This is beautiful music.
Stunt Records STUCD22102 (CD) STULP22101 (LP)
Jan Harbeck (trumpet); Henik Gunde (paino); Eske Nørrelykke (double bass); Anders Holm (drums); Eliel Lazo (congas)
On listening to the Jan Harbeck Quartet’s latest album, ‘Balanced’, the listener will find themselves blissfully transported into the past. However, this is neither a tribute nor a nostalgia album.
The graceful music herein is an organic concentration of Harbeck’s influences into new, original songs. Balance’s music is a continuation of the traditions passed on from earlier professors of tenor saxophone and sophisticated jazz.
This should not be a surprise given the number of standards recorded across the Quartet’s previous albums. There is an honest classicism to this album; it is also simultaneously mellow and swinging.
The opening titular song sets the mood with a relaxed, graceful tone, propelled by Jan Harbeck’s saxophone played with reserve. ‘One Fine Day’ is wistful like a romantic walk along a rainswept street, with saxophone and piano complementing each other throughout. ‘Silver String Valley’ offers a gentle refrain that calls the listener back over and over.
Two upbeat songs add extra color to the album. ‘The Enchanter’ just swings, and the addition of Eliel Laze’s congas add an extra dynamic element that keeps the song bouncing. Pianist Henik Gunde’s solo matches Harbeck’s in its graceful playfulness. Lazo’s congas add that same extra color to five songs in total.
‘The Drive’ swings and sings without losing its calm and reserve or if you will, it’s sense of balance and Gunde’s piano just shines on this track.
The drums at the start of ‘Tranquility’ almost sound as if the song will move into Afro-Cuban or perhaps Exotica territory, but this is not the case.
The drummer’s rhythms of helps the trumpet and piano carry the melody forward, especially it becomes more subdued but not less effective over the course of the song. It’s another example of the musical history lessons this quartet has absorbed to create this contemporary music.
The songs on this album are all a piece and function as continuations of each other. All of them subtle and full of graceful moments that simply sing Jazz notes and Jazz songs. Balance was recorded at a church and the album evinces an intimacy that reflects that quiet intimacy.
Each song on ‘Balanced’ is like a snapshot window into a calmer or perhaps more balanced past – hence the title – filled with memories and accompanying emotions, but not an exercise in sentimentality.
The emotionality comes from the timbre of Harbeck’s horn and his dedication to its singing middle register along with the expressive subtlety of the entire quartet. This is beautiful music.
Reviewed by Ben Miller