Øyvind Skarbø :: Skarbø Skulekorps

Have you heard of Øyvind Skarbø? Unless you’re deep into experimental music and the free jazz scene, you likely haven’t. But it’s time to become acquainted, as he’s released one of the year’s most interesting and engaging jazz records of the year: Skarbø Skulekorps.

But let’s back up a minute. Skarbø was the bandleader and drummer for 1982, the experimental jazz trio that gigged around for over a decade and released a handful of records on Hubro, an independent Norwegian label. They made a reputation for themselves based on an unusual instrumentation—violin, harmonium, drums—and their lengthy, improvised performances. But when the trio split, Skarbø re-evaluated where he was and what he was doing. His new seven-piece group’s the result.

Their self-titled debut opens with a burst of noise, like a computer booting up, a horn riff, and Johan Lindstom’s hazy pedal steel. “1-555-3327,” is sort of about Nikola Tesla—its lyrics center on electricity and mortality—and the song’s stuttering horn hook immediately draws listeners in. By the time Lindstrom stretches out for a solo, the record’s hooks are in.

Throughout the record, the band lurches between styles and sounds. “Turnamat” is driving, funky number. As Anja Lauvdal’s organ pops in and out of the mix, the horn section—Stian Omenas on trumpet, Erik Hegdal and Signe Emmeluth on reeds—put down some great riffs. Meanwhile on “Pilabue,” the group opens in drone mode, stretching out the notes and giving Hegdal room to solo, before kicking into a laid back, R&B groove about a minute in. 

It’s a heady stylistic blend. The group is delves into soul-jazz on “Four Foxes,” where they work up a groove that would make Thundercat jealous; blues informs “Farrier and the Hoof.” All throughout their debut, the group remains stubbornly hard to pin down, swaying between funk and jazz, rock grooves and ambient soundscapes. This effect isn’t disorienting—even as the band bounces between modes, it remains cohesive. As the album fades to finish, with droning horns and echoing pedal steel, out comes one last trick: Skarbø strumming his banjo.

Skarbø Skulekorps is a remarkable debut, and one of the most interesting records I’ve heard this year: a record with a wide palette of sounds, styles and grooves by a group who can pull them all off. words / r milner

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