The Year of the Boar introduces the powerhouse bassist's new band, a five-piece that reflects his adopted home in the American prairie (he's lived in Chicago since late 2006) as well as his deep roots in the bustling Norwegian jazz scene. The result is nothing short of a full marshaling of trans-Atlantic creative music forces, a roundhouse punch in the face of complacent listening.
Of course, parallels between the improvised music communities in Chicago and Oslo have been made frequently, fueling repeated exchanges between the metropoles. Top pan-Scandanavian ensembles like Atomic and The Thing, both of which feature Flaten on bass, have toured the U.S. regularly over the last half-decade, prying open the door to a fruitful musical give-and-take. This group is the next chapter in this ongoing saga.
The quintet includes three of Chicago's brightest, most exciting improvisers. Guitarist Jeff Parker is one of the kingpins of the scene, traversing jazz, rock, experimental, dub, electronic, and improvised music worlds with astonishing grace. Imbued with a magnetic musicality and equipped with massive creative intellect, Parker's incisive guitar spurs Tortoise and Ken Vandermark's (((Powerhouse Sound))) with equal surety. Another Vandermark associate, saxophonist Dave Rempis, is also a central figure in Chicago, both as a bandleader/improvisor and as a presenter/promoter. His baritone and alto are fluid and fiery, an elemental force. The youngest Chicagoan in the fivesome is drummer Frank Rosaly, a glorious partner for Flaten who integrates the full range of percussion possibilities, from hardcore swing to pneumatic rock to non-metrical freeplay. From Norway, to complete the ensemble, Flaten invited violinist Ola Kvernberg, an adept and versatile voice and the perfect front-line complement to Rempis and Parker.
The quintet's debut CD feels natural in Chicago, with a pugilistic rock element (listen to Parker's white-hot guitar soloing and the band's raucous ostinati riffing) and sectional, episodic compositions. But as with any important record, it adds something distinctly personal and original to the mix, which might be summarized by placing the band in a great lineage of Norwegian progressive jazz. With a constructive approach to the integration of fusion charts and post-Miles electric collage, significant points on that line include Jan Garbarek's classic, sometimes unfairly neglected early bands with guitarist Terje Rypdal, which perhaps set the aesthetic table for Flaten's ensemble, and the George Russell ensembles out of which Garbarek's group emerged, as well as the less well-known trio led by pianist Svein Finnerud.
In fact, Flaten makes his awareness of this tradition clear at the end of the disc, utilizing a line by Finnerud's bassist (and Flaten's good friend), Bjørnar Andresen in the composition "George," which he dedicates to Russell. Other pieces have appeared in very different versions elsewhere, showing how Flaten likes to rework and reinterpret material. Indeed, the blazing opener, "Maxwell's Silver Demon," also appeared as the first track on Flaten's Jazzland release Quintet, but the bassist was confident that the differences in the two versions would be evident, maybe even instructive. From one of the first trips to Chicago, Flaten's piece "Green Wood" appeared on the 2003 Okka Disk release Nuclear Assemblyhall, performed by the combined forces of Atomic and School Days. Here, on a rolling groove that builds to a volcanic explosion, Rosaly shows off his polyrhythmic imagination.
Dedications to Flaten's parents constitute two tracks. "Praying," a track that has appeared on an early Atomic release (Feet Music) and uncredited on Zim Nqguana's Ingoma, a South African CD, is a dedication to Flaten's father, who died when the bassist was 20. "Ceremony," a new piece with a beautiful pocket and Art Ensemble-like rhythmic breakdowns, dedicated to Flaten's mother (soon to be revisited on a new AtomicSchooldays release), was debuted on the tour for The Year of the Boar, during which Flaten played in his home village, Oppdal, for the first time since leaving in 1988. His 77-year-old mom was in the first row. At the end of the concert, one of the 500 in attendance, an old farmer who had never heard live jazz, said to Ingebrigt: "Man, this music went straight to my guts."
No wonder. It takes little expertise to feel the strength and sensitivity of the Ingebrigt Haker Flaten Quintet. Here they are in the city that works, helping build a new Chicago. Welcome!