Not only is Niels Pedersen a great bassist, but he puts a lot of care into his solo projects as well. Pedersen is joined by guitarist Ulf Wakenius for a slow, percolating version of "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Johnny Griffin's tenor sax joins in on the bassist's challenging blues "The Puzzle" and jousts with the string players for top solo honors on a vigorous workout of "You and the Night and the Music." Victor Lewis and Alex Riel share the drumming duties. A surprise guest is European pop vocalist Lisa Nilsson, who does a beautiful interpretation of Pedersen's "Those Who Were"; the leader discovered her by hearing one of her recordings on his daughter's radio. By far this is Niels Pedersen's most impressive release to date.
Helge Sunde is a 44-year-old Norwegian trombonist and composer who often works with jazz/classical composer Geir Lysne, sounds as if he checks out Hermeto Pascoal, Django Bates, Carla Bley, and British jazz and TV composer Colin Towns – and who has produced a cracker of a contemporary big-band album with this set. Sunde's Denada ensemble has produced powerful work before, but the balance of moods, melodic variety and arranging ingenuity on Finding Nymo (the sax-playing Nymo brothers Frode and Atle are star soloists) ought to raise his standing outside continental Europe. He throws listeners off the big-band scent with the eerie vocoder whispers at the start, but busy phrase-swapping between the horns, and arrhythmic ensemble riffs with solo-sax wails rising out of them introduce a Django Bates feel. When In Rome is a hooting, swaggering theme with revving engines and street noise, Valse Triste starts like a funeral lament and turns into a demonically waltzing dance, and the title track begins as tentative, sputtery improv, then coalesces into a melody. Guests Olka Konkova (piano) and Marilyn Mazur add flourishes to an already formidable set.
Famous for his work as a teenager in Europe playing with veteran American greats, and for his many recordings as a sidemen with the veteran straight-ahead jazz all-stars for the Pablo label (including Oscar Peterson), bassist Niels Pedersen's own projects tend to be more modern than bop-oriented. For this set, Pedersen's quartet includes three rather notable sidemen: the then fairly unknown guitarist John Scofield; drummer Billy Hart; and Dave Liebman on tenor, soprano, and alto flute. The bassist contributed four compositions, which are joined by a Danish folk song. The nearly 15-minute "Dancing on the Tables" (which utilizes some childlike melodies) and the episodic "Clouds" are highlights of the continually intriguing and adventurous program.