Jakob Bro Returnings (ECM)

The gentle thrill of a single note richly rendered has been key to Jakob Bro’s work for years now. The Danish guitarist appreciates clarity and its accompanying candor, and in keeping his music on the dreamy side, he clears a path toward the kind of interplay that sniffs around for the hidden advantages of consonance. This can be a risky business. His last two trio discs traded engagement and expression for prettiness and precision; the resultant fantasias, often bittersweet and occasionally forlorn, scanned as benign. This new quartet date improves on that. The 40-year-old leader fancies textures as well, and with the addition of Palle Mikkelborg’s trumpet and flugelhorn to his band, there’s a welcome new tension in play.

The veteran brass player boosts the emotional resonance of Bro’s pieces, providing crisp surges of energy to the music’s bedrock delicacy. Bro’s ballads have a folkish esprit – a trait that often causes his name to be mentioned alongside that of Bill Frisell, with whom he’s collaborated – and its ghostly essence has a tendency to dissipate quickly. Whether his instrument is muted or not, Mikkelborg’s piercing lyricism on “Lyskaster,” “Oktober” and “Youth” in particular, brings sustenance to the table. Flexing abstractions along the way, the music doesn’t abandon the dreamlike quality of Bro’s previous outings, but its foreground is a bit more fetching.

The rhythm section’s agility paves the way for all these graceful maneuvers. Drummer Jon Christensen and bassist Thomas Morgan stress pliability and detail, even when they’re at their stormiest on “Returnings.” Uniting to render Bro’s vision of ethereal elaboration, this particular foursome puts a little more clout in the mix.




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