Album reviews

Maridalen – ‘Bortenfor’

Maridalen – Bortenfor
(Jazzland Recordings. Album review by Rob Mallows)

This album – sans drums or any hint of electrification – is utterly unplugged, but is in no way diminished by that fact. Indeed, the simplicity at the heart of Bortenfor is what makes it a good listen.

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It is simple in the extreme – just the trumpet of Jonas Kilmork Vermøy, the sax and clarinet of Anders Hefre, and the double bass of Andreas Rodland Haga.  Stripped down, indeed: no percussion, no complicated time signatures or chaotic harmonic ornamentation. Maridalen instead offer up up ten lovely, warm melodic stories that invite you to listen, but don’t demand your attention.

The listener will hear elements of soundscape, impeccable trio togetherness and a surprising mix of moods from such a limited tonal palate. Bortenfor could, you imagine, easily serve as the theme and incidental music for an as-yet unfilmed Scandi-Noir crime drama.

På Nye Eventyr (On New Adventures) is all finger clicks and space in between the sparse notes, with an unhurried but foot taperingly infectious groove, such that the lack of any percussion doesn’t in any way detract from the overall mood created. In fact, it creates space for the three instruments to hum. It’s a very peppy opening

Portrommet (The Doorway) has a guest appearance of the slow swinging pedal steel of Emil Brattestad, which adds a fragrant twang but doesn’t overwhelm. Haga’s sumptuous bass solo mid-way through is luscious, with a booming low-end ringing through the speakers; Hefre’s own solo, underpinned by Brattestad’s simple explorations, is dreamy and atmospheric.

MåNesykkel is breathy, squeaky at first, and reminiscent of a number of tunes from my favourite band from the 2010s, Norway’s Pixel, of which Vermøy was a founder member. Just sax, trumpet and bowed bass, it’s as light and unhurried as a conversation. Der Hvor Vi Ikke Kunne Gå introduces guest pianist Aleksander Sjølle, who in the first part plays just one note, insistently, creating an eerie uncertainty over which Vermøy and Hefre play slow, precise interventions. In the aforementioned fantasy TV-series, this is probably the tune playing when the body is discovered.

Warm sounds, captured circling around the old wooden church in Maridalen from which the trio takes its name, is what seeps through every track. One can imagine a whirling snow storm outside, candles creating atmosphere, the three musicians in the middle, just playing. It’s a compelling picture. Sandermosen, with the addition of some finger clicks, kitchen utensils (it sounded like a spatula, but I can’t be sure!) and a pulsing bass, is easily the best track on the album. Very hummable.
Derstokken in contrast is the starkest, purest, track on the album: every knock, breath, quiver of the reed and press of the trumpet valve is recorded in precise detail, and the track is so slow that it almost feels like it could grind to a halt.
Danse Du Soir is, as the name would suggest, danceable and light on its feet, the melody is all positivity and gaiety and unadorned with frills or tension; just good, honest tunefulness.

This album relaxes the spirit, and lets the mind wander – and wonder. It reinforces my belief that Norway remains a bright beacon of quality in the European jazz scene.

Bortenfor was released on 25 March 2022

LINK: Bortenfor on Bandcamp

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