Norwegian bassist and composer Eivind Opsvik's second album with his New York-based band is a continuation of his previous release's melodic investigations of fusion-inspired post-bop. With a strong ear for melody, Opsvik's tunes are refreshingly direct in a landscape proliferated with advanced structures and chart-driven complexity. Featuring rotating line-ups on each track, "Overseas II" has a sonically varied character, but one unified by a strong writing sensibility.
"Overseas II" often conjures the ethereal, experimental groove once associated with fusion before it became a bloated dinosaur of self-indulgence. Nods to contemporary post-rock are apparent as Opsvik favors a simple, almost pop song-like flow for his themes. Rarely engaging in the sort of over-the-top jamming found on many similarly inspired efforts, Opsvik opts for a more atmospheric and textural approach. While his collaborators are known for delving into far more aggressive styles and free-form structures, here they acquiesce to Opsvik's melodic foundations with nuanced, invigorating playing.
Simmering funk undercurrents abide in "Tilt of Timber," with Kenny Wollesen's tumultuous but restrained drumming and Jacob Sacks' driving Wurlitzer lines. Tony Malaby's tenor solo is intense without ever abandoning the structure of the tune. The dueling keyboards of "Stranded" evoke Miles Davis' pre-fusion ensembles without aping them. "Stranded" is ostensibly a ballad structure, but builds to a rousing climax courtesy of Malaby's gruff tenor solo, without ever decimating the song at the core. Invoking other ghosts, "Ah! Aground Again" features the sort of post-Coltrane structural dynamics numerous artists are fond of with its roiling undercurrent and climactic linearity, but is utilized here with only a fleeting embrace.
There are reflective moments as well, with the introspective piano-bass duet of "Escapades" bordering on chamber music. Opsvik even employs the old-world timbre of a celeste for a scintillatingly delicate touch on half the album. The closing "Kapp Det Gode Hap" consists solely of long tones from Hammond organ, tenor sax and bowed bass, gorgeous in its simplicity.
A promising effort, "Overseas II" is part of a strong new movement in the jazz underground, with as much focus on song forms and melody as advanced improvisation. With surprisingly consistent writing and highly accessible tunes, Opsvik has a world of talent at his disposal.