Jakob Bro: Uma Elmo (ECM 2702)

Jakob Bro
Uma Elmo

Jakob Bro guitar
Arve Henriksen trumpet, piccolo trumpet
Jorge Rossy drums
Recorded September/October 2020, Auditorio Stelio Molo, RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Cover photo: Jean-Marc Dellac
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: February 12, 2021

When Jakob Bro lays his hands on an electric guitar, the guitar lays its hands on us. This chain reaction of touch was already apparent when the Dane painted the shadows of early appearances on Paul Motian’s Garden of Eden and Tomasz Stanko’s Dark Eyes. Since then, after a flight of leader dates on Loveland and a welcome home away from home on ECM since 2015’s Gefion, Bro has varnished a personal altar, placing upon it a family of melodic proportions. Indeed, the title of the present disc is derived from his children’s middle names, each a cypher of lives yet to be lived yet already full beyond delineation. Having written much of this material while his second, still a newborn at the time, was napping, Bro offers eight tunes that flow like scenes of video. Not knowing its biological origins, however, Uma Elmo evokes for me an uninhabited island that flourishes in sound, each tree the bearer of fruit that can only be discovered through listening.

The trio convened here is so new that it had never played as such before entering the studio for this session. Nonetheless, trumpeter Arve Henriksen and drummer Jorge Rossy, each of whom has charted separate paths through the label, are natural companions. Through names and motifs alike, Bro reaches out to other allies, whether living or non. Inspired by his collaborative transversal with Motian, “Reconstructing A Dream” funnels the drummer’s pliant architectural sensibility with reverence. Henriksen’s fluted playing widens the landscape with its breath and Rossy’s brushing opens its heart as Bro’s enhancements glisten in downward prayer.

“To Stanko” is a poignant reminder of how intersections can yield paths in their own right. Its mournful qualities shapeshift beyond the confines of a mere dedication, wandering through the Great In-Between as might a song in search of lyrics. “Beautiful Day,” like the album as a whole, is patient in its exposition. Bro is just as content providing liquid texture (as also in the later “Housework”) as he is providing a solid backbone. And though Henriksen grazes the clouds without releasing a single drop of rain, climatic changes abound in tracks like “Music For Black Pigeons” (in memory of Lee Konitz, who gave the piece its title) and “Slaraffenland,” ebbing and flowing to diurnal rhythms. 

High points of the set are to be found in “Morning Song” and “Sound Flower.” In the latter especially, Bro’s manipulations glow against the backdrop Rossy’s poetry and Henriksen’s siren song. Bro takes the hand offered by the dawn, shakes it in welcome, and pulls its possibilities into frame. The effect is so restrained that whenever the guitar voices itself more overtly, it feels like a momentary embrace before release. Despite often moving at a crawl’s space, this music is quick to locate its spiritual heart. Like the last star of night hanging on to its light in the face of the rising sun, it continues to shine even when it fades from view.

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