Finnish five-piece Oddarrang make the kind of music jazz purists generally love to hate, but which may well open doors into new and adventurous forms for intrepid listeners who sometimes feel that jazz is an elite club. Signed to Dave Stapleton’s excellent Edition label, the band may inevitably be marketed to a dedicated jazz audience, but there is certainly a sense of both a band and a label attempting to break out of a niche here.
The group have already been readily compared with the much missed Esbjorn Svensson, and they make similar use of atmospherics, textures and colours. Even so, Svensson stuck to the relatively conventional trio format, and that group’s second album collected interpretations of Thelonious Monk tunes. There’s a sense that Oddarrang are doing something rather different, and this album’s title rather gives the game away. Four of these pieces were composed for films – and the whole album has a strong visual sense, as well as clear intimations of mood, time and place.
With Osmo Ikonen’s versatile cello and Ilmari Pohjola’s lyrical trombone both wistful, melancholy and affecting presences, there’s much here for admirers of the work of Ólafur Arnalds or Sigur Rós. Self Portrait veers from a glacial chamber intimacy into something bombastic – more closely resembling Arcade Fire’s Wake Up than any of the band’s ECM Scandinavian jazz peers. What the group take from these artists (a certain stateliness and mournfulness, rock-tinged arpeggiated and strummed guitar parts, rolling and insistent drumming, the gritty, plectrum-driven bass sound that initiates The Sage) they couple with the articulation, expression and dynamic control of jazz musicians. What distinguishes them from arena-chasing post-rock or indie bands is the strong sense of narrative and adventure within the music, and a close attention to detail, particularly with regard to timbre and sound.
Yet this music studiously and perhaps self-consciously avoids many of the tropes of contemporary jazz. There is improvisation here, but it’s carefully entwined with the compositions and strictly serves the construction of an overall mood or feeling and the common approach is of crafting simple, direct, memorable melodies. There’s a real sense of economy and discipline here. There is little in the way of rhythmic playfulness or experimentation, and the studied complexity of much modern jazz composing is largely rejected.
Much of this expansive music develops gracefully and patiently over lengthy running times. Missing Tapes From A Highway Set draws from the more contemplative side of Godspeed You! Black Emperor or A Silver Mt Zion but also has a distinctive voice of its own, possibly informed by folk traditions. Whilst the piece builds into something bolder, with its snare drum rolls and strafing guitar, it resists the more manipulative aspirations of rock dynamics. It’s accessible for sure, but not exactly conventional.
Throughout, the band certainly achieve a satisfying unity and blend – merging not just a range of influences and approaches, but also creating a symbiosis between acoustic instrumentation, synths and sampled sounds. It is, however, so carefully planned and integrated that it occasionally feels a little bloodless, and certainly resolutely one-paced. It would be great to hear this undoubtedly confident and authoritative band also attempt something with a little more urgency.