December Song is the final installment of a remarkable trilogy that began with Balladeering in 2009 and continued with Time in 2011. Jakob Bro is a visionary Danish guitarist with unerring taste in sidemen. For all three albums he chose Lee Konitz and Bill Frisell. December Song also has pianist Craig Taborn and bassist Thomas Morgan.
Bro conceives spare, deceptively simple song forms. Melodies blossom patiently. He creates the conditions for rapt, intense ensemble atmospheres in which strong individual voices are given exceptional freedom, yet sound selfless within Bro’s sonic world. The opening track, “Laxness,” conjures a mood that is never broken but is deeply nuanced over the course of the album. Bro, with quietly incisive lines in the left channel, and Frisell, with bell tones in the right, create a hovering guitar choir. Konitz’s alto saxophone floats in their midst. Taborn decorates the open spaces selectively. Morgan’s bass is the moving floor.
Bro’s clouds of sound touch states of being that music rarely reaches. There are almost no “solos.” Even on “Vinterhymne” (“Winter Anthem”), on which Konitz improvises an extended meditation on a crystal of melody and a node of chords, he is always surrounded by pinpoints of flickering light from the guitars and piano. It is hard to think of a creative environment for which Konitz, in his 86th year, is better suited. He deals exclusively in connotation.
The music is not static because of the inner ensemble dynamics. “Tree House,” the gentlest of outlines on the sky, contains intricate spontaneous counterpoint. On “Risskov” and “Kong Oscar,” Morgan’s deep relentless basslines and Taborn’s obsessively circling piano create undercurrents of urgency.
All music is, among other things, mood music. December Song is so seductive in its aggregate sonorities, and so beautifully recorded, that it will enhance the mood of any evening, bathing the moment in its glow.