Moskus Credit: John Hughes

Last year I became a big fan of Norwegian piano trio Moskus on the strength of its second album, Mestertyven, released in 2014. When I wrote about the record in August 2015, I noted that the group had just finished making a new album and that I couldn’t wait to hear it. It came out early this year, but I guess I’ve been distracted—I only got around to playing it this week, and now I regret the months I could’ve been listening to it and wasn’t. On Ulv Ulv (Hubro) Moskus carries on the improvisatory approach it adopted for Mestertyven, ditching compositions for pure spontaneity.

On the previous record, Anja Lauvdal moved from a grand piano (the conventional choice) to an upright, whose pinched and percussive sound gave the group a more distinctive aesthetic. On the current release she returns to the grand, with some coloration from harmonium and synthesizer, but collectively Moskus is even more daring than before, releasing its increasingly tenuous grip on its foundations in jazz for an approach that’s deliciously and thrillingly amorphous. This isn’t typical free improv, though, which despite being theoretically nonidiomatic has certainly become an idiom of its own. On “Kullgraver” the group uses perceptible melodic and rhythmic patterns, however terse or loose, instead of dissolving into total freedom. Lauvdal treats her piano to give her notes a slight metallic tang and percussive edge, and bassist Fredrick Luhr Dietrichson seems to have something wedged between the strings of his double bass—every plucked note produces a buzzy snap. Drummer Hans Hulbækmo—who’s filled the big shoes of Paal Nilssen-Love in the quintet Atomic—thwacks out lurching beats that feel simpatico with the primitive atmosphere created by his bandmates.

On each track Moskus latches on to a simple motif or idea and explores it with beguiling generosity and tenderness, creating beauty from abstraction. On two of the album’s ten songs the trio is joined by Nils Økland, a brilliant Norwegian innovator on the Hardanger fiddle, and he fits in beautifully. On “Den Store Skjønnheten,” which you can hear below, his patient, viscous drags meld gorgeously with a magisterially crawling groove, while Lauvdal spreads clusters of notes in resonant daubs. The track is representative of the whole album—exquisite in its touch, devastating in its restraint.

Today’s playlist:

Roger Reynolds, Epigram and Evolution: Complete Piano Works (Mode)
Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Almost Blue (Rhino/Columbia)
Tomasz Stanko, Leosia (ECM)
Pepper-Knepper Quintet, Pepper-Knepper Quintet With Pepper Adams & Jimmy Knepper (Fresh Sound/MetroJazz)
Hèctor Parra, Wortschatten (Kairos)