Moskus Credit: courtesy of the artist

Last year the young Norwegian drummer Hans Hulbaekmo stepped into some very large shoes when he took over the drum throne of Paal Nilssen-Love in the fantastic Scandinavian quintet Atomic. He hasn’t tried to emulate his predecessor’s uncontainable energy in his new position, but as he’s proven on this year’s Lucidity (Jazzland) and at the group’s superb performance at Constellation in February, he quickly found his way with a less frenzied approach that involves generating a lot of exciting, propulsive clatter alongside deep, fractured grooves. Before joining Atomic Hulbaekmo had been sharpening his sound in the piano trio Moskus, alongside pianist Anja Lauvdal and bassist Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson.

The group reportedly recorded a new album earlier this year—I can’t wait to hear it, because I’ve recently gotten hooked on the trio’s second album Mestertyven (released in May of last year by the great Hubro label). The trio’s 2012 debut Salmesykkel was nice but not especially distinctive; it collides the lyric splendor of fellow Norwegians In the Country (and the most serene moments of the Bad Plus) with a more disruptive rhythmic character that suggests Hulbaekmo had spent lots of time listening to the playing of Jim Black. But on Mestertyven the trio makes a huge leap: they ditch tunes in favor of group improvisation, and Lauvdal trades in a grand piano for an upright, getting a more pinched, percussive sound that fits perfectly with Hulbaekmo’s tactile drumming and the woody pizzicato of Dietrichson.

The album was recorded in Risør Church—which was built in 1647—and the room sound is very much in evidence. Despite choosing to embrace group improv, Moskus still produces tuneful music, with a clear but loose structural ingenuity. As you can hear below on “Tandem Med Sankt Peter” the group occasionally zeroes in on hypnotic grooves, with Lauvdal and Dietrichson establishing an imperturbable motion to allow drummer Hulbakemo to dart around with off-kilter accents and displacements. There’s a balladic feel to a piece like “Jag är ett ägg,” but Hulbaekmo throws off the balance and politeness with a wonderfully lopsided beat, while Dietrichson plays with furious arco flurries that suggest an south Asain sarangi more than a bass. On “Fuglene var i ertejumør” Lauvdal produces damped, percussive notes, giving Moskus a gamelan-like sound.

Today’s playlist:

Joe Zawinul, Zawinul (Mosaic/Atlantic)
Andreas Staier, Robert Schumann: Variationen & Fantasiestücke (Harmonia Mundi)
Microscopic Septet, Manhattan Moonrise (Cuneiform)
José Maceda, Drone and Melody (Tzadik)
Per Nørgård, Symphonies 1 & 8 (Dacapo)