The band moniker Eyes of a Blue Dog derives from a short story by the great Latin American 'Magical Realist' author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Indeed on their debut release Rise, this trio evokes something of that novelette's dream-like narrative and subliminal mysteries. It's a diverting and refreshing new collaboration between the North London LOOP Collective trumpeter Rory Simmons (also on electric guitar and electronic treatments), the renowned Norwegian drummer and ambient electronics soundscaper Terje Evensen and upcoming UK-based singer-lyricist Elisabeth Nygård. Together they mine elements from underground electro-pop song, post-rock and an austere electronica of the kind that has roots in the experimental jazz and improvisation scene out of which trumpeter Simmons and the ex-Leeds based LIMA Collective vocalist Nygård (who has made very notable contributions to two albums by Simmons' contemporary third stream ensemble Fringe Magnetic) have successfully emerged.
Says Simmons: “The album Rise is an exciting departure for us. Feeling free to not make a 'jazz record' but to make a cohesive album which fully embraces post production techniques and multi-instrumentalism.”
On this last point drummer Evensen, (a highly regarded producer/mixer in his nativeland) and trumpeter Simmons both spearhead the hypnotically imaginative electronic processing that drives the music forward. They draw from the spirit of Miles Davis' experiments that changed the face of jazz sonics and recording in the late 1960-70s, through to the contemporary Norwegian avant-jazztronica scene headed by influential bands such as Humcrush and Supersilent, as well as elements of the electronica of bands such as Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada.
But this is by no means just an esoteric experiment aimed at a 'niche' listening public; Eyes of a Blue Dog also significantly pays homage to the sensual and emotive power of the three minute pop song. Nygård's icy, seductively imploring voice can conjure up the worlds of other Nordic vocalists as Lykke Li, Hanne Hukkleborg and Susanna, through to Beady Belle and Bjork. But it's a voice too that is informed by the very influential vocalist Sidsel Endresen, that torchbearer for new generations of Norwegian exploratory female singer-songwriters. Yet Nygård's instantly identifiable vocal has a raw vulnerability and intense intimacy that sets her apart from her peers and inspirations.
The opening instrumental 'Mai' begins with Evensen's subtly sculpted electronic textures before Simmons' aerial trumpet fanfare-like motif takes off into the spacey soundscape amid percussively whirling loops of synth, trumpet and drums. Evensen plays a significant role here, a recording artist on ex-Loose Tubes drummer Martin France's Spin Marvel's eponymous debut, an earlier superbly distinctive electronic-improv recording from the Babel label. On an album full of band originals Rory Simmons' trumpet can reflect the early ambient work of Mark Isham, something of the great Canadian stylist Kenny Wheeler as well as the tougher, more fiery, contemporary environment of Dave Douglas, Nils Petter Molvaer (who Terje Evensen has also worked with), and Christian Scott. The infectious Stereolab-like 'Knee' is highlighted by a bristling yet thoughtful improv on trumpet from Simmons. Nygard's darkly shimmering vocal plays a central role too in the band's close three-way communication: 'Nothing Dies with You' faintly echoes the work of Goldfrapp while it's as well the more mid 1980's avant-analogue electro-funk synth-pop of bands such as the Associates that pervades the hypnotic 'Reject the Rhapsody'.
This new collaboration is one of the most thrilling examples to date of the coming together of artists from the alt. jazz and improv scenes from both UK and Norway, unarguably two of the most thrilling hotbeds of young creative music talent in Europe.