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VEIN feat. Norrbotten Big Band

Symphonic Bop

  • Type CD
  • Label Double Moon Records
  • UPC 0608917135527
  • Catalog number DMCHR 71355
  • Release date 08 February 2019
Physical (CD)

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About the album

VEIN Trio already has a reputation as “one of Europe’s most exciting ensembles”, according to John Fordham, of The Guardian. With Symphonic Bop, recorded with the acclaimed Norrbotten Big Band Orchestra under artistic director Joakim Milder earlier this year, and the ensemble’s thirteenth album, VEIN expands its range beyond the crystalline precision and intimacy of the small ensemble to the awesome power and depth of an internationally acclaimed jazz orchestra. It’s like seeing your favourite movie on a bigger screen.
What makes this work stand out among works for jazz orchestra is that, though it uses the power of a jazz orchestra to the full, VEIN’s small-group heritage and identity ensure that the delicacy and texture of Individual instrumental colours and lines are never obscured by the full weight of the orchestra. VEIN’s pianist, Michael Arbenz, who arranged and orchestrated all six tracks, explains: “The big band is an extension or an orchestration of the trio, which adds all the colours of a Big Band without losing the flexibility and the interaction of the trio.” The atmosphere of the classical orchestra can also be heard through the arrangements: “The inspiration for the arrangements comes more from the symphonic tradition than the big band,” says Michael Arbenz. The result is an album with the rhythmical subtlety, the melodic invention, and the sensational ensemble playing of VEIN’s trio albums, but with the heft and depth of an orchestra. Truly the best of both worlds.   
The three permanent members of VEIN Trio all contributed new pieces on the album, and the outstanding feature of Symphonic Bop is its diversity of style and mood. Florian Arbenz’s composition, “Boarding the Beat”, a fifteen-minute suite, explores the colours of the jazz orchestra in exquisite depth and detail. A delicate introduction, showcasing the orchestra’s subtler textures, yields to passages of luminous brass harmonies, underscored by Robert Noldmark’s sinuous tenor saxophone melodies, and the indignant soprano of Håkan Broström, while Mats Garberg’s trilling flute insinuates its way irresistibly through the instrumental lines. The orchestral colours are almost Mahlerian, but this is balanced by a jazz ensemble’s rhythmic tension, and the throb of the beat that the piece announces.   
Bassist Thomas Lähns’ composition Willi’s Pool turns the serious mood into on its head with a mind-warping fantasy of outrageous glissandi and distorted resonance. Lähns’ own bass, plucked and bowed, combines with the virtuosic trombones of Andrea Andreoli and Arvid Ingberg to conjure a surreal and highly inventive piece that challenges the limits of the acoustic sound-world, yet does so with humour and poise.

Fast Lane, by Florian Arbenz, is a trio piece, opening with piano and drums engaged in a fast pursuit of each other, followed swiftly by the bass, in a stream of lightning interactions so assured the individual instruments blur into a haze of chords. It’s the jazz trio tradition, but accelerated to warp speed, harmonic lines blurred in an exhilarating haze. 

Michael Arbenz’ tune Under Construction is a masterclass in how the rapid-fire trio dynamic can set a whole orchestra alight. Rapid chord changes, syncopation and slick orchestration build a dynamic platform for shredding solos from first bass, then piano. Finally, Arvid Ingberg monsters a trombone solo that builds and builds, a move that concludes with an erie, plaintive statement on soprano sax.  
Michael Arbenz then changes the dynamic completely with Passacaglia, an atmospheric chamber piece in which gossamer piano chords are joined by first delicate bass, then saxophone and wind, becoming an instrumental chorus of transcendent, contemplative tranquility.
The last tune, Florian Arbenz’s Groove Conductor, ironically shows how much you can fit into a ten-minute big band piece. Touches of funk in the driving brass melodies, and a bassline, with Petter Olofsson’s through-the-floor electric bass solo, that would honour a drum n’ bass club night. Flirting with the harmonies throughout is the atmospherically grimy tone of Danne Johansson’s  trumpet solo, complementing the dark yet sophisticated mood.

This is a deceptively simple title for an album that, in six compositions, covers avant-garde jazz to contemporary chamber music, and the ground in between, offering an important statement of jazz and its centrality in contemporary musical culture.

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