SLOW-BURNING, ruminative, even introspective, Uma Elmo is an intriguing new collaboration between electric guitarist Jakob Bro, trumpeter Arve Henriksen and drummer Jorge Rossy.
Danish-born Bro’s original compositions are true to the elevated spirit of ECM Records, this being his fifth album as leader for the label. Recorded in the late summer of 2020, when the increasing tremors of a virus-torn world had already begun to shake the foundations of artists’ livelihoods, this esteemed trio entered the studio with respected engineer Stefano Amerio to produce an hour of both abstract and melodic sounds which, Bro says, reflect (as always) what is going on around them. The album title doesn’t require translation – it’s simply derived from the middle names of the guitarist’s two young children, with much of this music apparently composed around his newborn son’s naps.
The name of Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen is familiar to many through ECM recordings which have included his own Cartography (2008) as well those of Tigran Hamasyan, Trygve Seim and Trio Mediaeval; and Spanish drummer Jorge Rossy has worked with a long catalogue of jazz luminaries such as Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman and Wayne Shorter. Bro himself formerly played in Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band and and was a member of Tomasz Stanko’s Dark Eyes Quintet.
It’s fair to say that these shifting, minimal landscapes won’t realise their potential if only allowed cursory attention. Conscious immersion is key to the listening experience – and then the effect, though low in dynamic or compositional variance, progressively rewarding.
Reconstructing a Dream (previously recorded many years ago with Paul Motian) heralds the focused landscapes the trio inhabit in a shadowy, sustained episode. Reminiscent at times of Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Part 1)’, it develops texturally and dynamically, Henriksen’s simple improvisations becoming more complex over turbulent drumming and overdriven guitar and electronics. To Stanko, dedicated to the late Polish trumpeter, finds the guitarist’s clear, lapping accompaniment (redolent of ‘Spanish Romance’ – Sor, et al.) wistfully supporting Henriksen’s dry, breathy improvisations; and Rossy’s sparse colouring around the kit is especially effective.
The more one listens, the more the detail emerges. Beautiful Day’s gong-like effects and tunnelled echoes underpin busy percussion as Henriksen’s inquisitive and increasingly agitated lines explore a piece which curiously belies its title. In Morning Song, an aubade of gently burbling electronics and cymbals uplift soft, sunrise trumpet and guitar melodies that attractively rise and then fall to earth (its later variation, though, appears so subtle that a more contrasting take would have been welcome). Across eleven-minute Housework, Arve Henriksen’s effected, rasping trumpet produces low-register impressions reminiscent of the baritone sax of John Surman before its pellucid ‘after the rain’ atmospheres are suffused with heavier, prog-style guitar.
In spacial Music for Black Pigeons (titled by and dedicated to the memory of another of Bro’s musical associates, saxophonist Lee Konitz), Henriksen’s high, muted melodies possess a beguiling vocal quality, their electronically intervallic mystery also suggesting Debussy’s ‘Syrinx’. Sound Flower slowly unfurls to Bro’s calmative, rippling guitar effects, its sense of measured expectation highlighted by cymbal flashes and aspirational trumpet phrases; and Henriksen’s beautiful, melodic falling pairs in Slaraffenland (again associated with Paul Motian) offer a freeform mood of fragile optimism.
Expressing that hope, the quietly persuasive meanderings of Bro, Henriksen and Rossy can be a balm to the soul – if given space and time.
ECM Records – ECM 2702 (2021)