Jacob Young: Forever Young (ECM 2366)

Forever Young

Jacob Young
Forever Young

Jacob Young guitars
Trygve Seim tenor and soprano saxophones
Marcin Wasilewski piano
Slawomir Kurkiewicz double bass
Michal Miskiewicz drums
Recorded August 2013 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Forever Young is all Young. Jacob Young, that is. The Norwegian-American guitarist made his ECM debut with 2004’s Evening Falls, on which he joined a group of label regulars for a nuanced and strangely familiar encounter. Now for his third round (incidentally the title of a Manu Katché album on which he also appeared), Young enlists the help of saxophonist Trygve Seim and the Marcin Wasilewski Trio for an all-original set with all the evocative precision admirers will have come to expect.

Young band

Young’s experiences in Katche’s band seem to have rubbed off on two tunes. The mid-tempo groove of “Bounce” is luscious and slick as rain, and sports a solo from Young’s electric that lights up the night with its pale fire. “Sofia’s Dance,” for its part, is an acoustic-led excursion driven by drummer Michal Miskiewicz. Young sets a duly environmental precedent with his harp-strung picking, which is then fleshed out by Wasilewski toward some awesome group unity.

This dichotomy between instruments continues throughout the album, of which the acoustic tracks are marked by relaxed conversations. In this vein, Young and Seim share a musical relationship that reveals depth of friendship. The saxophonist often picks up the guitarist’s lunar phases and carries them toward new moon. In “Therese’s Gate,” for one, Seim emotes with the bareness of an experienced singer. This allows Young all the more room to stretch his fingers in that same vein of sincere expressiveness. Wasilewski’s pianism is notable for its beauty, as also in the track of the same name. “Beauty” finds Young in a strumming mood, thereby throwing more spotlight on the pianist and his wondrous rhythm section (hat tip to bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz). The album’s opener, “I Lost My Heart To You,” brings all of these elements together and more. A stellar intro from the keyboard drops a starlit curtain, from behind which Young’s foundations begin a winning melodic combination, even as Miskiewicz’s cymbals leave shining breadcrumbs toward sunrise. It’s an ideal place to start for the way it frames Young’s guitar as one element in a fair trade system. Like the arcs of a group of ice skaters on a forest pond, the musicians’ collective tracery implies many infinities.

The plugged-in tracks are smoother. Young’s virtuosity is on full display in “We Were Dancing” but, true to form, constructs with sensitivity intact and leaves space for Kurkiewicz’s light unpacking. “1970” names the year of Young’s birth, and is brimming with flower power. The gymnastic soloing adds to its charm. “Time Changes” is another summery piece of nostalgia, which behind its upbeat veneer cradles a strangely meditative soul. Young takes us to school with unpretentious grace, as Wasilewski’s trio measures every detail around him. The album ends on a reflective note with “My Brother.” And what better place to leave us than in the spirit of family? For we, too, are welcomed to share in the love, forever young and impervious to the critic’s words.

(To hear samples of Forever Young, click here.)

Jacob Young: Sideways (ECM 1997)

Sideways

Jacob Young
Sideways

Jacob Young guitars
Mathias Eick trumpet
Vidar Johansen bass clarinet, tenor saxophone
Mats Eilertsen double-bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded May 2006 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Norwegian guitarist Jacob Young’s sophomore effort follows coolly on the heels of his debut, Evening Falls. The wealth of Scandinavian talent at his side is enviable, to say the least. Trumpeter Mathias Eick, reedman Vidar Johansen, bassist Mats Eilertsen, and drummer Jon Christensen bring their uniquely tessellated feel for rhythm and hues to ten of Young’s originals, of which the title track sets the stage with the bandleader’s unmistakable acoustic. Mallet-caressed cymbals, trumpet, bass clarinet, and upright bass comingle in simpatico resonance, riding a slow and steady frequency from start to finish.

On that note, it’s difficult to say whether or not this music ever finds closure. Rather, each tune suspends itself high above the clouds, catching breath before measuring another dive into the next. In this regard, fans of Manu Katché’s ECM outings—into which the personnel here dovetails slightly—will surely rejoice in Young’s architecturally sound themes, ringing out clearly and distinctly before being recast in light harmonies and natural improvisational turns. Case in point: “Hanna’s Lament,” of which the two horns hover over Eilertsen’s landing pad before Young’s solo on classical guitar threads them all with the skill of a tailor’s needle. The evocative “Near South End” is another representative example, and traces its head through a unifying of bass and guitar. Christensen is the real key to unlocking the inventive nostalgia at play, as also in “St. Ella,” a volcano at the ready.

Eick is the most chameleonic of the bunch, as comfortable highlighting the canvas as he is slashing it with Tomasz Stanko-like leaps of intuition in “Maybe We Can.” Johansen, for his part, treads the line between dream and reality in “Out Of Night,” which at over 10 minutes could be an overbearing tune were it not for the naked clarity of his tenoring. With so much to admire and interpret in its unfolding, it best showcases the album’s finessed engineering.

That Young was fortunate enough to study with Jim Hall and John Abercrombie will be obvious on three tracks for which he goes electric: “Time Rebel,” “Slow Bo-Bo,” and “Wide Asleep.” Each is the side of hidden triangle, rendered to the tune of a watercolor enchantment. At some moments a balladic brew while at others a cosmic layering, the overall shape emerges only with thoughtful listening. Like the multi-tracked guitar-only epilogue, “Gazing At Stars,” it follows the gaze into sunset and to the twilight beyond.

Even with its air of mystery, Sideways comes to us as a completed puzzle, glued and framed so that we might admire its scenery without the task of putting it together. This leaves us free to bask in its light, turning its shadows like the pages of a book personally inscribed.

Jacob Young: Evening Falls (ECM 1876)

Evening Falls

Jacob Young
Evening Falls

Jacob Young guitar
Mathias Eick trumpet
Vidar Johansen bass clarinet, tenor saxophone (track 6)
Mats Eilertsen double-bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded December 2002 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Considering the legion of Norwegian talents with whom Jacob Young has played, and of which he is one star in a constellation of them, it was perhaps inevitable that his sound should migrate over to ECM. Enter Evening Falls, the guitarist’s sensuous international debut for the German powerhouse following four albums on local labels. The Jacob Young Group, as it has come to be styled, finds him in the enviable company of trumpeter Mathias Eick, reedman Vidar Johansen (primarily on bass clarinet), bassist Mats Eilertsen, and drummer Jon Christensen. This who’s who of northern talent brings a wealth of history to the table, so that the lyrical results are not merely intuitive, but comfortable like worn-in denim.

That Young studied under Jim Hall and John Abercrombie is apparent in “Blue,” although one may also hear a bit of Bill Connors glinting off his rural edge. Young’s composing also spans territories, sounding one moment like a Tomasz Stanko ballad (check the brilliant, trumpet-driven “Minor Peace”) and for all at others like a dulcet etude (cf. “Falling”). The fluidity of his teachers shines through music that, although weighing little, is emotionally robust. There is warmth here, a love for life in all its colors seeping like rain through soil into all that follows. Eick connects the dots to another satellite reference—Kenny Wheeler, whose insightful laddering can be heard in the trumpeter’s nonetheless distinct soloing.

No one on this record, however, is as distinct as Young, who navigates ever-changing currents with the skill of an ancient mariner. Despite his acoustic penchant, he does plug in for a few tunes, notably “Looking for Jon” and “Sky.” The former skips by virtue of Christensen’s brilliant drumming and Eick’s clarion fluency, while the latter tune flies not like a bird but lilts as would a paper airplane thrown from a tall building. The effect is nothing short of profound. Even in the acoustic tracks, such as “Formerly,” Young’s playing shines with its own electricity. Either way, the dynamic checks and balances continue in “Evening Air,” in which Young draws bass clarinet and trumpet from hiding in a beauteous thematic braid. Guitar and bass play especially well off one another. Eick’s trumpet likewise flowers, while Christensen’s cymbals trickle in with the last rays of sunset.

In trio with Eilertsen and Christensen, Young carries the full weight of his compositions with the effortlessness of respiration. This nexus works in elastic, tactile fashion throughout, seesawing between Mediterranean reveries (“The Promise”) and slick turns of phrase. So synergistic is this core unit that it bears an album’s worth of weight in the web of its interplay. In light of this, Johansen’s contributions are more enigmatic but no less integral, although with one exception. His bass clarinet does wonders whenever it appears, charting the tailwinds of that which has preceded it, but on tenor saxophone he proves superfluous on “Presence of Descant,” of which Eick’s trumpeting leaves little room for embellishment. What this track lacks in a melodic frontline Christensen makes up for with masterful color, laying down a mood as few drummers can.

In the end, we are gifted a superbly listenable album with all the qualities of an old friend.