CD review

Martin Nodeland – ‘Origins’

Martin Nodeland – Origins
(Smeik Music. Review by Julian Maynard-Smith)

Martin Nodeland is a Norwegian guitarist, composer and arranger whose first recording as leader, Debut (2019), was a confident and intricate neo-bop quintet playing mainly originals and a couple of standards – a lovely album that to my ears sounded like how Bobby Watson and John Abercrombie might have sounded playing together with a piano trio. Only a year later and with Origins he’s released an ambitious album of originals performed by an eleven-piece ensemble: two guitarists, trumpet, saxophone, piano, bass, drums and string quartet.

When the opening track Metamorphosis starts with a blistering tenor sax and drums duel from Rastko Obradovic and Raymond Storaunet Lavik, soon joined by strings, you’d be forgiven for thinking of another Norwegian leader of large-ensemble playing, saxophonist Marius Neset; it’s not a perfect comparison, but there are some similarities in the complexity and depth of the arrangements. One difference is that while you always feel that Neset is fronting whatever he plays, Nodeland seems more content to within the ensemble rather than out front.

Sure, there are some lovely guitar solos, even on the opening track. But then there are plenty of showcases for other soloists: Equilibrium has a fine trumpet solo from Simen Kiil Halvorsen; Alexander is an interlude lasting only 1:38, but it’s plenty of time for an atmospheric double-bass solo from Alexander Hoholm, reminiscent of what fellow Norwegian Arild Andersen might play; Motif at only 1:18 is even shorter, but beautifully showcases the string quartet in a piece that could have come from the classical repertoire, and which leads straight into Motif Song: trumpet and tenor sax interweaving with shimmering strings, before dropping out for pianist Martin Sandvik Gjerde to be spotlighted playing completely alone before being joined by layered ensemble playing that leads to tenor and piano solos.

There’s further soloist spotlighting on Rastko, a bop-like alto-sax solo of only 1:00 that immediately segues into Origins, a complex theme with knotty twists handled deftly, going straight into the closer Origins II, which starts with sparse violin with bass and piano backing and occasional drum rumbles before a fantastic violin solo starkly illuminated against brisk polyrhythmic drumming, concluding with tight ensemble playing towards a heart-stopping finish.

In-between are the lush and ballad-like The Third, the melody carried principally by trumpet but with lyric-free vocals from Karoline Wallace providing a warm undercurrent, followed by a fluid guitar solo. And Aeolus, which starts out like an ECM piano trio recording before morphing into a folk-like theme that has a hint of Jan Garbarek when the tenor sax joins in – before building to euphoric saxophone over the ensemble in full cry, before more further impressive solos from guitar and trumpet.

In short, Origins is a beautiful album, and Martin Nodeland, born in 1993,  is a performer to watch. Also worth watching is Smeik, the small Norwegian independent record label on which Origins has been released. Their first release was only in December 2018, and with albums this good let’s hope they can keep going in spite of Covid-19 challenges and the dominance of longer-established Euro-jazz labels such as ECM, Label Bleu and ACT Music.

LINK: Smeik website

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