melody brings the mood back to a comforting resting place.

This is a very satisfying set from a very fine trio.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblog

LINKS: Wako’s website
Kjetil Mulelid on Bandcamp

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