Posted on Apr 12th 2012 01:23 am
Loyal Label 2012
10 Tracks. 50mins30secs
Norwegian-born bass player Eivind Opsvik has spent the last decade living and working in New York where he has been a near-permanent fixture on the local jazz circuit. During that time, he has recorded three albums with guitarist Aaron Jennings, published on NCM, Rune Grammofon and Opsvik’s own Loyal Label imprint, and has regularly played with various formations, but it is with Overseas, the ensemble he set up ten years ago and with whom he has released three albums so far, that he is perhaps best know. Overseas comprises Opsvik (double bass), Jacob Sacks (piano, organ), Tony Malaby (saxophone), Kenny Wollesen (drums, percussions), with the recent addition of guitarist Brandon Seabrook.
For their first outing as a quintet, Overseas are in resolutely inquisitive mood. The fourth instalment in their ongoing collaboration sees the formation spreading their progressive jazz over new grounds, with two highly contrasting poles in baroque classical music and prog-rock dominating the proceedings. The baroque influences are primarily found in Sacks’s intensive use of the harpsichord. The instrument appears on a majority of tracks here, but it occupies a particularly central place on opening piece They Will Hear The Drums – And They Will Answer, and later on 1786, Men On Horses and Nineteen To The Dozen. On the former, Malaby and Sacks carry the piece practically alone and give quite a wonderful, if somewhat unusual, performance. The pair are also the focal point of Men On Horses, the light airy tones of the harpsichord being set against the earthier hues of the sax to create an element of tension, reinforced by heavy drum sequences. For half of Nineteen To The Dozen, Seabrook can be found simultaneously weaving a refined melody on the mandolin and much more complex and belligerent motifs on the electric guitar, but as this is taken forward in the latter part of the piece, he is then confronted with Sacks in a particularly hectic and playful mood.
Whilst they have always confronted their blend of contemporary jazz with more outwardly musical forms, Opsvik and Overseas adopt a much more resolutely experimental approach than on past records here. This results in some surprising set ups, from the slow build up of energy of 1786, which starts with harpsichord and mandolin before progressing toward a sequence where sax and guitar lock horns for a while, or on the rather exquisite and nuanced Silkweavers’ Song where bowed double bass, vibraphone and harpsichord are combined to create one of the most delicate pieces of this album. Later, the quintet take on a much more fluid and free approach on the angular and corrosive Robbers And Fairground Folk and the hyperactive and busy Michelle Marie, a piece originally inspired by Opsvik’s wife in which he sets off to evoke the many changing aspects of love.
The album closes with two further experiments, each set on its particular path. Der Kalde Havet (The Cold Ocean) is based on an chord structure Opsvik originally recorded back in the eighties, and progresses ominously through its eight-and-a-quarter minutes as layers are added or taken away, whilst Youth Hopeth All Things, Believeth All Things sees the formation split as Wollesen set a particular pattern which is echoed by Malaby, then by Sacks, first with a sustained organ tone, then with more discreet piano touches, whilst Opsvik creates an extremely intricate sonic lattice in the background.
Overseas IV is quite a departure for the ensemble, even compared to their previous sonic excursions, and it is also quite a complex and at times demanding piece of work, which requires some time to unlock its intricacies. Conceived as a rawer piece than previous albums, it occasionally suffers from an overflow of ideas and could at times do with some trimming down, yet it also seems to capture the formation at a key transitional moment, leaving the future of Overseas wide open.