BY MICHAEL TOLAND
While inspired by and taking its building blocks from American jazz, European jazz has evolved into its own animal. Not particularly concerned with the concept of swing, musicians from the old country focus more on melody and/or improvisation. The Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark – seem to have a special affinity for jazz, giving rise to a few decades’ worth of remarkable players and composers. Pianist Håvard Wiik is a good example. As well as holding down the keyboard chair in veteran group Atomic (whose most recent album Six Easy Pieces comes highly recommended), the Norwegian has his own trio. Wiik likes to lead his troops into a realm somewhere between free improvisation and avant-garde composition, with angular melodies and dissonance as practical tools.
As a player, Wiik straddles a similar line, fingering the keyboard with a classical player’s finesse but a Thelonious Monk devotee’s attack – cf. the dazzling display of “Tear Conveyor.” He maintains not only serious skills, but also a sense of humor – his trilling on “Bought & Muzzled” imitates a sugared-up toddler running rings around her parents (AKA the rhythm section), while his work on“Calligrams” practically dares bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen to try and follow. (Vagan gets his own back with the squealing arco bass that introduces the circus frenzy of “Pneumatiques,” while Johansen has his payback with his clattering “solo” on “Mnemonic functions.”)
But Wiik also knows how to work within more structured pieces. “Neidbau” features a melody that’s almost traditional, though just askew enough to be unbalanced. “Ceci n’est pas une valse” (the French translation of the album’s title) is almost classical in the way it reveals its latticework, and the players somehow manage to treat it with respect and irreverence at the same time. That’s Wiik in a nutshell, technically advanced enough to handle difficult pieces, but only if he can let an impish sense of whimsy poke through.
DOWNLOAD: “Ceci n’est pas une valse,” “Bought & Muzzled,” “Neidbau”