Nordic is very much the new black these days. UK culture has, in recent years, celebrated and enjoyed many cultural imports from across the North Sea. TV series Borgen and The Bridge introduced the phrase ‘Scandic-Thriller’ into our collective lexicon; Stieg Larssen and Jo Nesbø updated the thriller noir for the twenty-first century. And in music, too, the Nordic countries continue to be one of the most productive seams in the European jazz mine at present, with exciting players like Hedwig Mollestad and Daniel Karlsson energising the European scene.
Capturing the essence of what it is to be from the Nordic region - and how that translates culturally - is at the heart of this new album from Danish bassist Chris Minh Doky. In recent years - thanks to his US-based link-ups with Mike Stern, Randy Brecker and his own fusion band The Nomads - he’s been associated with funk-heavy contemporary jazz. As a result, as he said in a recent interview (http://www.kindofjazz.com/index.php/component/k2/248-ten-questions-for-chris-minh-doky-danish-bass-player-composer-and-producer) with Kind of Jazz, people assume he’s American.
New Nordic Jazz is a positive explanation in response to that. It’s his most personal and European album. By working with Danish musicians and writing songs with Danish titles, Doky uses the album form to reflect on Danish identity and how his home environment has influenced his music and jazz more widely. Each track hints at an element of what makes up Doky's relationship with his native Denmark - the sea, the sunrise, summertime, the wind whipping off the North Sea.
This is a purely acoustic set, making a radical shift away from his electric fusion focus with The Nomads on his most recent album and tour. He is joined in the studio by Peter Rosendal on piano and wurlitzer and Jonas Johansen on the drums in a tight trio that makes a virtue out of simplicity and limited tonal choices from just the two instruments.
Album opener Lyset (tr. light)* has a compellingly simple opening of eighth notes on the bass and sounds like a theme tune for the latest Danish detective series. it demonstrates that the production by Doky and his Nomad band-mate George Whitty handling the engineering side is brilliantly clear: one can hear every pluck, slide and vibrato.
Somerpiger pa cycle (tr. girls of summer on bicycles) is an up-tempo tune with a lively melody suggestive of the forward motion of the bicycles rushing through a summer breeze. Efterår (tr. autumn) in contrast is a slow, minor key ballad, bringing to mind falling leaves and the Nordic nights drawing in. Very simple playing from Doky complements the tune and Rosendal’s unprepossessing playing style and neat inflections are thrillingly to the fore.
Track four, Havet (tr. sea) has an up-and-down melody suggestive of horse’s manes on the tops of waves and the rise and fall of the sea. One can pick up brief elements of a sea shanty in the melody. There is a wonderfully taut solo from Doky here demonstrating his signature elastic sound and capacity to produce some of the most exciting runs up and down the bass fingerboard you will hear. Rosendal’s improvisation mid-track foreshadows the weather drawing in!
Det Dufter Lysegrønt (tr. it smells light green) is the softest of soft ballads, languid in mood, the sort of track to listen to while lying in the meadow grass watching the dandelion seeds float by. It’s a wonderful platform for Doky to display his sensitivity when playing at lower tempos, where it’s all about the bends and the subtlety of expression. This track exemplifies his point that in Denmark, as compared with the USA, the bass has always been regarded as a legitimate lead instrument, and Doky has made a career out of proving that point.
Sister Moon (a Sting track) has a simple but infectious shuffle rhythm with a complex time signature. Its ’s interesting tune but perhaps the weakest track on the album. Blast (tr. wind blown) offers a strong chordal opening from Doky with a super drum track from Johansen, his ride cymbal playing capturing the turbulence of the wind. The solo by Doky complements the main theme and never lets up, lapsing into a simple quarter tone march.
Morgenstund (tr. morning) has a tinge of melancholy, with a falling chord sequence on the bass behind Rosendal’s playing. Last track O nata lux (tr. born of light) is an adaption of a song by fellow Dane Morten Lauridsen, and is very much the palate cleanser of the album, leaving the listener with a very positive feeling of Nordic tranquility.
Indeed, the whole album makes it clear that Nordic Jazz is in fine fettle. The lands across the North Sea are fertile and rich with innovative musicians who are tilling the jazz soil and unearthing some beautiful music which has that wonderful mix of openness, melancholy and laid-back nature that one often associates with the Nordic region.
By all accounts well-received on Doky’s recent tour across his home country promoting this album, New Nordic Jazz may one suspects not translate as well - literally, and figuratively - outside of the Danish market as his other albums. This would be a shame, as this album - while rooted in the Danish soil - is nourished by CMD’s experiences playing and recording in Europe and the USA with the cream of contemporary jazz players.
[* all translations are from Google translate, so apologies to any Danes reading this review!]