Friday, April 14, 2017

Anne Mette Iversen expands quartet to get two horns in the front line for "Round Trip"

Out in the open: Anne Mette Iversen with her quartet.
The most striking thing immediately about "Round Trip" (BJU Records) is that bandleader-bassist Anne Mette Iversen eschews the usual way of combining trombone and tenor sax in a small group. Typically such a presentation is muscular with the two horns acting as a phalanx, warm and assertive.

In "Round Trip" Iversen has Peter Dahlgren on trombone to play lines typically in counterpoint with the sax— freewheeling, sometimes joined at the hip, sometimes not. This provides an unexpected openness to the ensemble, signaled right off the bat by the title tune. Dahlgren is the "+ 1" filling out the ensemble known here as the Anne Mette Iversen Quartet +1, whose other members besides the leader are John Ellis, tenor saxophone; Danny Grissett, piano, and Otis Brown III, drums.

Iversen's originals don't allow the ears to settle into any particular combination among the five musicians. Trombone and drums get "Segue" under way, and after Ellis' and (outstandingly) Grissett's solo, the piece moves into exchanges between piano and tenor sax. Ellis' ease in all registers gets extensive display in the rubato opening of "Wiinstedt's View," a floating ballad featuring Dahlgren's poised, at-home-up-high trombone.

The bassist imparts to her group an open feeling through her writing. In "December Light," the unison line etched by the horns blossoms into a feeling of reaching out as the piece proceeds. There's a sense of throwing off constraints without the need to go "outside" as far as harmony and articulation are concerned. A rare solo by the leader distinguishes "Scala," in which everyone moves together as an ensemble. The Iversen showcase is well-placed: "Scala" is Italian for "ladder," and of the instruments involved here, the double bass most resembles a fretless (or rungless) ladder.

There's sly wit behind the title of "The Ballad That Would Not Be," insofar as the music seems to be reaching toward a ballad that's never fully formed. A long piano solo toys with this burgeoning idea, and would try the patience if the title hadn't already disarmed criticism. "Red Hairpins" closes the disc; it's the longest piece, with heavy percussion display from Brown over a laconic piano riff. The ensemble re-enters with some brisk staccato statements, and before you know it, the Anne Mette Iversen Quartet + 1 has made a graceful exit.