When Norwegian saxophonist Anders Lønne Grønseth (b.1979) named this group he certainly knew what he was doing. Followers of his Mini-Macro Ensemble will already know of his interest in bi-tonal scale systems, but Multiverse is the place where musical theory collides with an array of diverse but ultimately related musics.
Outer View is the group’s third album, and this time each member of the group contributes a composition apiece to offer some fresh perspectives on Grønseth’s bi-tonalism. With the line-up of a classic jazz quintet, Multiverse’s sound world is not at all forbidding. Superficially resembling the post-classical cool of compatriot Jon Balke, Grønseth’s complex multi-layered music also embraces the freedoms of post-bop and the modes of Indian raga and Middle Eastern maqam traditions.
Ellingsen sits out the short intro, where Berg’s increasingly insistent piano immediately sets up a mildly disorienting sense of jeopardy. The elegant and decidedly linear Bilyrical emerges from the fog, Powell and Berg both taking strong solos. The ever revolving vistas of Scheving’s Desafinito are interconnected by a mesmerising piano motif, and Grønseth’s straight alto saxophone is particularly compelling. It’s a rarely heard instrument, and I sensed a certain kinship to the straight horn of Steve Lacy in his phrasing.
Ellingsen’s Escalon finds the horns interlocking around Berg’s circular riff, the contrast between its near static groove and the fleet lines of the soloists engendering a sense of both fun and intrigue. There’s a strange duality to Grønseth’s Bifokal too, part ruminative ballad and part M-Base groover. The improvised passages of Powell’s Bipolar Penguin Express carry the strongest echoes of orthodox jazz, and the English-born trumpeter also contributes the enigmatic Bikoral, the short post-serialist coda that brings this hugely enjoyable set to a close.
Intro; Bilyrical; Desafinito; Escalon; Bifokal; Bipolar Penguin Express; Bikoral (48.00)
Grønseth (ts, as) with Hayden Powell (t); Espen Berg (p); Audun Ellingsen (b); Einar Scheving (d, pc). Oslo, 22 to 25 October 2020.
NXN Recordings NXN2009