Harald Lassen: Balans

The Norwegian saxophonist mixes the pensive and rubato with more driving, rhythmic pieces broadly in the fusion style

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Each successive album by free-spirited Norwegian saxophonist, pianist and composer Harald Lassen is both a continuation and a departure from the last. Connected by his boundless inquisitiveness and playful sense of inhibition, Lassen merges influences from the worlds of jazz, pop, folk and world musics and leads the listener to places that few would ever think to go.

Just like 2020’s Human Samling, this latest set features the mercurial sounds of guitarist Nordahl, and significantly Stian Andersen switches to electric bass. The arrival of Solveig Wang plugs the music into Oslo’s burgeoning electronic improv scene, while Lassen’s continuing partnership with studio technician Marcus Forsgren further unlocks the group’s potential.

The set opens in serene style with the plain-chant of Liturgi before a jarring organ-blast rudely interrupts the calm; it’s clear Lassen is intent on having fun. Good Luck, W showcases Lassen’s gospel-infused and Jarrett-like piano stylings, while the groovy flute and faux calypso rhythms of Dada Dadida hint at the lounge exotica of Stereolab. There’s nothing easy listening about Nordahl’s stinging guitar solo however, and Lassen’s heartfelt tenor is a reminder of what a hugely talented player he is.

Elsewhere Bram De Looze (LABtrio) makes a thoughtful cameo appearance on Jen Elsker Deg, When He Sleeps fuses high melodic drama with Lassen’s impassioned post-Trane cries, and Forsgren’s subtle multi-tracking creates a sense of gravity on Sentiment Constant.

Impromptu Wonder is the album’s longest and most arresting piece, Andersen’s lithe bass-lines bringing a lo-fi indie-rock feeling to the laconic opening. The piece then breaks down into a cool electro-acoustic stasis, and following Lassen’s forceful tenor interlude a deeply meditative piano solo fades out in a squall of electrical interference.

Packed with surprises, Balans feels like Lassen’s strongest and most idiosyncratic work to date.

Discography:
Liturgi / Leave Me Be; Good Luck, W; Dada Dadida; Jen Elsker Deg; When He Sleeps; Sentiment Constant; Impromptu Wonder (38.21)
Lassen (ts, f, p, kyb, pc) with Solveig Wang (kyb, cl); Sander Eriksen Nordahl (g, elg); Stian Andersen (elb); Tore Flatjord (d); Bram De Looze (p) on 4. Oslo, June 2022.
Jazzland Recordings 3779527