Aadal are an instrumental jazz band from Norway who, according to the PR sheet which accompanied the album, have clear references to Americana. This was a description that didn’t sound particularly appealing to me, and it was the addition of a short description by TPA heavyweight Roger Trenwith, and possibly the accompanying typo, that had me put my hand up for this review. I’m aware I don’t too often deviate from my comfort zone, so I volunteered for a couple of albums I wasn’t really sure about, and this was one of them. So how did I get on?
The opening track, Looking Back, starts simply with a drumbeat, the guitar coming in next, and then the sax. It’s all very gentle – and remains very gentle – although the sax goes a bit over the top (literally and figuratively) towards the end, before pulling back into the natural flow of the piece. And when I say over the top, it’s in a good way. In fact, it was the frenetic sax (as it was described in the explanatory blurb which took my interest) – along with the fact the album is released on Apollon, who I know from the very tasty Suburban Savages – that took my initial vague interest.
On the next track, the guitar is quite a bit grittier, and indeed the piece is suitably called Dusty. If not for the jazzy backbeat, this (like so much of the album) sounds almost darkly cinematic. The mood throughout is held just short of atmospheric because of the drums, which could work against the band, but actually works strangely and incredibly well. I’m not sure whether that’s just because I tend to be naturally drawn to the rhythm section in almost anything I listen to, I could see the drums being so predominant being a problem for some people. They certainly kick up a lot of dust on this track! I have to say that throughout the album, the highlight for me is definitely the drumming of Gunnar Sæter. I love it!
The title track, Silver, follows and is far more calm and quiet. Those drums I love so much are considerably restrained, compared to the two previous pieces. The dust has definitely settled, until the track picks up a gear when André Kassen’s sax kicks in, the rhythm section led by the double bass of Audun Ramo rather than the drums – and it’s the first time the bass really shines. I love a band that chooses to use a double bass over a bass guitar, there’s something much more special about the sound of a double bass, and I wish it were higher in the mix than it tends to be on this album.
The fourth track, Revival, is the first that even vaguely sounds like the Americana that the album supposedly clearly references. The following Telegram is perhaps more overt about it, but I still think it’s not quite there. And I’m actually kind of glad about that, because there’s very little labelled Americana that usually appeals to me. If anything, any Americana references would more correctly be ‘Canadiana’ – if such a thing exists. If Leonard Cohen, Daniel Lanois, and Neil Young did jazz, it might sound a bit like this. Actually, Telegram reminds me a little of Finn Mikko Joensuu when he was channeling Leonard Cohen.
Follow the Sun is a quite gorgeous piece led by Michael Aadal’s guitar, with the saxophone that has often been out in front this time deferring. There’s a starkness to this piece that seems quite Scandinavian, and as is often the case, starkness and beauty go hand and hand. About two thirds of the way through the track, the sax moves to the front, but remains restrained. The restraint shown throughout plays a large part in the appeal of this track to me. There is a tension under the surface, which never quite boils over. This track is a real highlight, and deserves its place as the centrepiece.
It makes for a huge contrast with the following Remembrance, which has a shiny and exuberant sound and is thoroughly upbeat. It has a galloping rhythm to it which definitely gives the piece the most Americana sound of any track on the album, and this is made even more explicit by the tone of the guitar. I actually really like this track, even though it’s not something I’d usually enjoy, but I do think this is because of the way the album is sequenced. I couldn’t handle a whole album that sounded like this!
After Remembrance the band slow things down and give us a moment or five of respite. The Last Walk is another guitar-based piece like Follow the Sun and has a similar atmosphere. And if Michael Aadal’s playing reminds me of anyone, it is Mark Knopfler, and particularly his soundtrack work. The band save the best for last, though (again, like Remembrance, this is definitely not something I’d like to hear a whole album of), with the rollicking and rambunctious The Canyon. And given my aforementioned love of the drums on this album, it probably comes as no surprise that the drum solo towards the end of this piece is one of my favourite moments.
So overall, I can agree fully with the PR that Aadal play instrumental jazz, though I remain unconvinced about the Americana tag. I have to say, that if there is one band that Aadal reminds me of, it is actually a Polish band. That band is Lebowski – and I feel almost sure this must be coincidental because there’s probably not a great chance that Lebowski were in any way an influence. There’s a striking similarity to me, though, between the bands. Both play a beautifully melancholic mellow jazz, most often at a slow pace and in a calm mood. And both bands sequence their albums amazingly, creating a soundtrack (deliberately so, in the case of Lebowski), enriched with dynamic patterns. The music of both bands keeps interest with the use of tension and changing moods. A rich sounding instrumentation and interesting arrangements provide a relaxed and cinematic aural journey. The biggest difference is that Lebowski creates drama by contrasting the guitar parts with sweeping keyboards, while Aadal uses saxophone.
This is a good album that holds my interest throughout and makes me interested to see how the band will follow it up. It’s a convincing debut, if not wholly to my tastes, and I am sure subsequent releases from the band will only be better.
01. Looking Back (4:58)
02. Dusty (6:06)
03. Silver (3:56)
04. Revival (3:49)
05. Telegram (2:44)
06. Follow The Sun (7:20)
07. Remembrance (3:29)
08. The Last Walk (5:13)
09. The Canyon (4:57)
Total Time – 42:10
Michael Aadal – Guitars
André Kassen – Saxophones
Audun Ramo – Bass
Gunnar Sæter – Drums
Record Label: Apollon Records
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 7th February 2020