It is reported that when George Avakian brought Miles Davis and Gil Evans together in 1956 for the Miles Ahead sessions, he wanted ‘Miles’ sound’ against shifting colours in a variety of rhythms and tempos.
What Avakian had in mind with the nonet was the possibility of two sides of the one coin: the compression of sound, or its expansion with the addition of extra instruments.
Evans’ genius as a producer/arranger – remarkable considering the vinyl only releases back then -was to score bridges between compositions. This wasn’t, however, the duo at their full plenitude, which would follow, but the template of experimenting with tempos and subtle alterations in composition was set.
That sense of a large canvas of sweeping sound, the skeleton of nature painted as music, leaps from Eyolf Dale’s simply wonderful Wolf Valley, and for me there are echoes of what Davis and Evans were attempting in their formative collaboration.
When less was more with Evans and Davis, a band as large as a nontet could sound like a quartet, and although the feel of an octet is omnipresent throughout Wolf Valley, the pitch is sufficiently cleared to enjoy Dale’s skills as pianist and composer, and from Furet to The Walk, his dexterity as ensemble player and sensitive interpreter is never in doubt.
Consider Shostachoral, just three tracks in, a rearranged organ chorale from his solo album, Hometown Interludes, drifting from nowhere like a dawn over a harbour until tenor sax and clarinetist Andrew Roligheten takes it in his talons and soars. Stunning.
Fernanda, which opens with vibraphonist Rob Waring shedding notes like wind fallen apple blossoms, was conceived in Oslo but its pulse is universal: Dale constructs pictures with his compositions, and also a soul-infused nostalgia, which permeates Teglstein.
Eyolf Dale – pianist, composer, arranger, leader – is a virtuoso who is probably at his most lightest indulging in free improvisation, so there is, naturally, that big band sound and swing and joie de vivre in the quite wonderful The Creek.
Dale believes that the octet is the ideal platform for his compositional skills, and Wolf Valley, a play on his name, is a sonic soundscape with a strong classical technique. Notable performances too from bassist Per Zanussi and Gard Nilssen on drums.