One of my favorite recordings of 2016 was the Jakob Bro trio’s Streams, which made me a big fan of this Danish guitarist. It also introduced me to the up-and-coming American bassist Thomas Morgan, who lately is on seemingly everybody’s shortlist of bassmen to play with, and to the multiple delights of drummer Joey Baron.
The trio is back now with a live set recorded over two nights in New York’s Jazz Standard. Bay of Rainbows is all I could have wanted from a followup to Streams and more. It’s a quiet but deeply felt recording, its long passages of subtle and introspective playing revolving around an equally subtle melodicism.
The musicians explore five pieces from Bro’s previous recordings, including two versions of “Mild” that bookend the album. The opener is a fairly straightforward and upbeat presentation of this gentle tune, although about halfway in during some open improv, Bro partakes of some guitar looping and some pointed, almost rock-like picking, as Baron and Morgan play freely with the piece’s rhythmic and melodic elements. It’s something those two do repeatedly throughout the record, which is apt because both are very melodic players of their respective instruments. The closing version of “Mild” is slower, gentler, more improvisational, a deeply meditative experience.
The trio also reprises “Copenhagen,” a favorite piece from Bro’s 2015 ECM album with an earlier version of the trio that incuded bassist Morgan and drummer Jon Christensen. It seems the most structured of any of the songs, with delicate guitar arpeggios and Morgan’s melodic bass line, including a long, expressive solo on the outro that repeatedly plays with the song’s rhythm.
A dark bass intro, Bro’s distorted, swirly and otherwise electronically augmented guitar, and Baron’s skittery brushes on the snare make “Dug” the most experimental of the tracks.
The most expressive to me is “Red Hook,” Bro’s homage to his years living in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, learning from and listening to many of the great players in the city. Bro says the essence of a song always comes from an emotion. If that’s the case, the essence of this one seems to be a quiet joy in exploration.
Bay of Rainbows is a joyfully calming record that rewards close listening. Bro captures beautiful guitar tone and his playing evokes moods on a wide spectrum. This is a very special trio, as their elegant chemistry on the bandstand demonstrates.
“I love albums that sustain a mood,” Bro says, “whether it’s Brian Eno or John Coltrane, and I realize now that it’s a real challenge to do that live, to establish a vibe and keep hold of it, especially as you explore – you don’t want to lose the essence of a song. And that essence always derives from an emotion for me, something that I hope reaches the listener.”
The trio is on tour in the U.S. and Europe, including two nights returning to the Jazz Standard. Details on Bro’s website. Here’s a short teaser of a slide show with an excerpt of “Red Hook.”