An album of graceful, harmonically rich and rhythmically-alert jazz, Forever Young draws upon both long-established friendships and chance encounters. On his third ECM disc, Norwegian-American guitarist Jacob Young introduces a new quintet, in which he is joined by Trygve Seim and all three members of the Marcin Wasilewski Trio. Young and Seim have known each other since they were, respectively, 17 and 16, and attending the same Norwegian music high school. Already then they were in and out of each other’s bands, sharing some of the same musical influences. Paths diverged when Jacob went to New York and Trygve to Trondheim to study, but when Young made his first recordings for Norwegian labels in the late 1990s, Seim was a valued contributor on albums including Pieces of Time and Glow.
Meanwhile in Poland pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz were building a reputation as one of the outstanding young piano trios on the scene. In the early years of the 21st century they balanced trio work with membership of the Tomasz Stanko Quartet. Wasilewski and Kurkiewicz also made significant contributions to Manu Katché’s group, and it was in Katché’s band that Wasilewski and Trygve Seim first established a musical rapport (refer to Katchè’s 2007 recording, Playground).
During the Oslo Jazz Festival in the summer of 2012 Marcin Wasilewski was staying at Trygve’s place, where some of Jacob Young’s recent music happened to be on the piano. (Seim and Young have an occasional duo, and they had been rehearsing.) Marcin tried playing through a few pieces with Trygve and enjoyed both the structures and the improvisational potential. Seim liked the combination enough to mention it to Manfred Eicher, and Young’s group took shape almost by itself. “It really was Trygve’s and Marcin’s idea,” Jacob says. “And the more I listened to Marcin’s trio recordings, the more it seemed like a really good idea. For me the timing was perfect, too. My old quintet – with Jon [Christensen], Mathias [Eick], Mats [Eilertsen] and Vidar [Johansen] – was on ice. It was a great time to try something new.”
After a few days’ rehearsal in Warsaw and in Oslo the new quintet headed to the Rainbow Studio in August 2013. The tunes played there – all of them from Jacob’s pen – were mostly written with this combination of musicians in mind, although a scattering of pieces had been tested in other contexts. As a guitarist Young impresses with the subtlety of his playing on both electric and acoustic instruments, as a jazz composer by the range of styles and atmospheres broached.
The first two tunes have a distinct Brazilian tinge – not perhaps the most obvious association when Norwegians and Poles congregate. In fact, Young has been an admirer of Brazilian music for many years. “I’m very influenced by it – ever since visiting the country in ’93. Or, earlier, playing Villa Lobos pieces on classical guitar. I just love the Brazilian harmonic approach to composition, which fits so well with the guitar. But obviously I’m integrating Brazilian ideas with other influences here. Manfred Eicher felt strongly that these first two pieces belonged together, at the start of the album.” The arpeggiated intertwining of Young’s and Wasilewski’s lines on “I Lost My Heart To You” establishes a climate for Seim’s saxophone to enter, and a yearning quality which will recur, with changing emphasis, throughout the album.
“Bounce”, which Young describes as “a feel piece”, floats solos above a loping beat. “It’s almost a pop tune, built upon the rhythmic structure. It’s fun to play jazz with a beat sometimes – as I also found out when I played with Manu Katché on his Third Round album [in 2009] and the concerts that followed.” “We Were Dancing”, meanwhile, took shape around the chopped guitar figure from which an ambient feeling and atmosphere is extended. There are also some pop music affinities here: “Not that it’s following anybody’s blueprint, but there are moments where it sounds like something Coldplay could have written.”
“Sofia’s Dance” is a piece transformed in the recording of it. “It had a rhythmic starting point. Something I was playing on the guitar sounded quite Indian, almost like a tabla rhythm. Around this, the structure was shaped and finally a melody line emerged. In Oslo, we went away from the rhythm and kept the other elements. The piece then took on more of a Spanish feeling...”
“Comeback Girl”, a slow piece with ensemble parts, is set up primarily as a vehicle for extended solos from Trygve Seim and Marcin Wasilewski. “1970” , referencing the year of Young’s birth, hearkens back to an earlier jazz era with its thick block chords in the intro and its scalar melody. The tune “Beauty” first materialized at a song-writing workshop where Young was challenged to create melodies on the spot for a set of lyrics. He has since played the piece live with Norwegian singer Ina Hoem, but the piece gets its first all-instrumental recorded interpretation on Forever Young.
Rhythm is the key element in “Time Changes”, the propulsive forward motion of 7/4 in this piece seems to inspire all the players. This is a tune that Young previously recorded in trio with organist Roy Powell and drummer Jarle Vespestad, a configuration which also included “My Brother” in its repertoire. The latter was one of the first of Jacob’s pieces to be played by Trygve Seim and Marcin Wasilewski in 2012, setting the current project in motion.
Young’s previous ECM albums are Evening Falls and Sideways, recorded in 2002 and 2006.