Ola Kvernberg, violin impresario par excellence, returns to Jazzland with yet another astounding album: Liarbird.
The album effortlessly moves between moments of serene beauty and raucous full-on jams, at times almost ambient in texture, at times sounding like a drunken night of revelry.
The division between composition and improvisation is often blurred, with moments of unison emerging and disappearing unexpectedly, all the time carrying the music forward to new heights.
Developed from an original live concept by Kvernberg, Liarbird follows a structure based on movements, creating a conceptual whole rather than a selection of individual pieces. The intensity of the album increases with each subsequent track, but intensity is not merely a term used here to describe increases in boisterous energy; rather, it describes the feeling within each track.
Kvernbergs violin is obviously to the fore, but never exclusively dominant. Instead, it acts like a guide for the music to follow, leading it through the uncharted territories between free jazz and compositional expertise, with sparse moments of haunting beauty and large walls of full band sound. Minimalist compositional techniques are given a new setting, allowing an unparalleled line-up of musicians to move freely. Accompanying Kvernberg are Bergmund Waal Skaslien on viola and vocals, Eirik Hegdal on soprano, sopranino and baritone saxophones and vocals, Mathias Eick on trumpet, Håkon Kornstad on tenor saxophone, flutonette, and vocals, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on double bass, electric bass, electronics, and vocals, Ole Morten Vågan on double bass and vocals, Erik Nylander and Torstein Lofthus on drums and percussion.
The opening track, the eponymous Liarbird sets the albums agenda perfectly, with languid notes and elongated harmonies alongside chattering percussion and exquisite soloing. Boog creates a kind of Macedonian atmosphere, using exotic scales and obtuse instrumentation, building into a kind of free jazz horo. BounAmina begins with a clearly improvisational character, although not necessarily existing outside composition, using extended string instrument techniques. It evolves into a kind of shambolic military march, with elements of classic New Orleans jazz ingredients. Wintermelon comes in with an utterly different attitude, like classic cool jazz on one hand, bebop on the other, while the feet are almost ready to make their way to the nearest disco; yet the free jazz ethos in never far away. Vilje begins with sedate bass, moving towards a chamber ensemble sound. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful pieces of music to grace the Jazzland catalog, and is certainly a highpoint in Kvernbergs already exemplary career. Olero enters with a near discordant pulse, before breaking into a stumbling journey through Middle Eastern vibes and classical overtones. Cobb strides in with bravado, a strong beat, strong melodies and harmonies at the fore, and fast becomes a full-throttle improvisational workout. But it retains a DNA structure found throughout the album. Spannung brings the album to a close, with broad yet deep structures, and a more distilled sense of the albums overarching structural intentions. Little motifs abound throughout the album, with each track echoing the others in some way. The unity of each part with the others is unmistakeable.
"Ola Kvernberg has composed a musical masterpiece" said Norwegian concert critic Pia F. Eriksen after Liarbird's performance at Molde Jazzfestival 2010. Allaboutjazz.com critic John Kelman called the same concert "positively nuclear" and listed it among his best live shows of 2010. Norwegian critic Terje Mosnes from Dagbladet followed up with a 6/6 stars review after the group's third performance in Oslo, January 2011.
Liarbird follows its live ancestry with equal determination, invention and craftsmanship.