in performance: friends & neighbors

Friends & Neighbors. From left: Andrew Roligheten, Oscar Gronberg. Jon Rune Strom, Thomas Johansson and Tollef Ostvang.

Friends & Neighbors. From left: Andrew Roligheten, Oscar Gronberg. Jon Rune Strom, Thomas Johansson and Tollef Ostvang.

On paper, one might expect a pack of jazz improvisers from the Nordic regions to be just the thing to cool down yet another balmy August evening. To be sure, some of the hour-long Outside the Spotlight performance by the Norwegian/Swedish quintet Friends & Neighbors earlier tonight at the University of Kentucky’s John Jacob Niles Gallery offered a semblance of a chill factor. But the band’s charm ultimately couldn’t be climate controlled. For every hushed, contemplative exchange within the front line of tenor saxophonist/bass clarinetist Andre Roligheten and trumpeter Thomas Johansson, there were eruptions within the rhythm section, blasts of free and fractured improvisation and the construction of melodies that would bounce about briefly before being dismantled and reassembled.

Touring behind its just released third album “What’s Wrong?,” Friends & Neighbors proved to be a pack of keenly diverse musical personalities that luxuriated in working off of and against one another. Double bassist Jon Rune Strom, for example, regularly played with pressure cooker-like intensity (save for a brief instance where he colored dialogue between Roligheten and Johansson with sinuous bowed playing) while pianist Oscar Gronberg was giddily animated, be it through rough and rumble free exchanges (during “Mozart,” among other tunes) or sustained rolls within the new album’s title composition that were played only with his left hand and a mischievous grin. Drummer Tollef Ostvang was the utility man, complimenting the restless and often deconstructed melodies with the light accents of a gong one moment and brush-on-snare static the next. The looser improv sections let Ostvang intensify his drive.

The show opening “Fool Pay” introduced many of these colors and strategies with a spry, Zappa like horn melody that would state itself, dissolve into dissonance and then re-emerge with all kinds of fragmented rumbles and beats working around it. But it was “Melting Snow,” as its title suggested, that presented the greatest sense of cool. Even then, though, Roligheten couldn’t help but disturb the solace with assorted pops and squeals on bass clarinet. Such touches enforced the fact that even during its most wintry moments, Friends & Neighbors was still prone to starting a fire or two.



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