The Hoff Ensemble's Polarity: An Acoustic Jazz Project is a reference in the genre that will undoubtedly outclass your standard recordings. Morten Lindberg has brought listeners more accessible classical music recordings. Polarity offers him the unique opportunity to showcase his talent and that of the jazz musicians who accompany him on this album.
Polarity offers a journey where our senses are put to use because of the multiple and large amplitude of the sounds, the striking dynamics, the clarity, the transients, the perception of a host of subtle details, the ample, flexible bass, fast, toned and sometimes very deep. I could classify Polarity in a combination of styles, ranging from jazz, fusion to contemporary trends. The key to Morten Lindberg is knowing how to combine today's technologies with the old traditions and in that he excels.
For the record, I invited a musician and soundman to listen to Polarity in my world, without knowing in advance what it was. He knew immediately where the recording was made and the care taken in the quality and placement of the microphones!
You'll find all the contextual and technical details on the .pdf document that accompanies each version of the album that I invite you to download because it's by far the best jazz album I've heard this year. It becomes de facto a must in any self-respecting media library.
It's a safe bet that you will hear more and more about 2L at audio shows, professional dealers, and this album in particular. For my part, I have integrated two new musical tracks from Polarity to my must play list - "Innocence" and "Sacred" which together represent the quintessence of the know-how.
Audiophile Audition -
Typically, when I am reposed on the listening couch, staring up at the cracked ceiling plaster, I don’t look for musical happenings above me. Instead, the action emanates from the towering von Schweikert’s in front of me, the source of a well-defined sound stage. Thus, I sat bolt upright to solve the puzzle: whence comes this apparition of three-dimensional sound space? The liner notes of this release “Polarity,” by the Hoff Ensemble, document the recording location, a high ceilinged church in Sofienberg, Norway. However, there is nothing unusual in this. Such spaces usually conduce to reverberant recordings of the ECM type, a quality that I hold in the same esteem as added color and flavor in foods. But this was no mere added echo, rather an aural illusion of layered sound in the vertical dimension. It was playing tricks on my ears. Turning to my trusty Grado headphones, I achieved a little more clarity in placing the instruments but there still obtained the peculiar sense that I was looking down on the music, a disembodied listener, while my chair-bound self was simultaneously taking in the horizontal view. This sort of adventure in acoustical research is what 2L (Lindberg Lyd) audio is all about. Audiophile enthusiasts owe themselves an experience with this new super high-resolution technology. The 2L website gives a lengthy technical description of the processes involved. Below one can sample their provocative claims.
Now for the music. The Hoff ensemble, led by Jan Gunnar Hoff and featuring Anders Jormin on bass and Audun Kleive on drums, brings together well-known Norwegian musicians for what they call modestly an “acoustic jazz project.” The bassist is well known for his work on the ECM label while the pianist and composer of all 12 tracks is a new name for me. Listeners might expect something along the lines of Jormin’s piano trio outings on the Manfred Eicher’s iconic label, and they will not be disappointed. The style of the first track, from the brooding introduction to the meditative and modal musings of the trio, sound strikingly like the signature ECM artists Tord Gustavsen, Wolfgang Broderode, and Bobo Stensen. At a higher temperature, a second tune called “Revamp” references the cascading passages and swirling rubato of Keith Jarrett. The pianist’s technique is first rate and his attentiveness to his rhythm section show good teamwork.
The strength of this session lies in the compositions more than in the playing which although quite good doesn’t assertive itself enough to my ears to amount to a distinctive trio voice. The piano and bass do achieve moments of accord, however, and lyrical beauty abounds. The drums, which pose the most intriguing problem to both pair of ears on the horizontal and vertical level, are diffident. There is less use of the ride cymbal than I have heard in a long time, which is not a bad thing as the pianist shows a strong predilection for the pedal.
Jormin’s bass is simply faultless. His arco playing escapes the usual vinegar attached to that technique, while every detail in his sound, from delicate pizzicatos to huge quarter notes, resonate come at you from two directions like warm zephyrs on a cool day.
A peculiar feature of this “acoustic project” involves the use of synthetic studio sounds. Not credited in the notes, these “soundscapes” (to use the new term, which I am beginning to dislike) seem extraneous to the essence of this music. Elsewhere, I found this explanation by the leader. “We supplemented the ensemble’s palette of sounds by introducing an analog synthesizer that grows in intensity, its sound filling the room with autonomous power.” They certainly add something to the huge range of dynamic and acoustically effects but now without damage to the purity of the trio concept. My guess is that these “enhancements’ will go down much easier with the audiophile contingent while raising a skeptical eyebrow with the ECM jazz trio fan club.
In all, this is a breathtaking development in audiophile sound and recording. The Hoff Ensemble can stand on equal terms with the fine working trios on the European scene today, even on this first collaborative effort. I will gladly seek out more L2 Recordings as well as future projects, acoustical or not, by the Hoff trio.
If you want to feel the culture, tradition, and attitude of the North of Norway in the music of sophistication, Jan Gunnar Hoff will be your quintessential host. His romanticism and well-hidden swing melt into the melodies inspired by his Arctic surroundings and lifestyle. Hoff likes happy endings in his music and Polarity is the beginning of all the ends that justify the means.
This is very much Jan Gunnar Hoff’s project. As a composer and pianist, he has delivered a cohesive album, having selected the trio format and invited two other extremely talented musicians to join him. The recording was produced by the owner of 2L, Morten Lindberg in the Sofienberg Church Norway in September 2017.
The sound quality is absolutely excellent, with the acoustic of the church evident but each instrument well positioned in the soundstage. The music ranges from the elegiac (‘The Elder’) to the ecstatic (‘Euphoria’), and it is clear that these musicians really enjoyed playing together. This is modern jazz as I really like it – melodic, lyrical, surprising and emotionally compelling. I love that from time to time the church organ comes into play, presumably played by Hoff although he is not credited in the sleeve notes.
2L is highly committed to multi-channel recording. As I only have a 2.1 system I listened to the Stereo DSD version. Thoroughly recommended, for the brilliant music and the excellent recording quality. I do hope I can hear it in its full surround glory ere long!