Mathias Eick Quintet @ Sardinen, USF - Bergen, Norway 2014-10-10

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Does it sound good? The answer - with regard to Eick's music in general and this concert in particular - is an unequivocal YES!

On Friday October 10, 2014, Mathias Eick returned to Bergen for a concert in a series of gigs in Norway this autumn.


Hot on the heels of a trip to Korea to play for 30,000 people at the Jarasum Jazz festival, Eick & co seemed to be in a very good mood this evening, even though it must be a huge contrast from playing at the main stage of Jarasum to playing for 200 people at Sardinen.


They didn't have a written set list, and pretty much picked the tunes to play then and there. This meant pleasant revisits to old and popular tunes from his two ECM albums, "The Door" (2008) and "Skala" (2011).


Eick's road to fame started out as a key member of Jaga Jazzist (whom he played with for 15 years. Unfortunately, he had to quit the band this year, since he's one busy gentleman!). As with the other members of Jaga, Eick is a multi-instrumentalist, playing acoustic bass, vibraphone, guitar and percussion in addition to his trumpet. For his own project, he mostly sticks to the trumpet, but his broad musicality certainly has made him capable of picking out kick-ass musicians for his band.


Eick's band consists of highly in-demand players, and because of conflicts with other tours etc, Eick operates with a "pool" of musicians that know the material and can step in when needed. For this concert, the arrangers, Bergen Jazzforum, thought that Torstein Lofthus and Gard Nilssen would be the drummers for the evening, right up to the minute the band arrived, only to discover that it was actually Andreas Bye and Pål Hausken to take up position behind the kits.


People familiar with the Norwegian jazz scene will know that Bye and Hausken are no bad replacement for Lofthus/Nilssen. Bye might be best known for being a member of Bugge Wesseltoft's New Conception of Jazz, but he has also played in plenty of other constellations in both jazz and pop/rock, e.g. Sigurd Køhn quartet, Elvira Nikolaisen, Jon Eberson, Montée, Torun Eriksen and Espen Eriksen Trio.


Hausken, on the other hand, is probably best known as a member of In The Country with Morten Qvenild and Roger Arntzen, but has also done solid work for people like Susanna Wallumrød, Hilde Marie Kjersem and Zahl. Hausken and Eick were both members of the project "Music for a While", where they, together with Tora Augestad, Stian Cartsensen and Martin Taxt, performed music by Kurt Weill.


The other players this evening were more regular band members.


Andreas Ulvo is a truly special pianist, keyboard player and composer who is widely recognized through his own Eple Trio with Sigurd Hole and Jonas Howden Sjøvaag, but also through several solo projects, as well as sideman for strong acts like Frøy Aagre, Karl Seglem and Solveig Slettahjell.


The sole band member, who has been part of Eick's band since the beginning with "The Door", is Audun Erlien, bass player with an extraordinary list of collaborations behind him (Just take a look at his discography HERE!). He's probably best known for having been member of Nils Petter Molvær's band for more than ten years, but also as member of Eivind Aarset's Sonic Codex and Jarle Bernhoft's band.


Being a Norwegian trumpet player, Eick has to put up with repeatedly being compared to Nils Petter Molvær and/or Arve Henriksen, perhaps Norway's best-known trumpet players (at least in the jazz world), even though Eick has clearly made a name for himself and stands firmly on his own two feet.


Apart from the trumpet tone itself, which is at least as inspired by Kenny Wheeler as by Molvær/Henriksen as well as their main inspirations, Jon Hassell and Miles Davis, Eick pays huge attention to a melodic quality and the craft of composition. This places him firmly in what some people refer to as the "Scandinavian" jazz tradition, after Jan Garbarek etc., whereas Molvær and Henriksen tend to be more focused on minimalistic themes, patterns and grooves which are supposed to be explored and improvised over more freely. Some critics would say that Eick's music leans more toward prog-rock than jazz. For me, it doesn't matter what label you put on it. The only thing that matters is: Does it sound good? And the answer - with regard to Eick's music in general and this concert in particular - is an unequivocal YES!


The band started with the tune "Fly" from Eick's debut album "The Door", followed by the title track of his second album "Skala" (2011). Right from the start, it was clear that the band had a lot of energy this evening, and the two tunes were delivered with an almost rock-like groove and attitude. I'm not sure how often Bye/Hausken play with this band, but the rhythm section with drums and bass were really tight and precise with an aggressive and catchy pulse. Eick and Ulvo alternated on the solo parts, Eick with a sparse use of loops, and Ulvo through keyboard and distorted Rhodes.


The next tune was "Williamsburg", which is a very sophisticated melody. While it started out in a quieter realm than the two previous tunes, it soon received a "make-over" to become something with a "heavier" sound, thus ending up at the same energy level as the previous pieces.


While Eick and Ulvo delivered virtuoso solos with their usual finesse and precision, there is no doubt that the über-solo of the evening was Erlien's bass interlude after "Williamsburg". I've seen Erlien many times before, and I know what he's capable of, but this solo was simply mind-blowing! Combining technically impressive playing with sonic experimentation through distortion effects, the solo left jaws dropped throughout the audience.


The solo eventually ended with a repetitive theme that invited the other musicians into a jam that morphed into "Cologne Blues" which closed the first set. This piece, being quieter than the other music delivered thus far, gave Ulvo the opportunity to play a beautiful piano solo of a more lyrical and intimate kind than the louder keyboard solos he had delivered before.


The second set was just energetic as the first, opening with "Oslo" followed by "Ravensburg". "Oslo" provided a solo spot for the drummers, while "Ravensburg" had Ulvo delivering a cool synth solo.


For "October", Eick switched from trumpet to Rhodes, first alone for the intro, leaving no doubt about him being truly skilled at other instruments beside his signature trumpet. After a while, the other musicians joined, with Ulvo on piano.


Throughout the concert, it was clear that the musicians have good connections between themselves on stage. Ulvo and Erlien often communicate through eye contact, showing where they are in the music at any time.


"October" also delivered the show's second drum solo. Bye and Hausken play very differently, with Hausken often being more of a percussionist than a drummer as such, also reminding me somewhat of the way Erland Dahlen treats his kit. Bye is a more "typical" drummer, albeit a great one, and these differences are what make the concept of two drummers work so well in this setting.


"Edinburgh" and "Biermann" closed the second set, the latter taking the tempo down significantly.


However, for the encore they played "Day After", pulling out all the stops, and delivering a smashing ending to a very entertaining show. A happy and satisfied audience greeted the band with a big round of applause before heading out into the rain.


If there was anything negative to say about the concert, it is that some of us expected at least a couple of newer pieces post-"Skala", either from the work "Voss" (commissioned for the 2011 Vossajazz) or from the new album (working title: "Midwest") that apparently has been recorded and probably will be released next year.

However, after witnessing such a strong performance of well-known and beloved music, nobody could leave Sardinen disappointed. However, are we curious about what Eick's new material sounds like? Oh, yes we are!


Hopefully we won't have to wait too long...

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