by Martin Longley –
If the adventurous listener is seeking a prog Baroque entanglement, with a filmic soundtrack ambiance and a frisson of improvisatory adventure, then Norwegian bassman Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas combo will assuredly provide the goods. This is a long-running band that Opsvik founded only a few years after he landed in New York City, way back in 1998. Ensnared by the Manhattan jazz-trap, he decided to remain there rather than return to Oslo, and since that time, he’s also been grabbed by the steadily strengthening Brooklyn scene.
Overseas is now a very stable unit, at least in terms of line-up longevity. The music still retains its sense of dynamic unpredictability, the outfit being a vehicle for Opsvik’s ever-evolving compositional aims. He will be bringing Overseas to Moers for the first time, appearing on the festival’s third day. The leader is very well-known on the New York scene, but is still awaiting discovery in many European quarters. Some of his Overseas colleagues are more familiar, particularly saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Kenny Wollesen.
I ask Opsvik what he’s planning for the gig. “It will probably be a mix of some brand new stuff, and music from the last album, and maybe a few older things. I’m in the process of writing some new pieces now.” That last album was Overseas IV, released in 2012. Opsvik has adopted the very organised tactic of numbering these discs, the first one hailing from 2003. They have been regular, but steadily paced over a decade. Opsvik gradually introduced the band via frequent gigs at NYC venues such as Nublu, the 55 Bar and The Cornelia Street Café.
“I’m still figuring out which direction to take for number V,” he says. “I have some plans to record with a string orchestra at some point, so that might be for number VI. I like to make every record have its own little universe, but still like a continuation.”
Overseas began as a quartet, but were joined by guitarist and banjoman Brandon Seabrook around 2010. “Malaby was on the road a lot, and I couldn’t really replace him on saxophone,” says Opsvik. “But I’d met Brandon a few years before, and I really loved his playing. He started sitting in with us, and he changed the direction of the band. Then we did a few gigs with both Tony and Brandon. I really love his approach.” Indeed, Seabrook commands a wide language of sonic possibilities, at his most extreme taking the banjo into distorted fuzz-realms hitherto unimaginable. In guitar terms, he can be the most intricate of thrashers, operating at extreme velocity, with no compromise on detailed contortions.
“I try not to do gigs with subs any more, because it’s such a set sound now. I knew all along that I wanted to have harpsichord, so that definitely steered the direction of the record.” Previously, Jacob Sacks had concentrated on piano and organ, but for Overseas IV, they hired a harpsichord, instantly imparting a very specific, evocative character. “I was also listening to a lot of early music, and reading histories of that time. It’s almost like a concept album,” he smiles. “It’s such a fragile instrument, and so soft, with barely no sound. Live, we just use a regular piano, and sometimes a clavinet. To have it digitally sampled would be borderline cheesy!” There is a strong possibility that they won’t be bringing the banjo and harpsichord on the aeroplane!
Opsvik’s most recent album is A Thousand Ancestors, released just a few months ago on his own Loyal Label. It’s a collaboration with photographer Michelle Arcila, presented as a lavish limited edition audio visual package that includes vinyl, cd and a download card, along with ten prints, one for each solo bass tune on the album. This concept can also be presented as a live show, combining slideshow images with electronics-augmented bass. “I was asked to do a solo show at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival in 2007, and that was my first time doing that, and then maybe a year later we were asked to contribute to a Norwegian arts festival, so the idea of combining photographs and music evolved.”
Because of his label’s precedent of releasing works by a few Norwegian acts, Opsvik tends to receive a steady flow of demos from his homeland. He may well be entrenched in NYC life now, but still maintains contact with his roots. “My first years were based around people I met at school,” he says, remembering the late 1990s in New York. “I was a shy Norwegian! Every session, you met new people. The scene is so different now, it’s so diverse. You just have to find your own little pocket of people you like to play with, taking time to figure out which direction you feel comfortable taking…”