Bassist, composer and bandleader Eivind Opsvik moved from the European jazz hot spot of Oslo to study for his master's degree in jazz at the Manhattan School of Music in 1998. So it's hardly surprising that a Nordic sensibility shapes the sound of his latest album, Overseas (Fresh Sound New Talent). What is surprising, however, is that New York players painted the album's distinctly European hues. "The players I use are all about listening and playing for the music," Opsvik says. "These guys could just as easily be playing in Europe as here. They have an open-mindedness that doesn't really matter where they are from; they're great musicians."
It was at the Manhattan School that he made many of the musical connections that led to his band. "There were a lot of great players there, individualistic players, with different sounds, that was my starting point," Opsvik says. "For example, drummer Jeff Davies I met at school-then it was like a gradual process until I found the right guys. After I graduated I was lucky to be playing gigs, and I found Jacob Sacks the pianist, and through him I met Tony Malaby on tenor, and so on."
Most of the material on Overseas was written while Opsvik was still a resident of Norway. "It's not natural for me to write within the strict jazz idiom," he says. "That's not where I draw my inspiration from, and frankly I think a lot of jazz composition lately has become too intellectual and sterile. I always try to go more for a mood and a vibe than for 'complexity' or 'intellectuality.' My composing has always been more inspired by nonjazz music: lately Björk, D'Angelo, Pink Floyd, Radiohead. I also love electronica, and I've listened to a lot of classical music. But Overseas is played by improvising musicians-many with a background from the free-jazz scene-so it's going to have a different sound."
Before moving to New York, Opsvik was a regular on the Oslo jazz underground. "I studied classical bass back in Oslo for four years, then I came here and took a masters degree in jazz," he says. "I made a lot of good friends so I decided to stay on here, do my own thing. If you do your European thing here, people notice you more. Back in Norway I was just one of the guys. It's kind of funny, in Norway you're different if you play straightahead jazz because few people do it, but in New York you're different if you do your own thing!"