When everything visual about the Oslo Odyssey release first informs you that it's an ECM gig, even though it isn't, pay attention. You're being given the right signals. Pianist Chris Dundas is, as I am, as many are, a HUGE fan of ECM, the most elegant music label in the aesthetic annals of Earth. The imprint may have run afoul of idiots like Tina Pelikan and the Universal distribution system in later days, but that doesn't subtract from the cogency of Manfred Eicher and his exceptional German company per se. The influence of that original historic effort continues to resound throughout jazz and progressive musics without cease and in many fashions. Then, of course, the presence of one of ECM's many legendary mainstays in Oslo, bassist Arild Andersen, pretty much puts a variant of the Edition of Contemporary Music's much valued Stamp Of Good Mindkeeping Approval on Dundas' sophomore effort…14 years in the making (!!!).
Did I mention the incomparable Erik Kongshaug, ECM's sound ace, engineered Oslo? Yeah, he did, and thus, after all that, I probably needn't write another syllable as you rush out to lay eager hands on the release…but will anyway 'cause this marvelous twofer certainly deserves it. Dundas is a careful kinda guy, does not rush into things, but, as you'll hear in just the first few minutes of CD 1, that he waited a decade and a half to follow his well-received eponymous 2000 disc is along the lines of a crime against humanity (I'm checking with the Hague and poring over the Geneva Conventions right now, to see if delaying the world in a chance to uplevel its intelligence is actionable, and so far: nothing; what's wrong with those guys?). If you doubt, merely glom his take on Denny Zeitlen's Quiet Now, a stellar example of West Coast Cool meeting chamber jazz.
Except for that track, the entire first CD is written by Dundas. He also produced the release, which probably accounts for the time span taken: this sorta thing ain't cheap. Besides everything else, he had to travel to Norway to recruit the consummate talent heard. The second disc is pure improv, and, oh God, what a quartet of free jams! Night and day to the primary outing yet so similar in degrees of excellence. Perception, finesse, and discretion are everything. That's VERY evident here. What kicked the whole journey off, though, was Dundas' burning need to procure Anderson as a cornerstone. Pilgrimage, on CD 2, shows why in spades. Then there's sax player Bendik Hofseth, who displays a goodly degree of my personal sax god, Jan Garbarek, though less monastic, more…hm, damned if I can think of the word, but whatever it is, he's it.
Drummer Patrice Heral is mindful of another of my deities: Jon Christensen, both being drummers who remain firmly at ground level but, by virtue of well-constructed ambiences, can echo a lot that's not actually there…or maybe it is and I'm just too stunned by the conversational methodologies of their approaches to fully grasp it all. Hardly matters, as cats like this break the zombie deadlock that rock suffers from (save in the persons of Neil Peart, Keith Moon, Mike Portnoy, Dave Kerman, Morris Pert, and precious few others), keeping the instrument fresh and vital rather than purely metronomic, making sure the kit is a playable instrument not just the ground upon which one's fellows walk.
Dundas, however, is surprisingly modest, self-effacing, sometimes disappears entirely (don't be too fooled, though: he's doing Cage-ian things in the jams, along with everything else), thus giving away tons of sonic real estate to his fellows, who waste no time capitalizing on the gesture, as well they should. Chris is definitely not like my third guru, Keith Jarrett, but is actually fairly mysterious. Possessing elements of Beirach, Evans, Winston, more than a few times Satie-esque, he takes the path of pensivity, of the observer, the guy whose interjections shift the course of events as they're wending their way. When he wakes fully up in the very last cut, though, it's like walking through a delicate wonderland marrying Nature with cathedraline architecture, snowflakes closely examined, later with a light swing put to matters.
Dan McClenaghan over at AllAboutJazz encountered the same problem I did in trying to hunt up data on Dundas and his BLM label, failing at the gambit. I contacted top-notch L.A. PR guy Mike Bloom, and he elicited a response from Dundas himself, who speaks to the graphics of the release but therein quietly reveals that BLM is him and he is BLM. I reprint it for the edification of the FAME reader (slightly edited):
"I took all the pictures myself (other than the one of me at the piano), not with the thought that they would for sure be used in the artwork but just because I was having fun with photographing Oslo the city, and the studio and musicians. I have many more left over that I might use for the next project. I walked for several hours a day for a week there, because I was always lost. My phone wasn't set up to receive Wifi so I couldn't easily GPS my way around. But that worked to my advantage in that I got many more pictures than I would have had I known where I was going and then gone straight there. The front and back covers are a picture I took, Photoshopped to my vision. The intention is very clear to me, but I think I'd like to leave it as an expressionist painter leaves his work: up to the interpretation of the viewer. I'm influenced by many things—different musical styles, environmental concerns, social issues, astronomy, and more, but the largest single influence on my music is ECM. Their music and artwork are a huge part of my musical identity. And so it's only natural that my music and artwork would fit side by side with theirs. My website lists in excruciating detail my influences: http://www.chrisdundas.com/influences.cfm" [and let me say, after reading it myself, that he'd go nuts were he to run through my 30,000+ piece music collection—I stopped counting a couple years ago at 30K - 'cause our tastes match up surprisingly well]
And thus we see that what I'm sure Pelikan and the rest of the troglodytes at Universal will grit their teeth over (an irately imputed theft of identity, branding, and corporate etceteras) is actually deep homage, thanks giving, and the exercise of a welter of artistic talents in Dundas himself: musician, composer, photographer, designer, and so on. As the labels have seen in desperate chagrin, this is the way of the future, it's no longer megalomaniacal corporate, things are reverting back to the creatives, the management class is being seen for what it is, and thus you, me, art, and everything is far the better for it in all possible ways. The apocalypse has already come and gone, this is what's rising in its wake.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles