Jens Fossum


Bass Detector

Jens Fossum is modest bordering on diffidence about his contribution to Bass Detector, his first solo album after a decade supporting Hilde Louise Asbjornsen and with the late Sigurd Kohn.

He clearly thrives on the exchange between his collaborators, and though his bass features prominently on seven tracks, all self penned, and bookended by the funky Walter Freeman’s Pick of Choice and satiny Frida’s Lullaby, he is quite happy to step into the shadows and allow the alto sax of Havard Fosum – his brother – or Are Halvorsen, assume control.

But if you have an ear for bass, then Bass Detector is essential listening. You get to appreciate Fossum the soloist and Fossum the collaborator, and in Walter Freeman’s Pick of Choice you are in the company of a tight knit band rather than an assembly of maverick if gifted session musicians.

Though Fossum is content to surrender the foreground, (Zanzibar is a tune brought for a walk by a frolicsome sax), his fingerprints are all over Bass Detector: there is no compromise in his desire to explore the synergies between string instruments from contrasting cultures, and Torquemeda is as African as it is Swedish.

On Bass Detector, Fossum plays as many instruments as Mike Olfield on Tubular Bells, including electric bass, double bass, cello, piccolo bass, piccolino mini bass, roland midi bass, various guitars, keys, drums, perc, er-hu (from China) pipa and mandolin.

The pace never slackens, and the temp is always set by Fossum: Ocean Drive is simply a gorgeous hybrid of sounds, cemented by Fossum’s pumping funk rhythms, aided and abetted in manic dynamism by Jorn Oien on keyboards and Ivar Thormodsaether on percussion.

Bass Detector is an exchange between equals, ending on the vertiginous summit of Frida’s Lullaby, the shortest track by far, a sumptuous adieu by Fossum, as different from the opening Walter Freeman’s Pick of Choice as chalk and cheese, but emblematic of this recording’s essence: contrast, experimentation and no compromise.



Paul Durcan

The Days of Surprise

In a busy galaxy on the brightest and clearest of nights, Paul Durcan has always held his own, has always stood out.

Decades ago, when he could be a habitual gun for hire by The Sunday Independent after another atrocity in the North, dashing out verse of raw emotional reportage, it was Durcan at his most caustic.

But I have always felt Durcan was and is at his best celebrating life, and not masticating the wake of violence. That was Ted Hughes territory, and he did it better than anybody, without sermonising.

No Irish poet has been as prodigious and as consistent as Durcan, or as spendthrift: there was many a better poem in the making, but for the want of an editor. Anthony Croinin urged him to ditch similes.

When Wexford was drunk on the Riverdance of hurling in 1996, Colm Toibin edited a superb study of Durcan, The Kilfenora Teaboy, from which I learned more about the blood and guts of a living Irish poet than any other, until the late Denis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones.

I returned to it time and again whilst imbibing The Days of Surprise, and I was the better for it: never decline an offer of enlightenment. Tobin noted that Durcan, by dealing with the dynamics of family life, stands apart; Ruth Padel, brilliant at the Borris literary festival in 2014, believed persona and voice came first with Durcan, and structure of line by accident; Derek Mahon, once concerned that Durcan was becoming predictable, concluded that his is the poetry of a new kind of man, whence his appeal to feminists.

Ah, the wimmin! I remember attending readings by Durcan and Brendan Kennelly in Wexford around the time of The Judas Kiss, and 99% of the capacity audience were female.

The Days of Surprise has, naturally for a poet born in the 1940s, more than its fair share of elegies, but Durcan has been nostalgic from a young age. The past is not another country; it’s just the here and now packaged differently.

This is a volume to read as a whole, on an afternoon when you have the house to yourself, and you can hear Spring in the air, and read aloud The Mystery of the Incarnation (in memoriam Brendan Tobin), for, as Fintan O’Toole perceived in The Kilfenora Teaboy, deeply embedded in Durcan’s poetry is the idea that to name, is to bless.


Verneri Pohjola

Verneri Pohjola

Bullhorn by Verneri Pohjola is a statement of intent: though it is his third recording as leader, it’s his first with Edition and a milestone in his evolution as a top rank trumpeter.

What he delivers are ten tracks, all self penned, self aware, confident, in which Pohjola is demonstrably clear in what he wants to achieve.

The harmonies are not complex and, though driven from the off by Pohjola’s distinctive tone, sometimes declamatory, sometimes soft, the affect of cohesion, such as with Another Day, is achieved with the impeccable support of a quartet of understated musicians.

It can feel if bassist Anitti Lotjonen and drummer Teppo Makynen are in a separate room, for Bullhorn is unmistakably a homage to the trumpet of Pohjola.

Girls of Costa Rica has repeat phrasing by Pohjola, while the quartet maintains the harmony, until finally a torsioned tenor saxophone (Jussi Kannaste) is like a blackbird flying, singing on the wing, the gorgeous notes brought home by percussion and bass, and Pohjola finishes as he began.

Pohjola has a gra for intimate sounds and lyricism, and He Sleeps, I keep Watch has a somnolent trumpet at its most seductive, a melodic miracle monitored by Makynen.

Pohjola’s recitals are neither dense not brash, and his horn, though lush and effusive, is always restrained, the heart beat of a dawn and not a tempest, and as far remove in colour and tone from what we might expect from Nordic jazz, an onomatopoeic prayer to its unforgiving landscape.

Pohjola’s tone is warm: the overall picture is impressionistic, and you could make love all night long to In La Borie, and never sleep.

There isn’t a weak composition on Bullhorn, the notes floating like spent dragonflies at a brimming well, and the playing of Pohjola is enticing and absorbing: you could spend a week getting out of bed to The End is Nigh.