Jakob Bro’s Streams

cover artStreams by Danish guitarist Jakob Bro’s trio, is a beautifully flowing project featuring the young American bassist Thomas Morgan and the veteran drummer Joey Baron on the skins, replacing Jon Christensen, who played on Bro’s previous trio outing Gefion. Even though Baron is new to the group, he has obviously locked in quickly and his wide-ranging style is a perfect complement to Bro’s melodicism and the intuitive interplay between Bro and Morgan.

In fact at times Baron seems like the trio’s secret weapon. His delicate and intricate brush work on the opening track “Opal” is nothing short of mesmerizing. It’s a cyclical piece built around Bro’s pensive guitar melody. At times the players seem locked in a three-part mind meld, as bassist and drummer improvise around that melody. Elsewhere, Baron uses his whole kit in a playful counterpoint to the melodic line laid out by Morgan’s bass on “PM Dream,” a group improvisation dedicated to the late drummer Paul Motian. Open improvisation isn’t my favorite mode of musical expression, especially on recordings, but “PM Dream” is a special, bracing musical exploration that came out of Baron’s suggestion.

Says guitarist Bro, “At one point we were discussing whether to go into the control room and listen to some takes and Joey said, ‘It feels so good to play right now, let’s keep going and see what we get.’ It really felt like a dream space to be in, and ‘PM Dream’ came out of that.”

For sheer melodic beauty, look no further than “Shell Pink.” Bro plays this gentle tune that unexpectedly grows out of a funky groove in six that the rhythm section lays down by way of intro. After things get going, Morgan plays an arresting bass line with unexpected stutters and rests, his ideas picked up and echoed back almost immediately by Baron.

Also of note is the pretty waltz “Heroines,” appearing here in two versions, one by the trio and the other solo. The tune is reminiscent of Scandinavian wedding dance music when Bro introduces it, and especially on the richly recorded solo version. When Morgan takes the lead on the improvised section, though, Bro plays glistening arpeggios that suggest a harmonium’s drone and Baron interposes a latticework of cymbal notes punctuated by unexpected but somehow apt martial rolls. You can listen to the trio version of “Heroines” on the ECM website here.

Three instruments improvising around flowing melodies add up to an apparently endless series of gentle surprises. Streams is a record to return to again and again to appreciate its lovely sounds and inspiring ensemble creativity.

(ECM, 2016)

About Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.