Why, I asked Andreas Mæland today, did he call his record label Hubro? “It’s a North European eagle owl,” he said. “I thought we should name it after an endangered species, because this is endangered music.”
Mæland was in London to celebrate Hubro’s 10th anniversary, bringing with him from Norway three of the label’s groups. For members of an endangered species, they sounded in pretty good condition as they played short sets at the Spice of Life, a Soho pub whose basement is a regular venue for jazz.
Like his compatriot Rune Kristofferson, the founder of Rune Grammofon, Seth Rosner of Pi in New York and Patrik Landolt of Intakt in Zurich, Mæland has succeeded in demonstrating that record labels still have a significant role to play in documenting important music, building trust with listeners along the way through the taste of their producers. Kristoffersen and Mæland both served an apprenticeship working for Manfred Eicher’s ECM company: in fact Mæland succeeded Kristoffersen as ECM’s label manager in Norway, whose music Eicher has done much to promote. Eventually Mæland wanted to start his own label. “I released Christian Wallumrød’s first solo album,” he told me between sets. “And then it wasn’t possible to be ECM’s label manager any more.” Over the past decade he has released 120 albums by artists such as the percussionist Håkon Stene, the harmonium player Sigbjørn Apeland, the bassist Mats Eilertsen, the trio Moskus, the multi-instrumentalist Geir Sunstøl and the mixologist Erik Honoré.
The first of the three bands — all trios — to perform at the Spice of Life was led by Erland Apneseth, a specialist in the Hardanger fiddle, accompanied by the bass guitarist Stephan Meidell and the drummer Øyvind Hegg-Lunde. As is usual with this generation of Norwegian musicians, the music floated free of genre but was strongly rooted in the cadences and modes of folk music. It was delicate but adventurous: in one passage all three musicians were bowing something — a violin, a bell, the bass guitar — to create an texture that seemed somehow appropriately early-Novemberish The closing section of an absorbing set was underpinned by Meidell’s use of a handheld single-bladed electric propeller to strike the strings in rapid succession, controlling the rate and weight of the notes with precision.
Building Instrument featured Mari Kvien Brunvoll on voice, zither and sampler, Åsmund Weltzien on keyboards and Hegg-Lunde on drums. Brunvoll is an intriguing singer, the purity and flexibility of her voice particularly well suited suited to a long passage in which her zither and Weltzien’s ability to reproduce the sound of Mellotron flutes evoked the baroque-psychedelic phase of British pop circa 1968. At times the whole trio sounded appealingly like a melting Chinese musical box.
Last came Bushman’s Revenge, a sort of power trio fronted by the guitarist Even Helte Hermansen, with the noisest and most assertive music of the afternoon. Their regular bassist is recovering from a broken arm, so Meidell stepped into the breach; there were times when the music made me think of how I’d like Cream to have turned out, freed from the thumping repetition of witless blues clichés. The group’s most recent album, Et Hån Mot Overklassen, is more of an essay in resraint and texture: lots of heavily reverbed Stratocaster with rolling tom-toms, that kind of thing (and it includes a track titled “Ladies Night at the Jazz Fusion Disco”).
The little woodcut of a flying owl on the album jackets, the naïve hand-lettering and the snapshot photography of the covers give Hubro albums a visual signature as distinctive as, but quite distinct from, ECM and Rune Grammofon. What the signature says is that the contents are likely to be worth hearing, as today’s showcase amply demonstrated.
* The photograph shows (from left) Stephan Meidell, Øyvind Hegg-Lunde and Erland Apneseth.