There have been countless attempts to counteract the inherently boring nature of the CD as an artefact and the approach adopted by Feral shapes up better than some on the strength of this first release, which takes some excellent music by saxophonist Iain Ballamy (in the company of three young Norwegian musicians) and packages it with a set of intriguing print artworks by Dave McKean in an elegant library case. On the other hand, we may now be so accustomed to the blandness of the format that any attempt to escape it seems like a distraction. While debating this, it's important not to forget to play the disc, which is quite remarkable and a far cry from Ballamy's formative years in the sprawling bloke-jazz outfit Loose Tubes. Recorded live at the Molde Jazz Festival in 1998, it's astounding that this music seems to date from the very beginning of Ballamy's association with these musicians, given their obvious level of empathy.
Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick opts for a different approach on Midwest. Four years after the song-like Skala, his sophomore ECM date that has attained "classic" status in European critical circles, he employs notions of history, folk tradition, and dislocation. This album was inspired by Eick's time spent playing the American continent; his tour began on the West Coast. When he entered the rural, upper Midwest and encountered its vast open spaces, he began to feel a sense of "home." He later learned that over the past two centuries of immigration, over a million Norwegians had settled there. After conceiving a "road" album that would begin in Hem, the village of his birth, and traverse the ocean to America, Eick enlisted violinist Gjermund Larsen (a folk musician who has contributed to Christian Wallumrød's ECM recordings), pianist Jon Balke, double bassist Mats Eilertsen, and percussionist Helge Norbakken. The compositions are all lyrical, in typical Eick fashion, but with Larsen they take on a rougher, more earthen quality.
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.