The music that Danish guitarist Jakob Bro makes with his trio is paradoxical, such that much better music writers than I have difficulty describing it. He’s currently working with two Americans, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Joey Baron, with whom he has now cut two consecutive trio recordings on ECM, 2016’s Streams and this year’s Bay of Rainbows. Although Bro is the composer and leader, the styles and improvisational abilities of all three mesh into the paradoxical organism that is Jakob Bro’s music.
In form Bro’s music crosses boundaries of jazz, folk, avant-garde, and more. It’s meditative but never soporific, thanks especially to the highly active playing of Morgan and Baron. On a typical piece, if there is one, such as the title track from his 2015 release Gefion, Bro plays long sustains of usually clean notes on his pink Telecaster-style, over the much more active explorations of the bassist and drummer. If Bro’s playing is minimalist, Morgan and Baron offer a sort of maximal minimalism, rarely playing any kind of recognizable rhythm, but instead filling up the air in Bro’s melodic probings with suggestions of where the beats could be. All three subtly play off each other, guitar echoing a phrase from the bass, drummer making concrete the bassist’s suggestion of a rhythm.
Bro in his stocking feet tickles an array of pedals, calling forth effects that include tremolo, delays, reverb, distortion, pitch shifter and looping. His electronic effects were quite prominent on “Dug” and especially “Sisimiut.” On the former, Morgan played rapid runs up and down the neck of his bass as Baron kept up a skittery pattern between the crash and snare, playing with long, light, flexible sticks that looked like bamboo cooking chopsticks; all while Bro alternated between recognizable guitar tones and full-on electronica. The latter leaned even more heavily on pure electronics effects that at times called to mind mid-70s ambient Moog, as Baron called forth muted thunder from the toms with mallets and Morgan provided a steady deep drone. Baron shone on “PM Dream,” another title from Streams, playing almost entirely on the sides and rims of his kit, with an occasional thump on the kick and slap at the hat, while Bro slid effortlessly from distorted to clean sounds.
From the new record came the semi-melodic tone poem “Red Hook,” an homage to Bro’s time in that Brooklyn neighborhood early in his career, which unexpectedly dovetailed into the sublime “Mild,” one of the highlights of Bay of Rainbows with its lightly melancholy tune and delightful contrapuntal exchanges between guitar and bass. Another highlight was the stately “Heroines” from Streams, which Bro explained was dedicated to some of his musical idols including Nina Simone and Joni Mitchell.
The beautifully restored Presbyterian Church in downtown Portland that is The Old Church Concert Hall was a perfect spot for this music. It’s a warm, acoustically gorgeous and intimate venue that made this gig feel more like a house concert. The audience was small on this Sunday night, which unfortunately coincided with a show by Bill Frisell’s Circuit Rider trio, but I suspect word of mouth will provide the Jakob Bro trio a bigger turnout next time around.