All About Jazz | Fredrik Ljungkvist, Kris Davis, Ole Morten Vågan and Øyvind Skarbø – Inland Empire

By Glenn Astarita

Rising star American pianist Kris Davis aligns with A-list Scandinavian progressive jazz artists for a semi-structured program that, among numerous positives, highlights the ensemble’s persuasive interactions amid a capacious soundstage, spanning sublime progressions, angular unison choruses and geometrical paradigm shifts. But the musicians unrelenting creativity and thoughtful improvisations spark a winning formula not always easily attainable in these unions, where spontaneous breakouts and plot redevelopments yield significant rewards.

“Truffle Pigs and Katmandu Stray Dogs” is a prime example of this band’s ability to sustain continual interest. Here, Davis’ cascading phraseology and reverse engineering processes ride atop drummer Oyvind Skarbo‘s nudging brush work and polyrhythmic flurries that steer the pianist into a series of flailing arpeggios and pulsating block chords, upping the ante for intersecting currents and Fredrik Ljungkvist ‘s molten sax lines. Moreover, the soloists go toe-to-toe via undulating sub- motifs, toggling between playful camaraderie and pugnacious escapades, as the frontline swaps leading roles throughout. However, they do strip the big sound down to its basics, partly due to bassist Ole Morten Vågan‘s speedy maneuverings and close-handed plucking in line with Davis’ murmuring patterns.

Poignant dialogues also come into play during many sections as the artists effortlessly cavort through split-second and longer-term inventions, while also paying attention to detail. Whereas “Surf Curl” is a bustling and patchy piece, sprinkled with the pianist’s terse voicings atop the rhythm section’s sudden rush of energy. And the final track, “Fighter,” is devised with the saxophonist’s off-key ruminations and the bassist’s storming impetus along with other densely populated storylines, although the musicians take a well-deserved breather during the bridge. Indeed, it’s a rewarding listen fueled by a constant state of excitement and the instrumentalists’ unimpeded synergetic forces.


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