Album review

Magnus Skaug – ‘Anthems Vol.I’

Magnus Skaug – Anthems Vol.I

(Øra Fonogram, OF177 – Album Review by Peter Slavid)

This year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival has now been rescheduled for July. However, in happier times, the Saturday morning of the festival would always feature a student exchange project which was one of my favourite events. Each year students from Birmingham would team up with students from another Music Conservatory to form three trans-national scratch bands who would get to perform as part of the festival.

Back in 2018 the project teamed Birmingham with students from Trondheim University, and at the time we reviewed the event (HERE) and remarked that in the best of the three groups on show “Norwegian guitarist Magnus Skaug stood out…making intelligent use of electronics and pedal effects”.

Clearly Skaug has continued his development, and and those words are still true today, exemplified in this, his debut album. There are a three solo tracks featuring guitar and electronics, and two duos with the drums, and the rest are as a trio with Eskild Myrvoll: on bass and Martin Mellem on drums.

It’s a short album at only 27 minutes, but it crams in ten powerful tracks. The opening track is a short hypnotic minimalist riff. The bass and drums are more prominent in the second track which is more melodic and with a heavy rock beat, and also contains a short free section. The third track is more of the same and is called The School Anthem, although the ferocious guitar makes you wonder what sort of school Skaug must have attended and what he thought of it..

And then the fourth track Yoshi has a longer period of gentle melodic music. The standout track for me is A Reveal, a delightfully twisted ballad full of bent notes. After that it’s back to the more ferocious minimalist sound.

Throughout the album you can hear shades of Mary Halvorsen and Bill Frisell and an underlying influence that comes as much from rock as from jazz, with the guitar often overlaid with electronics.

It’s a bit hard to relate the music to the album title. This doesn’t contain the sort of anthem that’s going to find crowds waving their phones in the air at a festival or beating their chests with patriotic fervour. It’s more a personal shout out of Skaug’s approach and intent. As such, it suggests we’ll be hearing more from him in the future.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on several internet stations including mixcloud.com/ukjazz

LINK: Magnus Skaug’s artist page at Øra Fonogram

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