Vein feat. Norrbotten Big Band – Symphonic Bop
(Double Moon Records DMCHR 71355. CD Review by Peter Jones)
In a truly pan-European exercise in co-operation, boundary-pushing Swiss piano trio Vein have joined forces with the Swedish Norrbotten Big Band to record this album in Katowice, Poland, for the German/Dutch Double Moon label.
According to Michael Arbenz, Vein’s pianist and arranger, the idea for the album, their 13th, was for the orchestra to act as an extension to the trio, never overwhelming or obscuring the contributions of the basic triumvirate. So how well has Arbenz succeeded in his aim?
Symphonic Bop features six longish tracks, all written by members of the trio, beginning with drummer Florian Arbenz’s 15-minute mini-epic Boarding the Beat. This tune begins with deceptive sweetness before the full orchestra sidles in, and develops via a lightning-speed piano solo from Michael Arbenz into a joyous dash for glory, led by Hakan Broström, who solos on soprano saxophone. The brass section introduces the tongue-in-cheek Willa’s Pool, a tune quite obviously composed by bassist Thomas Lähns, since its components are the instruments that normally rumble away at the bottom – trombones and the bass itself – all of them making full use of their inherent capacity for glissando.
Florian Arbenz next contributes a second composition, Fast Lane, a lighter piece featuring only the trio, and more in keeping with the kind of material they played when I saw them at Watermill Jazz Club a couple of years ago. As the title suggests, this is an object lesson in how to play rapidly but with terrific finesse and lightness of touch.
The orchestra returns for Michael Arbenz’s Under Construction, another long track, in which Lähns’s bass solo is punctuated by horn stabs from the orchestra. The title is more revealing than one might expect – not so much because the track sounds unfinished, but because its components are quite disparate, and yet somehow they all slot together beautifully. Trombonist Arvid Ingberg takes a long but very melodic solo before the whole ensemble combines for a head-spinning, polyrhythmic finale. The same composer reveals his more reflective side in Passacaglia (in case you were wondering, “a composition similar to a chaconne, typically in slow triple time with variations over a ground bass”). It’s a gorgeous yet ominous chamber piece, with a delicate opening from flutes and bass followed by trombones and uneasy piano.
The album concludes with Florian Arbenz’s Groove Conductor, a helter-skelter number featuring a curiously filtered electric bass and an equally curiously filtered trumpet solo from Dan Johansson. It’s a fascinating collection that sometimes lapses into the common vice of virtuosity for its own sake, but whose rich textures and complex melodies reward your close attention.