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TRACK LIST: 1. Keep the Change 6:37 2. Little Aida 4:16 3. Siste Trikken 6:56 4. Sacre Coeur 9:09 5. Stern 6:23 6. Northern Journey 4:49 7. Nattfarger 8:39 LINEUP: Jan Espen Storo – keyboards Baard Helgerud – guitars Erlend Skanke – bass Oyvind Myhre – drums
Prolusion. The Norwegian foursome PLAYGROUND is one of numerous projects involving drummer Oyvind Myhre, with a past as a member of Loud Jazz Band and who would form The Chemistry Project after this quartet had run its course. "Change the Keys" is the sole legacy of Playground, and was self released in 2008.
Analysis. Sometimes I come across bands by mere chance, and in this case someone I'm connected to through my daytime job invited me to a concert that took place a mere 10 minute drive from where I live. At the concert the person who invited me there saw to it that I got two CDs from one of the band members who performed that evening, this CD being one of those. Playground comes across as a band that has its main foundation inside the jazz universe. Their material is exclusively instrumental in nature, and the band focuses on elegant, flowing melody lines of a highly accessible nature in themes and arrangements with a strong emphasis on harmonies. Smooth is something of a key word for this album as a whole, and in terms of specific style we're probably somewhere in between jazz fusion and jazz rock, with what I suspect some purists might describe as a pop-tinged expression. You won't find any challenging escapades on this album. The keyboards, usually in the shape of the piano, tend to dominate, elegant flowing and wandering pinao textures leading the way in slow, elegant movements with ample room for resonating notes and occasional more energetic bursts catering for nerve and tension, but also with passages of a more dramatic and intense nature with clever use of impact notes and other effects that add or subtract intensity in a more subtle manner. Much the same can be said of the guitar when that instrument takes the lead, and while primarily providing careful, dreamladen excursions on occasion pace will be increased and a bit more bite will be added to the delivery now and then. These main solo instruments will support each other, the guitars opting for delicate, funk-oriented licks when the piano is in the lead, while the piano lessens in intensity and provides notes and sounds of a more delicate nature when the guitar has the lead, and fairly often both will meet in tighter, intertwined dual lead runs of a distinctly harmonic nature. Drummer Myhre and bassist Skanke are given their moments in the highlight by way of shorter solo inserts on multiple occasions as well, so those who expect such details from a jazz fusion quartet will get what they expect, but the main emphasis on this album is the piano and the guitar in that order. Bands that create music without too many challenging features may struggle to maintain nerve and tension, especially when the overall sound is a smooth one. Playground manages to escape that trap, partially because their material is bright, positive and vibrant I guess, carefully jubilant in mood if you like. The performers appear to be of excellent quality too, at least from what I can hear in my role as a listener, and for my sake this production was a joyful ray of musical sunlight.
Conclusion. Instrumental jazz fusion with a touch of smooth jazz is how I would describe the material of Norwegian quartet Playground as it comes across on their sole CD "Change the Keys", a positive, joyful and smoothly jubilant album where the piano and the guitar are the dominant instruments. I understand that some of the principal members of Playground hold bands such as Mezzoforte and Spyro Gyra in high esteem, and I kind of resume that those who have an affection for those and bands of a similar nature will be something of a core audience for this CD as well.
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