Guitarist-composer Jakob Bro’s 2015 ECM release, Gefion, was one of the year’s most effective sonic explorations. While not as commanding as that recording in its mood-altering impact, Bro’s ECM follow-up, Streams, nevertheless finds him continuing to expand the textural possibilities of his instrument, with empathetic collaboration from drummer Joey Baron and Gefion bassist Thomas Morgan.
Bro’s compositions are panoramic, with tones at once sedate and ever shifting. His skillful echo and reverb weave a thrumming surface, upon which the musicians evince a delicate chemistry. Sometimes the sound will push into tense, eruptive territory, as on “Full Moon Europa,” which evolves from Morgan and Bro’s single-note unison pluckings to blistering guitar exhortations goaded by Baron’s all-over-the-kit assaults. But the prevailing air is becalmed, tinged with glimmers of melancholy. On “Shell Pink,” Bro and Morgan drift with bewitching gentility along Baron’s easygoing brushwork, while “Heroines” finds the guitarist evoking medieval balladry over Baron’s understated drum rolls and Morgan’s precisely placed descending runs.
The trio communicates at a high level throughout the recording, Morgan and Baron giving themselves fully to Bro’s musical conception. On “PM Dream,” the sole composition attributed to all three musicians (and dedicated to the late drummer Paul Motian), Bro spends the song’s first half in support, creating a roiling drone over which Baron’s clattery interpolations mingle with Morgan’s sliding notes. The collaboration takes on a starker color on the album-closing “Sisimiut.” With Baron at his busiest and most aggressive, Bro whines out of the mix with keening harmonica-like sounds, over Morgan’s scratchy arco undercurrent. And then it all fades away into hazy sighings, almost like shifting fog-bound shapes. The sound of Streams is not always one of sharp edges and crystal clarity, but the emotional landscapes it guides you through are honest and deeply felt.