The collective Norwegian quartet that call themselves, simply, the Source, featuring saxophonist Trygve Seim and trombonist Øyvind Brække, drummer Per Oddvar Johansen, and bassist Mats Eilertsen (the group's most recent member) have done numerous collaborations with everyone from DJs to dancers and poets, all of them around the theme of collective improvisation. This self-titled ECM debut (produced by label honcho and aesthetic shaman Manfred Eicher) is, therefore, a departure for the group. There are 13 pieces; nine of them composed by Brække. There are a pair by Johannsen, one by Siem, and one by Edward Vesala. The notion of collective improvisation is certainly present in each piece, though most of the music is written to be played close to the bone. There are no sprawling free blowing adventures here. Instead, the great adventure lies in the empathy and close listening that goes on between members. This rhythm section is top-notch, carrying the front-line players through the beat and allowing them the freedom to play either just in front of, or just behind the beat. The melodic, song-like nature of most of these tunes suggest that the intimate improvisation that transpires is itself not only rooted in the melodies -- particularly in Brække's works -- but are indeed extensions of them (check the soloing off the head and the backdoor harmonic interplay in Siem's "Un Fingo Andalou" and Brække's "Tribute"). If this group reminds you of anything from the past, it would have to be Jimmy Giuffre's early experiments without piano; the notion of spatial construction in composition and in improvisation are outside in their way, though never angular, and always rooted to the notion of song. The Source are one of those groups who plays a refined European jazz that stands on its own. It's quietly emotive full of surprise, gentleness, and a truly surprising sense of melody both inside and outside of lyric improvisation. ECM has been on a tear for the last couple of years and this album is another example of how alive and well jazz is in the 21st century.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek