What do you get when you marry an indie-folk-jazz sextet with a classical string quartet? Something incredibly beautiful, that’s what! I have to admit to not being familiar at all with the Taïga String Quartet, but I’ve always found I Think You’re Awesome to be quite charming. However, as much as I’ve liked their music previously, this is better than anything else I’ve heard from the band. I find myself returning to this album often, and have found it a source of solace, in much the way Charlie Cawood’s Blurring Into Motion was for me last year. No matter how I might feel before putting Suite to be You and Me on, its gentle and calming tones and textures soothe and caress. This is an album made with affection and joy, and it is palpable and contagious.
Speaking of contagion, in these days of lockdown to attempt to slow the pandemic sweeping the world, it is appropriate that the first part of the Suite is entitled The Distance. It has a tentative beginning which is immediately engaging and endearing, as the Taïga String Quartet introduce us to the piece. It’s not until almost the second minute before I Think You’re Awesome add their sounds to the mix. I’m a sucker for drums, and I love the subtle skittery and stuttering beat of Andreas Skamby. And we have our first taste of Morten Kærup’s banjo. (How often do you hear a banjo played in a jazz band? Not often, that’s how often.) Oh, and those keys! Gorgeous! Honestly, I could listen to just this first part of the seven-part Suite, and be more than content. Despite being seven and a half minutes long, this track still ends too abruptly for me, and I long for it to continue.
The second part, The Mill, starts out gently also, led in by Jens Mikkel on bass, followed by Kærup’s banjo once more, and when the ethereal backing of the Taïga String Quartet comes in, the effect is astounding. They really do add so much depth and emotion to the playing of I Think You’re Awesome. While I Think You’re Awesome play through The Mill without any great change, the Taïga String Quarter come in quietly and with great subtlety, before crescendoing into a glorious climax. I Think You’re Awesome fall away, and the last minute and a half is left for the Taïga String Quartet to play out alone.
The third part of the Suite, The Dance, brings the first surprise of the album with a very funky groove. When the Taïga String Quartet joins in it’s quite amazing. Chamber jazz should be a thing! I don’t think I could ever have imagined how well two such disparate genres could fit together and sound such natural partners. I used to attend chamber music concerts and jazz gigs when I was much younger, as one of my friends played in both – but they were always very separate worlds. The final couple of minutes of this piece are sublime.
The Crash follows, starting with some very nifty work from the rhythm section, sounding almost dub. I really love the first couple of minutes, which are almost ambient, but when the Taïga String Quartet join in, the piece really takes off. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much hyperbole to say it explodes. The strings add a sense of tension and drama, before falling away, leaving that very cool ambient dub vibe. Although the strings return, they are very much subdued, until they pick up again for the last minute or so. The dynamics in this piece are superb, and the final moments are genuinely exciting.
The mood shifts once more for the fifth part, The City, which is effortlessly suave. I Think You’re Awesome show that they can effortlessly move from style to style, and this is surely largely due to the talent of bandleader and composer Jens Mikkel, who throughout the recordings of I Think You Are Awesome has shown how he can playfully marry African rhythms to Nordic folk tunes, and European improvisation with American songwriting tradition. Halfway through The City what sounds like a marimba (but is presumably the electronic percussion credited on the Bandcamp page) changes the mood once more.
The penultimate piece, The Good Fight is reflective and contemplative. Of course, halfway through, things changes tack. That’s to be expected by now, and yet it still surprises. It’s a syncopated dissonant delight, glorying in its own entropy, before ceasing to be, leaving only one final part – The Wedding, of course, for the Suite to be You and Me is not just a marriage of I Think You’re Awesome and the Taïga String Quartet, but a celebration of the marriage of Jens Mikkel, from the former, and Maria Edlund, from the latter. As such, it comes as no surprise that this is a quite beautiful track, remaining harmonious throughout. The crescendo towards the end elevates the feeling and passion, and the Suite ends triumphantly.
And yet, this is not the end, but the beginning. For Suite to be You and Me is the first of three collaborations I Think You’re Awesome plan to release this year. Or, at least, planned. I am unsure how much the spread of coronavirus may have put a spanner in the works. But if this ends up the only release from the band this year, it will be more than enough. It’s not often I would describe an album as perfect, but I think this might be deserving. The Suite blends the special sounds of the two groups who play on it, playing on each other’s strengths to bring about something which is greater than the sum of the parts, in a joyful, uplifting, life-affirming, melting pot. In these days of doom and gloom, this album may be just what you need.
01. Pt 1, The Distance (7:37)
02. Pt 2, The Mill (6:23)
03. Pt 3, The Dance (6:51)
04. Pt 4, The Crash (6:29)
05. Pt 5, The City (5:51)
06. Pt 6, The Good Fight (7:16)
07. Pt 7, The Wedding (6:25)
Total Time – 46:52
I Think You’re Awesome:
Jens Mikkel – Bass
Morten Kærup – Banjo, Guitar
Alex Jønsson – Guitar
Lars Fiil – Wurlitzer, Synths
Frej Lesner – Electronic Percussion
Andreas Skamby – Drums
Taïga String Quartet:
Louise Gorm – Violin
Jessica Ling – Violin
Madlen Breckbill – Viola
Maria Isabel Edlund – Cello
Record Label: Jaeger Community
Countries of Origin: Denmark / Germany
Date of Release: 6th March 2020