Stories (2017)

Hoff

Jan Gunnar Hoff

"Music for me, as pianist and composer, is a quest for depth and a quest to find a bridge between my emotions and the piano. When I begin I am uncertain about where the journey will take me and how it will end. It is important that compositions and improvisations constitute a natural whole. And classic songs like “God Only Knows” are stories and they must be told in a personal manner. Putting it all together in an album is exciting and rewarding." 
- Jan Gunnar Hoff

Stories is Jan Gunnar Hoff’s third solo piano album on the 2L label and is a sequel to his critically acclaimed album Living from 2013. On the new release Hoff stretches his creative abilities, presenting contrasting compositions and improvisations, in a distinctly personal mixture. Some of the pieces are meditative and expressive, while others have a strong rhythmic vibe. Stories also displays Hoff as an arranger, presenting versions of classics like “God Only Knows” and the traditional Swedish folk song “Värmlandsvisan”. 

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Jan Gunnar Hoff

Jan Gunnar Hoff started his career as a freelance musician in 1979 and has worked extensively as a bandleader and solo artist since 1992. Major band events include his highly acclaimed Vossa Jazz Festival debut in 1995, and performances at the London Jazz Festival and Molde International Jazz Festival in 1996, with TV broadcasts to twelve European countries. Another highlight was his successful collaboration with Pat Metheny in Molde in 2001 in a concert presenting Hoff compositions and Metheny classics in perfect union.

Jan Gunnar Hoff has released 15 recordings as a solo artist and co-leader. Albums in recent years include Magma, featuring Mike Stern and Maria João, Barxeta, where Hoff plays alongside Alex Acuña and Per Mathisen, and Fly North with Arve Henriksen, Anders Jormin and Marilyn Mazur, an album that was nominated for the Norwegian Grammy, Spellemannprisen. Hoff was the 2013 winner of the Buddy Award, the highest distinction in Norwegian jazz, and became an official Steinway & Sons Artist in 2014.

As a composer Hoff has written more than 200 works for different combinations of instruments. He received the prestigious Edvard (Grieg) Prize in 2005 for his choir piece Meditatus and the same year he wrote the main commissioned work Free Flow Songs for the Vossa Jazz Festival. He was the arranger and ensemble leader of Quiet Winter Night; on this album, which was Grammy-nominated for Best Surround Sound in 2013, he successfully merges elements of jazz, folk and popular music.

In addition to his career as pianist and composer, Hoff teaches jazz piano and improvisation at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø and at the University of Agder in Kristiansand. John Kelman, writing for the jazz network All About Jazz in 2011, describes Hoff’s music in this way: “Hoff’s writing and playing possesses an almost pop-like clarity and concision, but with a far richer vernacular.”

photo: from booklet 'STORIES' (2L)

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Stories (2017)

Hoff

Jan Gunnar Hoff

    Vinyl Anachronist

As a solo pianist, Hoff is one of those inventive performers who can sit in front of a keyboard and improvise endlessly. His style is fluid and lyrical, but at the same time he can connect to a wide range of emotions--it certainly isn't just pretty piano music he's playing. There's bite and there's thunder. In Stories, however, Hoff does an amazing thing. Those beautiful improvisations are blended with familiar songs, familiar passages, even fleeting moments. Aside from a glorious and thoughtful cover of "God Only Knows," a rearrangement of the traditional Norwegian folk song "Varmlandsvisan" and Gerhard Winkler's "Answer Me," these are all original compositions from Hoff, so those gentle moments of recognition are wonderfully ethereal. At various points, through Stories, I'm reminded of everything from Thomas Dolby to Alan Silvestri's original score from Cast Away. These are incidental, however--the moment I lock in with a flash of realization, Hoff has moved onto something else. This wavering between pure improvisation and surreptitious homage make Stories one of the most rewarding solo piano works I've heard in some time. By now you know that 2L Recordings are perhaps the most lifelike and natural you can buy in 2017, so I don't need to tell you how warm and spacious the Sofienberg Church sounds, or how producer Morten Lindberg has a better handle on how to bring out the wood and the wire of a piano out into the open better than anyone else. Just grab this recording and wait for a snowy day, like today, and stare out the window and think about everything that matters to you.

Marc Phillips[read full review]

    MusicWeb International

Stories is Jan Gunnar Hoff’s third solo piano album on the 2L label, though this is the first time I’ve come across him. The Norwegian 2L label is very much an audiophile concern, and the package for this release comes with versions in Surround and Stereo. The piano sound is a real treat here in DSD, but as the song goes, ‘things can only get better.’ There’s a minor-key sentimentality to most of these tracks, but there is a certain amount of contrast with some lively improvisatory swing here and there to add verve to the proceedings. On his own work, Jan Gunnar Hoff writes that "music for me, as pianist and composer, is a quest for depth and a quest to find a bridge between my emotions and the piano. When I begin I am uncertain about where the journey will take me and how it will end. It is important that compositions and improvisations constitute a natural whole. And classic songs like “God Only Knows” are stories and they must be told in a personal manner.” Stories is the perfect title for such an album, with most of the tracks having a distinctive narrative character. These are all finely crafted and beautifully played with considerable style and panache, but as the titles suggest there is an overall mood of soulful nostalgia, wistful longing, and poetic musing, and you might find this working on you as a potent depressant after too long. This is the case even with major-key pieces such as The Elder, which does, however, have a good tune and builds to a powerful climax. Playground is also more animated but clings to fairly ordinary tropes above its rolling bass and doesn’t really go anywhere really inspired. The two ‘standards’, God Only Knows and Answer Me receive a similar treatment, and in the end, these all begin to sound like Keith Jarrett encores. Tastes will differ, and this is, of course, one musician’s very personal journey so in terms of content is to a certain extent immune from criticism, but I for one found myself longing for just a bit more balance, with perhaps one or two more fun-filled Dave McKenna-like pieces. The Figment tracks are the release from this general atmosphere of blueness, flying off into more abstract realms with some virtuoso rhythmic invention and dextrous fireworks. I will certainly be looking out for Jan Gunnar Hoff’s name in the future as he is clearly an artist of skill and stature, with an expressive lyrical touch and a fine sense of color and harmony. I have a feeling Stories will however be held in reserve for special moments such as when the cat dies.

Dominy Clements[read full review]

    Audiophile Audition -

Recorded during August 2016 in the fine acoustics of Sofienburg Church, this is Jan Gunnar Hoff’s third recording for the Norwegian label, 2L, and his sixteenth in total. Hoff is a composer-pianist with wide interests, including classical, rock and jazz idioms; he’s an academic at the Universities of Tromsø and Agder and finds time to organize festivals and camps and to tour as a solo artist. And to make fine recordings, such as this one. The works on this release are largely his own works, and link together in a nicely varied fashion, alternating the introspective and musing with the more upbeat energetic works. The whole program is a remarkably satisfying hour’s listening. The recital opens with Värmlandsvisan a Swedish folk tune; this will be especially familiar to those who love the work of Billy Mayerl who used this in his Song of the Fir Tree. From the thoughtful The Elder to the more upbeat Playground the listener is made aware of the variety to come, and the ability of Hoff to communicate with immediacy the varying moods. Brian Wilson’s God Only Knows is most effectively done. The three Figments make interesting listening, and Journey Home and Reminiscence bring the recital to a peaceful and satisfyingly relaxed end. Jan Gunnar Hoff had a lovely instrument at hand for these sessions, a Steinway Model D. Morten Lindberg has captured the sound of this glorious piano in a thoroughly realistic way. Listening in 5-channel surround I found the results quite marvelous in its accuracy, not only of the instrument but also of the acoustic. Recordings of the piano do not come better than this; it really is a stunningly good sounding album.

Peter Joelson[read full review]

Stories (2017)

Hoff

Jan Gunnar Hoff

Digital Converters: Merging Technologies Horus
Editing Software: Pyramix
Mastering Engineer: Morten Lindberg
Microphones: DPA
Producer: Morten Lindberg
Recording Engineer: Beatrice Johannessen
Recording location: Sofienberg Church, Norway August 2016
Recording Type & Bit Rate: DXD

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This album is available as ST+MCH download (Stereo + Multichannel)
Included in any DSD purchase is access to the base DSD64 resolution. All DSD capable units will be able to play DSD64.
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2L131: Stories
00:57:04   Select quality & channels above
Tracks.
1.
Värmlandsvisan
Hoff
00:04:39   Select quality & channels above
2.
The Elder
Hoff
00:04:49   Select quality & channels above
3.
Playground
Hoff
00:03:34   Select quality & channels above
4.
God only knows
Hoff
00:03:56   Select quality & channels above
5.
Absence
Hoff
00:03:46   Select quality & channels above
6.
Figment I
Hoff
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7.
Good things
Hoff
00:03:19   Select quality & channels above
8.
Answer me
Hoff
00:04:23   Select quality & channels above
9.
Figment II
Hoff
00:02:50   Select quality & channels above
10.
Within
Hoff
00:04:36   Select quality & channels above
11.
Stranger
Hoff
00:02:52   Select quality & channels above
12.
Blossom
Hoff
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13.
Figment III
Hoff
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14.
Journey home
Hoff
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15.
Reminiscence
Hoff
00:04:39   Select quality & channels above

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