It is a well known fact that to partake in professional life in the world’s #1 metropolis, one must work extremely hard. But the reward is of course always competing, or joining up, with the best. This is not least true regarding art, and in this case music, more specifically jazz.
In this regard the Norwegian bassist and composer Eivind Opsvik is, presumably, exactly where he wants to be, with a catalogue of projects, records, constellations so comprehensive that it almost defies belief. More than twenty bands and projects are listed on his web-site. But let us focus on the principal ones, and the ones most active in 2007. The year that is drawing to a close has seen four records released by Opsvik and Opsvik-constellations:
“Two miles a day,” released in March by Opsvik’s own Loyal Label, was a project out of the ordinary in many ways. Opsvik and his close musical collaborator Jacob Sacks had been discussing which of the living masters they would most like to play with. Both agreed on drum legend Paul Motian. And forthwith they invited him for an intense one-day session in a New York studio. The Loyal Label web-site writes of the rather extreme undertaking:
In thinking about how to make this recording a special event and a bit different from Paul’s amazing recorded history, they decided to invite string virtuoso Mat Maneri to participate. Two days were reserved at Avatar Studios with engineer Aya Takemura, the ensemble completed these eleven pieces in less than six hours. The following day the album was mixed.
The recording features the compositions of both Sacks and Opsvik, and also includes a spontaneous creation from the entire quartet. The music explores a wide range of moods and feelings and runs the gamut from swinging tunes to free abstraction to folk type tunes, all the while maintaining a playful, creative spirit.
The record received a lot of fine reviews; for its audacity and for the intensity of the music. All about jazz described it as:
“rife with expectancy, taking things into freer territories covering many shapes and contours, all of which are interesting examples of modern composition. Intricately balanced, like performers on a tightrope, each musician pulls and pushes the limits of their instruments and each other.”
The other most important Opsvik release of the year, put out by esteemed Norwegian independent label Rune Grammofon, is the duo Opsvik & Jennings’ second outing “Commuter anthems.” These are breezy, tranquil tunes merging folk, jazz and electronica, with the sound centred around Jennings’ delicate guitars and banjos and Opsvik’s atmospheric double bass.
New York Times’ Playlist wrote:
Here’s a report from the era of the tiny statement in jazz, “Commuter Anthems” (Rune Grammofon), the second album from the duo of Eivind Opsvik and Aaron Jennings. Mr. Opsvik is an excellent young Norwegian jazz bassist who has been playing in New York since 1998, and Mr. Jennings is a more all-over-the-place kind of musician. They make small, shrewd and catchy songs, using Americana signifiers like banjo and lap-steel guitar alongside the gurgle and crunch of laptop electronics. They’re tidy and sweet, calling attention to their design, but they don’t want to be understood too easily.
It’s a trap put it nicely:
"Commuter anthems", the second album from the Norwegian-American duo Opsvik & Jennings, is a bizarre concept album exploring the in-between world one enters when travelling from the realm of their personal lives towards the structured environment of a professional existence; in many ways it's an exploration of being nowhere in particular.
From the ambient and quirky smooth jazz-Americana the leap is pretty big to the third Opsvik release of 2007, which categorizes as a juncture between heavy metal and free jazz. The experimental group Rocket Engine is comprised of friends from the free improv scene in New York and specializes in covering Black Sabbath tunes, at least that is the content of the album “What is this that stands before me?” Yet again we are talking about a one-day recording session, something which both underscores the musical capabilities of those involved, and not least the aforementioned frantic level of activity that independent jazz life in NYC entails: there is simply no time, nor money, for prolonged recording sessions. (And thus the arch of learning and progression is kept on the ascent.)
Finally Opsvik released the debut EP of his band Hari Honzu, also on Loyal, called the Hari Honzu EP. Hari Honzu plays catchy - sometimes airy, sometimes funky - pop-like jazz tunes. They call it crunk/surf. And the plan is to put out EP’s of original material every few months. This seems extremely ambitious considering everything else all these musicians are up to. Not least Opsvik, whose principal band, his own Eivind Opsvik Overseas, we haven’t even mentioned here, since the band didn’t put out a record in 2007. However overseas III is in progress and will most likely be released next year. (The debut came out in 2003 and the follow up in 2005.)
But now, for what remains of 2007, Opsvik will be busy playing around in New York with different constellations, including his regular outfits Opsvik & Jennings and Hari Honzu. He then departs for Europe for a tour with the Scott DuBois quartet, before returning again to New York for a very special Rune Grammofon night at the Cake shop on Dec 13th. The label night features Opsvik & Jennings along with another splendid Rune Grammofon band, Huntsville.
Eivind Opsvik, Bass player, Composer