By Ken Waxman
Although big bands often toured with a full stage show including characteristic terpsichorean, improvised tap dancing has been a negligible part of Jazz and improvised music performances for at least 75 years. Until Norway’s One Step came along that is. Fits formed by tap dancer Janne Eraker and bassist Roger Arntzen, when later joined by fiddler and vocalist Vegar Vårdal they can now offer a full – albeit acoustic – multi-media experience. That experience is succinctly captured on this CD.
Introduced with some bird-like whistling, double bass strokes and harsh wooden heel stomps and completed by staccato heel-and-toe clacks as regularized as drum beats, “Heija” and “Yarny”, the lengthy middle tracks allow the trio members to stretch out their art to its best advantage. Vårdal’s onomatopoeic vocals ranging from guttural growls, constant yelps, exasperated sighs mumbles and what could be Norwegian square dance calls are featured on the first track. Arntzen’s pizzicato throbs also steady the exposition as it evolves through staccato to adagio and back again. Meanwhile Eraker’s tapping accents and flamenco-like stomps provide the percussion beat. Later measured slow slides help integrate Vårdal’s banjo-like string picking into the mix. More balanced, “Yarny” has the bassist’s sul tasto strokes intersecting with the fiddler’s expressive glissandi and he uses the same patterning to add a story-telling continuum to the shuffles and slides from the dancer. In spite of vocalized hisses and yodels sometimes threatening to upset the linear flow, tandem bass string pressure and swift shuffles and slides from Eraker confirm the broken octave connection.
There are obviously more visual and theatrical aspects to One Small Step’s music than are conveyed by audio. Still GOL Variations is an entertaining experience itself.