This weekend one Scandinavia’s best jazz combos, Atomic, rolls into town for Friday and Saturday shows at Constellation. I wrote about the quintet’s latest album in my concert preview, but its members all play in many other contexts—and recently bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and pianist Håvard Wiik released strong new records of their own.
Håker Flaten, who lived in Chicago for several years in the aughts before settling in Austin, Texas, has dropped the magnificent Den Signede Dag (Heilo) under the name Village Songs. Like many Norwegians, he grew up in a remote little village with its own peculiar culture, and though he’s one of world’s greatest working free-jazz bassists, he’s never forgotten the folk hymns he learned as a child in Oppdal. Even before Village Songs, he’d interpreted them in an improvisatory way in a project with saxophonist Håkon Kornstad, making a pair of intimate, lyrical instrumental albums in 2008 and 2011 (the second of which also features brilliant Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen).
Den Signede Dag takes a more traditional approach: the lovely singing of Gunvor Fagerhaug Gustavsen is front and center, cradled by Andreas Bjørkås’s resonant violin and hardanger fiddle and Håker Flaten’s muscular, warmly melodic bass. The bassist brought in friends from the U.S. to flesh out the arrangements, including septuagenarian saxophonist Joe McPhee, pedal steel guitarist Bob Hoffnar, and a trio of Austin musicians: drummer Daniel Dufour, guitarist Jonathan Horne, and tenor saxophonist Sterling Steffen. (Dufour and Horne also play in the bassist’s aggressive band Young Mothers.)
Much of the album has a meditative feel that’s rooted in the rustic, lyrical traditions of Norwegian folk, but on “Saligheden er os Nær,” that serenity eventually gives way to a firm, ambling groove, with Dufour injecting a tough backbeat. It seems as though Håker Flaten is deliberately pushing himself to hear and play these songs in new ways, which not only speaks to their versatility and power but also to his deep musicality and widening vision. Below you can check out “Den Lyse Dag,” where a slaloming groove opens up with three-way conversation between Bjørkås, Horne, and Steffen.
I’m excited to hear Wiik’s erudite playing with Atomic this weekend, but I hope this trio eventually turns up in Chicago. Below you can hear the opening track, “Calligrams,” which sounds like Paul Bley tackling an Ornette Coleman tune, albeit with more buoyant energy than you might expect from that description.