Jakob Bro guitar
Thomas Morgan double bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded November 2013 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
After playing with Tomasz Stanko on Dark Eyes and, before that, less conspicuously a part of the Paul Motian Band on Garden of Eden, Danish guitarist Jakob Bro reaches a milestone with his first ECM leader date. For this auspicious recording event, one could hardly ask for finer support than Thomas Morgan and Jon Christensen. Morgan stands as one of the most versatile bassists of his time, as borne out on a number of diverse projects for the label, whose fans will of course need no introduction to Christensen. Bro cites the drummer’s sound as a formative inspiration, and one can hear the joy of sharing the art of jazz with someone whose contributions to the same he so adores. After premiering at the 2012 Copenhagen Jazz Festival, this intergenerational trio stepped into Oslo’s Rainbow Studio to document after only a year’s worth of refinement. The end result sounds like 10.
At nearly 11 minutes in duration, the title opener may be the longest of the set, but it is neither longwinded nor overwhelming. Rather, its spacy guitar is a fire in winter you don’t want to leave. Christensen’s cymbals awaken in the light of dawn, eyes still carrying afterimages of the night. Beyond this, Bro takes his first steps from the cabin into the open forest. Morgan’s bass follows suit, leading us to belief we are in for a long hike. But then something magical happens as the view now goes aerial. A clear Bill Frisell influence reigns in this transition, mellifluous and spun from open sky. The band traces a spectral parabola from one glade to the next, until every animal trap along the way has been disabled and burned to ash. And it is to ash we return at the album’s straightforwardly titled “Ending,” which at just under three minutes is its shortest. Still, looping arpeggios and tactile strums give it a fullness of structure, fading out on the moonwalk with which the album began.
As if to stretch this metaphor, “And They All Came Marching Out Of The Woods” finds Bro opening up a little more in tandem with Morgan’s flexible backbone. His guitar shines like a prism at a laser’s touch, until individual notes split into spectrums, but not before we dive into the streets of “Copenhagen.” Or is it into the water gently lapping the city’s harbors? This would seem to be the image evoked by Bro’s understated motifs. Or might it also be the sky above? For is it not the realm from which Bro drops a rope ladder for his bandmates to climb?
In thinking of the sky over Copenhagen, I find my thoughts turning to Gefion herself, a Norse goddess of land and plowing immortalized in the famous fountain I photographed during a trip in March of 2015:
With her whip in hand she pushes her oxen through the land, but does so without need for virtuosity or flourish. Rather, like Bro, she sees music in the work itself.
Other references point to the heavily arpeggiated solo compositions of guitarist Jeff Pearce, a prime example being the ghostly nocturne of “Oktober,” and in “White” to the slow-motion streamers of a Motian ballad. Bro navigates both with the surety of a hiker in his favorite woods, one who knows every tree so well that he needn’t bother trying to account for them all. He leaves—no pun intended—that task to his sensitive support team, a rhythm section that foregoes rhythm toward an environmental approach. But urbanity, we soon realize, is never far behind, as we squint into the glare of “Lyskaster” (Searchlight). This can only be an ode to travel, for it embodies the constant balance, known to any itinerant, between missing what you love and craving what you have yet to love. “Airport Poem,” on the other hand, is an exercise in capture, of layover and tedium, Christensen’s barest presence only adding to that feeling of suspension.
Bro is a breath of fresh air for eschewing the trappings of technical virtuosity and instead plowing the far more challenging field of atmospheric integrity. His playing is so rich, in fact, that Gefion at times feels more like a solo album. This is not to insult the contributions of Morgan and Christensen, but to praise them for understanding that every white square needs a black one to keep it company, and that in the cosmos of any one of them exists far too many pieces to fit on one chessboard anyway.
In closing, it’s worth noting that Gefion bears dedication to Ib Skovgaard. The late jazz journalist and radio producer, who died in early January at the age of 67, was a tireless champion of improvised music in his native Denmark and a particularly stalwart supporter of Bro and his generation. With this knowledge in mind, we do well to see the album as the closing of one circle of appreciation by way of opening many others in its place. Here’s hoping you’ll be one of them.
(To hear samples of Gefion, click here.)