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Nils Petter Molvær: An American Compilation

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This collection of tracks, originally released in Europe, begs the questions as to where the line falls that divides groovy, trumpet-driven electronica from smooth jazz. Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær took a quantum leap for ECM with his late-’90s debut, combining the label’s understated aesthetic with programmed beats and trippy effects. He plays with a cool understated tone that says a lot with a few, rich notes. The moody “Kakonita” is an ideal blend of romantic lines and synthetic soundscapes. And when the beats pick up serious speed, Molvær still takes it slow on “Nebulizer,” which could be a dance-club hit.

Taken a few songs at a time, it’s easy to see why Molvær has won three Norwegian Grammys and kudos on our shores. But a whole album of this gets repetitive. While that’s part of the idea of this music-to get the listener into a groove-but even the best preprogrammed grooves show some sign of life, in the form of a fat bass line or an ear-grabbing melody. After a while Molvær’s attack-slow and often drenched in echo and delay-doesn’t sound much different than the mellow output of a smooth jazz stylist.