Nordmann – Alarm!

7 Production
8 Composition
8 Mood
9 Instrumentation

Nordmann is a Belgian progressive jazz and rock quartet, not afraid to implant some experimental and improvisational elements as well. All four are jazz-students at the conservatory in their hometown Ghent, and they found each other through their mutual love of rock music. Although all of them are jazz-students, they did not wish to be labelled as only a jazz-ensemble. They have proven that they can appeal to a broader audience as well, as they claimed second place in Belgium’s biggest rock rally in 2014, Humo’s Rock Rally.

Earlier this year Nordmann released their first full length album entitled Alarm!, exclamation mark included. This is one groundbreaking album for the entire jazz-rock genre. I still vividly remember my first encounter with this mix of rock and jazz. About seven years ago, a cultural group in my high school organized a show by a band named ‘Galatasaray’. Although being rather musically underdeveloped back then (I must’ve been about 15 years old, with musical knowledge not more far-reaching than AC/DC, SOAD and, yes, metalcore), I immediately enjoyed Galatasaray’s mix of loud rock music (which I was familiar with) and jazz instruments and rhythms, (a sound I was not very much acquainted with). Heck, I was even that hooked that I bought their new record immediately after the show.

RELEASE DATE: 19 February 2015 LABEL: 9000 Records

I sort of experienced this again when I encountered Nordmann’s music about a year ago. I always follow Humo’s Rock Rally closely, because it is a great opportunity to discover small yet brilliant bands. Nordmann’s single Rups, which they played live during the finale, sold me immediately! It’s on their debut EP, you should check that out as well.

Let’s get back to their first full length, Alarm!. Title track Alarm! immediately shows us what we’re up to for the next 46 minutes. It starts out rather haunting, with a repetitive guitar line, percussive drums and crying saxophone, all intensifying gradually. I love the way the song completely changes about halfway through. Slowly all instrumentation starts to fade away until there’s only this high-pitched, piercing saxophone note being replayed, sounding like an alarm. The rest of the band joins in and everything slowly accelerates towards a killer jazzy drum solo. There’s a lot happening in this seven-and-a-half minute long track, as if all band members want to introduce themselves and show us what they’ve got. And it’s sheer quality, that’s for sure.

Nordmann seems to be perfectly aware of what they’re capable of. For instance, I love the way El Niño manages to keep such a groove throughout the entire track. This really is the sort of song that would fit perfectly in Tarantino’s next film. Or when walking on the streets late at night in the big city of your choice.

Throughout the album, Nordmann happily treats the listener to some more experimental and daring compositions. Pfut is one example. Not only does it have a rather unusual time signature, it also alters nicely between loud and soft. Treating the listener to unexpected loud parts, always leaving us on the edge of our seat. Same goes for Jumanga, a very versatile track with again odd time signatures and a saxophonist going out of control.

The band finds a great balance between energy and calm, between loudness and feel. Paling, for example, is a pretty but slow and emotional stroll that had me contemplating life for a brief moment. Paling is the Dutch word for eel, by the way. But the meaning behind all that escapes me.

Final track Nightwork starts out cacophonous, but eventually evolves to a soothing, calm melody. It ends on a very western-like note, as we hear someone whistling towards the end. I like the tranquility by which the album ends. The final notes give the listener some time to look back on what he just heard, some time to breath and digest the sound of the Alarm!.

I don’t think any band has been this convincing in mixing progressive Jazz and Rock music lately. Nordmann creates a space where sax and guitar constantly go into duel, challenging each other to push it to the edge, with the foundations of the battlefield laid out by an amazing rhythm section.  I also constantly had the feeling that every single track could go anywhere. The band seems to be full of ideas and is capable of executing all of them very convincingly. We certainly have not heard the last of this band yet, and all’s possible in the world entitled Nordmann.

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