Judging from other reviews, I was not alone in thinking that Katché's previous three albums saw a gradual decline from the faultless first half of "Neighbourhood" through "Playground" to "Third Round." I am only too delighted to be able to report a return to form featuring a new band, without a bass player (a departure for Katché) and the interesting mix of Nils Petter Molvaer's haunting trumpet, Tore Brunborg on saxophone and Jim Watson on piano and Hammond.
I should state that, for all the undeniable fluency and ease with which he plays, I do not think that Katché is always recorded to his best advantage and the fact that I remain deeply equivocal about the sound of the Hammond organ. That the album is frequently fantastic is a tribute to Katché's compositional skills and the skill, sensitivity and sympathy of all four musicians.
"The Running Years" begins proceedings magnificently. Katché has the stage to himself for over 30 seconds before Watson enters in piano with one of the chromatic motifs which feature throughout. After a similar passage of time Brunborg and Molvaer enter and by two minutes have passed the latter is truly soaring.
Rather than settle for a generic jazz funk sound (to which "Playground" and "The Third Round" succumbed) Watson coaxes an spare, atmospheric sound from the organ which complements Molvaer, in particular on the aptly-named and contemplative "Bliss" while "Imprint" is a thing of understated beauty, featuring Katche's least propulsive but most atmospheric percussion the backbone of a performance which is more than the sum of its parts.
The lengthiest track is "Beats and Bounce". The first five minutes is based around an eleven note left hand piano riff and features Brunborg's most in your face playing. It's all fine stuff but somewhat dangerously close to the blueprint of Katché's two previous releases. Five minutes in, this time the riff is on Hammond and then Molvaer, who had hitherto exercised saintly restraint, ghosts in with his arresting palette. While the brilliance of the second half of "Beats and Bounce" has the unfortunate consequence of making the first five minutes seem all the more conventional , it is still a great device.
If truth be told, it is Molvaer who is crucial in supressing the nods to genre and elevates the release but "Dusk on Carnon", a piano solo by Katché, is a touching elegiac concluding note which reinforces the fact that this is his baby, and a very attractive one at that.