Jacob Young - guitars
Trygve Seim - tenor & soprano saxophones
Marcin Wasilewski - piano
Sławomir Kurkiewicz - double bass
Michał Miśkiewicz - drums
By John Kelman
While all groups aim for the kind of collective chemistry that can make, for example, five people speak with a single voice, how they get there can vary significantly. In some cases there's instantaneous chemistry; in other cases, it comes from pre-existing relationships amongst various permutations and combinations of its members; in still other instances it is something that simply develops over time. On "Forever Young", guitarist Jacob Young leverages both the relationships that have come before amongst the members of his quintet and a clear and immediate connection shared by its five members. A fine addition to an ECM discography that began with "Evening Falls" (2004) and continued with "Sideways" (2008) - two recordings that featured a completely different lineup - "Forever Young" leverages the strengths of what came before while simultaneously asserting its own independence.
If anything, "Forever Young" provides Young with even greater freedom than on his previous ECM outings, where he was the sole chordal instrument. Here, Young recruits pianist Marcin Wasilewski's trio - a group that, despite being on the shy side of forty, has been together for two decades and has, consequently, evolved both a chemistry and a language all its own, both in collaboration with trumpeter Tomasz Stanko on recordings including "Suspended Night" (ECM, 2004) and "Lontano" (ECM, 2006), as well as with its own triptych of superlative standalone releases (also on ECM), the most recent being "Faithfull" (2011).
With a second chordal instrument in the mix, Young is relieved of the responsibility of constantly supporting his fellow band mates, though it's not as if he's abandoned the role entirely; in fact, one of Forever Young's biggest strengths is how Young and Wasilewski manage to continually complement each other without ever running into one another, a rare quality also shared by guitarist John Abercrombie and pianist Marc Copland on "39 Steps" (ECM, 2013). On the deceptive "Sofia's Dance" - deceptive because, although it's largely based on a simple, two-chord Phrygian vamp with a theme that begins as a similarly straightforward melody, its conclusion adds an unexpected Mid-Eastern-tinged twist - Young's nylon-string guitar meshes empathically with Wasilewski's accompaniment during saxophonist Trygve Seim's characteristically taciturn solo, and gently underscores the pianist's own feature.
But the chemistry doesn't stop there. Seim - an ECM leader in his own right, with a slowly growing discography that includes the masterful large ensemble music of "Sangam" (2005) and more intimate duo date with pianist Andreas Utnem, "Purcor: Songs for Saxophone and Piano" (2010) - has a shared history with Young on the guitarist's pre-ECM recordings "Pieces of Time" (Curling Legs, 1997) and "Glow" (Curling Legs, 2001), as well as with Wasilewski and his trio's bassist, Slawomir Kurkiewicz, as members of drummer Manu Katche's quintet heard on "Playground" (ECM, 2007).
The intervening years since "Sideways" have seen Young demonstrate a much broader, more electrified purview, in particular in his collective trio with expat British keyboardist Roy Powell and Norwegian drummer Jarle Vespestad (Tord Gustavsen Quartet, Farmers Market), first with "Anthem" (PVY, 2011) and, more recently, with the trio renamed as InterStatic and releasing even more extreme music on the upstart British label RareNoiseRecords. But here, on "Forever Young", while the guitarist does mix some electric guitar work with the acoustic instruments that have helped to define his previous two ECM recordings, like "Evening Falls" and "Sideways", it's a warmer, hollow body tone that continues to assert the importance of the late Jim Hall on Young's formative years.
While there are hints of the darkness and melancholy that made his previous ECM outings so appealing, with Wasilewski's trio in tow "Forever Young" also demonstrates a more outgoing nature on tracks like "Bounce", where Young's muted electric guitar chords drive a change-heavy song with a brighter disposition. "We Were Dancing" follows, with Young employing a similar supporting approach before opening up into one of his most impressive solos of the set, a slightly tart-toned electric feature that allows the guitarist's virtuosic abilities freer rein.
If "Forever Young" proves anything, it's that the tendency to whitewash anything coming out of Norway as "Nordic Cool" is just that: whitewashing. Young may adhere to a generally sparer approach with his ECM recordings, but if there's a single word to describe his music it's warm, whether it's his own tone, the refined elegance of Wasilewski's trio or the patiently unfolding energy of Seim's playing throughout the set. It's also a recording whose language speaks clearly to at least some adherence to the American tradition, especially on pieces like the brighter "1970" and "Time Changes."
For those unfamiliar with Young's extracurricular activities, "Forever Young" demonstrates an ability to simmer in a way that his previous ECM recordings did not. It also represents a first outing by a quintet with plenty of potential; hopefully six years won't have to pass before this intimate yet delicately expressionistic quintet can once again reconvene.