ECM 2618 6775896 (LP), ECM 2618 B0029060-02 (CD)
Format: LP, CD
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Danish jazz guitarist Jakob Bro has recorded 15 albums as a leader since 2003, and has played as a sideman on nearly as many. He’s appeared on work by formidable players, including Paul Motian and Tomasz Stańko; other jazz greats, among them Lee Konitz, have appeared on sessions he’s led. Nor is Bro intimidated by playing with other guitarists -- Bill Frisell has appeared on three of his discs. Bro’s playing has clearly been influenced by Frisell and by Pat Metheny, two strong voices in jazz guitar, but that hasn’t kept him from developing an immediately recognizable style as both player and composer.
Bay of Rainbows, his fourth release as leader for ECM, was recorded live with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Joey Baron. Morgan has appeared with Bro on all his ECM recordings and on several for other labels, and Baron played with him two years ago on Streams (ECM). Bro’s music has a slightly ambient quality, but as his compositions unfold they reveal emotional and musical depths to which Morgan and Baron are finely attuned.
Bay of Rainbows was recorded in July 2017 at the Jazz Standard, in New York City. It opens with “Mild,” Bro using guitar effects and loops to create deep layers of melodies picked in single notes and chords that remain flexible and airy. Morgan’s bass provides both melodic counterpoint and rhythmic foundation, and Baron’s cymbals and drums emphasize moments that accent Bro’s ideas. The music is vivid on the very good-sounding CD, but on vinyl Morgan’s bass is more solid and a hint more forceful, and the subtleties of Baron’s work come through more clearly.
Baron’s drumbeats in the opening of “Red Hook” have more textural realism and greater bounce on LP than on CD, and Morgan’s double bass has a greater physical presence that more convincingly presents a picture of the instrument’s size. Bro’s guitar notes float a bit more lightly on vinyl, and when he uses effects to sustain notes, they last longer as they fade. Baron’s skillful use of dynamics also comes through, and his floor tom has a little more punch.
Morgan’s bass comes across with more conviction in the opening of “Dug,” and Baron’s brushes on snare sound more realistic and nuanced. The music soon accelerates and grows more aggressive as Bro builds layers of sound. Baron then trades brushes for sticks, and “Dug” becomes busier as Bro adds more elements. On vinyl it’s a bit easier to follow the music as it grows more dense and hectic, and easier to hear how Bro uses effects to create different guitar textures, some of them explosive.
At the end of the album, in a reprise of “Mild,” the three reveal how responsive they are to each other’s playing, and how well their minds work together. There’s more space for the music to develop on vinyl, which reveals some of these musicians’ more subtle communications. Morgan stays close to Bro early in this track, and as it develops he and Baron move around the guitar’s changes, shifting in and out of roles as the rhythmic center of the music shifts, adding color and shading. This reprise runs just over 11 minutes but never meanders or loses focus.
Invoking Frisell and Metheny may do Bro a disservice. Though a current of hope runs through them, Bro’s compositions are darker toned than Metheny’s. And while his use of guitar effects owes something to Frisell, Bro deploys them in ways that are his own. My guess is that these effects help drive his ruminative, harmonically rich compositions. Whatever his method, the results are evocative, and often moving.
The recording conveys the atmosphere of the performing venue, and lets me clearly visualize each instrument and its position onstage. The CD sound is very good, but on vinyl the music has more room to bloom and expand. On either format, Bay of Rainbows is an album worth hearing.
. . . Joseph Taylor