Haftor Medboe Group - In Perpetuity - The Skinny

On the 3" CD, "Birdsongs", Haftor Medboe and Susan McKenzie wove delicate spells of ambient altered jazz that were soothing, meditative and invigorating. Now expanded to a full group, Haftor's compositions draw upon a wider palette to bring together jazz, broken electro-funk, vast, sweeping string sections and electronics with little regard for genre or contrivance, and in doing so Medboe avoid a lot of the perceived limits of jazz without sacrificing beauty and melody for freedom, as liberated music is so often forced to.
'In Perpetuity' is a perfect showcase for Haftor's vision. As well as McKenzie's haunting soprano sax, the band also features Chris Greive on trombone, and the distant almost-calypso drumming of Signy Jakobsdottir which blends in more as important intergral piece of the pie than a mere thumping backbeat.
Also on board helping raise the bar are the Edinburgh Quartet whose strings illuminate the songs in a magnificent manner. It's a Super Audio CD and absolutely meticulously produced, which is to say, it sounds absolutely fantastic, every element coming through with a sublime clarity that few albums can match.
Haftor's guitar playing only occasionally touches upon traditional jazz language, moving through spaced out Morricone-esque spaghetti western, noise-surf to gorgeously lumbering rhythms.
But live, he shows himself to be a hugely entertaining performer as well, proving equally adept on electronics, with a rack of effect units stretching halfway across the stage, even playing a dictaphone through his guitar pickups at one point. The fact that he looks like Marc Ribot does little to dissuade comparison.
At The Lot-staged launch gig (in Edinburgh), Konrad Wisniewski, stood in on saxophone, and although his playing is breathtakingly virtuosic, he seemed slightly at odds with the group, albeit partly due to the sound mix. Of course, the results of the live mix are difficult to compare to the pristine quality of the SACD.
But Haftor and Signy are a joy to watch, sculpting wondrous aquatic soundscapes equally capable of enthralling and grooving. This is music that truly transcends the genres it might be associated with, and ultimately is, however much purists might scoff, the perfect contemporary jazz.

The Skinny
01 July 2006