Six years ago, three high-profile improvisers met for a live concert in Sweden. As they stepped onto the stage, they had only very faint ideas of what would happen next. Surprisingly, it took six years to release that night’s recorded music. But here it is. And it leads listeners down unlikely pathways packed with unexpected developments.
American saxophonist Oliver Lake was 75 years old when the album was recorded. His compositions formed the starting point for an evening of exploration. Lake was joined by Swedish pianist Mathias Landæus and Danish drummer Kresten Osgood. The release includes three tracks of (more or less) six minutes each, plus one 18-minute marathon.
That supersized song is the opener. It begins with handclaps and a repeated call: “Spirits, won’t you come on in the room?” Dark piano chords rumble and the saxophone shrieks above ticking percussion. There’s nervousness in the early exchanges. Plucked patterns on the kalimba settle things down. We hear passages of swing and pretty piano, with a stop-start feeling throughout. It’s a track that loses momentum from a breakneck start, but its ever-shifting hues hold the listener.
Ideas from the blues tradition pop up regularly, perhaps as a guiding light to help navigate the impromptu adventure. Aztec is the album’s most subdued moment. It has the wait-and-see atmosphere of musicians who are carefully watching the weather. The final track, Bonu, offers funky sections before a lingering goodbye embrace.
Spirit provides compelling evidence that these creative players deserve their international esteem. Lake, Landæus and Osgood investigate the music with sensitivity and imagination. It’s an unpredictable release with captivating shifts of colour. The recording has lost none of its freshness after six years trapped in a can.
Spirit; Is It Alright; Aztec; Bonu (37.53)
Oliver Lake (as, v); Mathias Landaeus (p); Kresten Osgood (d, kal, rec). Lund, Sweden, October 2017.