By Ken Waxman
Like the skill of some overseas manufacturers to replicate North American products so that in look, function and quality they’re almost equivalent, Ballrogg’s comprehensive sound is rooted in the rustic Jazz qualities advocated by the likes of Bill Frisell and Jimmy Giuffre. Yet precisely because the trio’s consists of Norwegian, like a rugged version of a sleek American article, the sonic landscape is sparser, with echoes of minimalist contemporary notation as well as folksy airs.
Initially shaped by the rhythmic immediacy of double bassists Roger Arntzen, who also dabbles in noise rock, and the melodies and clarinets of Klaus Ellerhusen Holm, also part of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Ballrogg’s became more countrified after 2012 when Ivar Grydeland who plays banjo electric guitar, pedal steel guitar, and other guitars joined the duo. Like vegetation that adapt to different soil, Grydeland who is involved in mélange of Rock-like, reductionist and improvised currents with bands such as Huntsville and Dans les Arbres helped direct the others to a more singular program.
Throughout Abaft the Beam’s seven tracks the effect is somewhat like a committed urbanite turning seriously to agriculture. The folksy strums are there in abundance, but so are resonating bass string rubs that appear too stentorian for an Arcadian landscape, while the clarinetist’s digital manipulation resulting in pure air currents and triple lip fluctuations circulate aseptic studied concepts to the otherwise homespun perception. Adding ballast to this ride like jet fuel slipped into a steamboat engine is Grydeland’s string section versatility. Twangs, pinches, slurs and note cascades suggest a post-modern extension to a scene that otherwise would vibrate with aviary directed warbles and temple-bell-like chiming. Among the tunes that move from the percussive imagining of clogged urban streets to release in the form of soft-drink-bottle-like pops, are a couple that stand out. The concluding “Anchor’s Aweigh” conjures up a wide Prairie landscape described by repeated microtonal patterns held back by thundering country music-like pedal steel reverberations. “Bosom Barb” best defines Ballrogg’s particular skills though. Advancing at a sorghum syrup pace, it blends reed twitters, chunky guitar pacing and tremolo double bass shudders into a theme that is solid as well as ventilated.
As the title suggests the trio hasn’t yet attained the consummate rustic Jazz application towards which their cross-the-pond influences aim. Yet with Scandinavian skill and know-how Ballrogg are headed down well down that country road to reach that goal.