Album Review: Otooto – smooth Danish jazz grooves with ‘This Love is For You’

Otooto : This Love Is For You

When it comes to top-notch conservatoires where fusing classical training into jazz intersect, Denmark, and I would venture the Netherlands, hold a strong reputation for supporting that kind of nuanced and classical sound.

The debut album of a very young and talented Danish quartet quintet, Otooto, led by trumpeter Jonas Due and saxophonist Oilly Wallace does exactly that: the group’s sound blends light, lyrical horn melodies with the characteristic sound of the vintage Juno 106 synth. They’ve taken it a step further and made it clear, as is heard with their array of invited guest artists, that they wish to define this sound as authentically as possible.

Of the album they’ve said that “Our mission is to reflect modern society and put a sound to its vibrations. And through this sound we seek to transmit purity, love and joy”. They’ve certainly achieved the calm, and serene vibration over a wonderfully crafted rhythmic section, and I would say they are definitely an act at the start of what promises to be a wonderful career.

To start with, the 11-track album is on the surface a testament to the kind of musical training you receive in the aforementioned conservatoire: the horn lines, which define each track as a voice in itself, are reminiscent of the seemingly detached and classical jazz scene gaining a trend with young conservatoire musicians. If anything, the grooves are subtle, rightly so, making one focus on the entire instrumentation and the layered counterpoint on all 11 tracks. The word ‘ mellow’ comes to mind with the entire album’s sound, only enhanced sonically with the band’s obvious love of West Coast synth pop.

The opening track,”Dissolving Parts”, could easily be playing on a smooth jazz compilation by a beach bar, and only a musician would suss out the incredible dexterity and interplay of all four musicians. “0 To 1” and “Mayday Greyday” give a more adventurous take on whimsical and playful sonic textures; in particular drummer Andreas Svendsen and bassist Matthias Petri.

There’s a bit of early Quincy Jones meets a young Robert Glasper in the following three tracks, in particular with the title track, “This Love Is For You”, featuring Lo Ersare on guest vocals. It’s evident in the constant harmonic shift, always within a safe voice leading quality with the executive solo featuring Calle Brickman. “Sun Fish” and “Token” take cool to a whole new level: it’s hard to imagine this West Coast sound coming from Denmark, and that’s a good thing. The band clearly know how to navigate themselves in arrangement, by placing the vocals as an added melodic layer rather than taking centre stage.

The horn lines throughout the entire album are exquisite, yet the solos from Wallace and Due shine with their laidback, vibrant musical trades, and as a result, make their relation as band members clearly one of mutual respect and candid conversation. They play with the kind of youthfulness one would expect in the younger jazz generation. It parlays into the subsequent tracks; and although beautifully crafted, one can hear the potential if the band were to let loose of the kind of traditional classical smooth jazz sound that encapsulates the younger generation.

I think that’s why the last track on the album, “The Space Replacement”, is my favourite standout track from the young quintet. It’s got everything, from a beautiful and moving melody and energetic solos to an incredibly groovy and non-intrusive rhythm section. It’s more of a traditional song form, and personally speaking, it holds the space for the band to experiment with that sound, which I think is indicative of a very promising future.

Otooto’s impressive debut album comes out on May 21st. Check them out here.

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