During the last century, most musical genres sustained popular elements while experimental cells explored new possibilities. Nevertheless, jazz seems to have one of the richest claims to raw dancing roots and surging avant garde spirits of any American genre. Eivind Opsvik channels the restlessness and breadth of jazz on his progressive Overseas IV (Loyal Label). While the disc is grandiose and ambitious, Opsvik’s ensemble never hesitates to remind you that jazz music presents a great opportunity to seriously move.
Opsvik plays bass as a leader and ensemble member, scattering his four albums as leader of Overseas across the last decade. On his latest effort with Overseas, Opsvik firmly grounds his experiments and excursions in the ensemble, which maintains a strong rhythmic presence throughout the disc. As a result, the group indulges in robust sounds and strange left turns without moving astray; no instrument grabs any undue spotlight, and at times the layered parts move from focused, rhythmic patterns to exuberant anthems.
Thematically, Overseas and Opsvik use the arrangements to maintain a feeling of enjoyment, a lack of tension. Even the grand swells of emotion or energetic crescendos serve this care free vibe that invokes the club. Maintaining this mood is impressive given the amount of experimental asides the group takes; whether a meandering lull or calm, sparse moment hits or misses with the listener, the group move things along consistently to keep the focus on the overall vibe.
The tracks are sequenced in a way that trade calmer moments for raging, driving cuts. Sometimes, the overall vibe of the group places the emphasis on these louder sequences, but that’s not to say that the softer sequences are without purpose or unsuccessful. “White Armour” is one of the most successful arrangements on the disc, and the robust percussion propels sparse, laid back arrangements. Following an almost blistering call-and-response built around harpsichord stabs on “1786,” “Silkweavers’ Song” provides a notable contrast. The use of harpsichord itself provides a striking timbre that shades the key parts in a surprising light — the keys frequently feel percussive, contrasting the rolling saxophone and roaring guitar.
Overseas flat out rock on “Robbers and Fairground Folk,” setting the stage for soaring saxophone that trades with funky, rhythmic breaks and nearly-dissonant lead guitar on “Michelle Marie.” These songs open perhaps the greatest contrasting sequence in the entire set, exchanging repetitive, staccato rhythms with unpredictable breaks and subdued experimentation. “Youth Hopeth All Things, Believeth All Things” brings it all back together with a steady, chain-gang dirge.
Opsvik and Overseas accomplish a robust undertaking, embracing the avant garde as well as the club. The best moments remind me of that time when jazz was pregnant with rock’n'roll and many of its experimental offspring, bursting with sheer energy above all else. Opsvik embraces that spirit without belaboring the point.