Jakob Bro never had the urge to make an album with a great guitar solo on it.
Early in his career, the forty-year-old Danish guitarist, who started out as a trumpet player, questioned the classic jazz form in which a group plays the melody, bandmembers solo and then everybody returns to the melody.
“I had the urge to create music that I wanted to listen to from the beginning to the end,” Bro says. “Usually, if there were two solos, I would not be interested. I would be like, 'It’s cool to hear, and then we lose it.'”
So Bro started composing music that doesn't rely on traditional solos. Instead the guitarist serves as a nuanced colorist in his pieces, painting in muted colors rather than using a bright and flashy palette.
A perfect example of this is “Mild,” the opening cut on Bro’s new ECM album, Bay of Rainbows, which was recorded live at New York’s Jazz Standard last year. While Bro’s textured guitar playing, which is akin to Bill Frisell’s at times, is a chief focus of the song (and the rest of the album), the playing of his touring trio, which includes bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Joey Baron, is equally captivating.
The group, which performs at Dazzle on Thursday, October 25 as part of the club's spotlight on ECM artists this month, has been working for close to four years, playing nearly fifty shows a year.
“If you play that many concerts together and you travel together and you experience things together, it’s like you sort of grow together also sound-wise,” says Bro, who views his trio, which knows around sixty of his tunes, as a collective when it's on stage.
“It’s like we all contribute equally,” Bro says. “For me, it’s rare. I’ve released many albums, but still it’s like...I’ve never had a band like this where musically and socially it seems like this very high…it seems like the sky is the limit, basically. You can go anywhere you want. I’m not really missing anything in the group.”
They could take one of Bro’s songs, open them up and allow for improvisation, or Bro might want to add a melody on the fly, and Morgan and Baron will be right there with him.
“I’m free to do whatever I want,” Bro says. “Thomas knows my music. I can play any song in any key, and he’s just going to be there. That gives me a big freedom in terms of improvising with this group. We always have many doors to open, even though we might be improvising freely.”
Bro clearly knows his way around improvising, but he’s also an excellent composer. And his approach to composition changed after he worked with the late drummer Paul Motian more than a decade ago.
“He sort of opened up my ears in terms of composing and moving away from thinking in more traditional standard chord progressions,” Bro says of Motian. “When I was composing, before meeting Paul, I was much more locked in some traditions. And after playing in his band and he was teaching me his own songs, that was a big revelation for me.”
Before joining Motian’s band and playing on his 2006 ECM release, Garden of Eden, Bro was inspired heavily by the drummer’s music, particularly Motian’s trio album with Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano. But instead of transcribing Frisell’s solos, Bro transcribed many of Lovano’s.
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“I’ve always been listening to the saxophone a lot and wanting that instrument to come out somehow,” Bro says. “And then with the guitar, it was trying to find ways of sort of coloring or making the other instruments sound good with guitar.”
Bro also did just that also on Returning, which was released on ECM earlier this year. While Mogan also plays on the album, Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and Norwegian drummer Jon Christiansen, both veteran jazz players in their ’70s, also add some stunning playing throughout the contemplative recording.
“The most important thing for me now is that we sort of have the courage to follow our ideas and create music together,” Bro says. "That’s my vision with that band somehow, that we take some chances and we go places where we’re not sure if we can actually find our way back again.”