Standing Wave

Sten Sandell Trio

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Standing Wave Review

by François Couture

Pianist Sten Sandell has a strong reputation in Scandinavia and is one of the few Norwegian improvisers who enjoyed some international recognition (although his does not compare to Mats Gustafsson's). Therefore it was only fitting that the Norwegian free improv label Sofa included among their first releases a recording by his trio. For Standing Wave, Sandell is accompanied by bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The piano/bass/drums trio setting is the most deep-rooted cliché in jazz and, even though this particular group claims to be of free improv allegiance, the jazz influence remains strong in their sound. Sandell's at times frantic, at others tentatively delicate playing brings to mind a number of disparate figures, ranging from Bud Powell (the lyricism) to Cecil Taylor (the speed and disjointed lines) to Keith Tippett (the sturm und drang-like emotional playing). So tradition is at the heart of this music, but there is a lot of invention too, and a wide range of dynamics. "Mural" opens the set with ferocious energy. Following this ten-minute drive, the title track (the longest at 19 minutes) begins with a drums solo -- Nilssen-Love stands out as a creative force throughout the album. Bass and finally piano join in, gradually building momentum as the metaphorical wave approaches. Yet, the piece feels nothing like an exercise: it is subtle, honest, and powerful. On "Axel," the trio seems to aim at that lowercase sound that trumpeter Axel Dörner and a few other improvisers have been developing. Whether it was titled after him or not is of little relevance; those who have heard Dörner's playing will think he is in there somewhere, thanks to Berthling's bow -- he manages to produce sounds surprisingly close to the trumpet wizard.

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