Mathias Eick is a Norwegian trumpet player who quotes Kenny Wheeler, Chet Baker as well as fellow Norwegians Arve Henriksen or Nils Petter Molvaer as major influences. Having previously performed with Jaga Jazzist (Ninja Tune) and recorded with pianist Iro Haarla, guitarist Jacob Young and drummer Manu Katche (all for ECM Records), Mathias Eick is also a prolific composer. Following on from The Door (2008) and Skala (2011), Midwest (ECM Records – 2015) is the musician’s third release as a leader and features eight new compositions.

Mathias Eick - Midwest (2015)
Mathias Eick – Midwest (2015)

While touring the US and driving long distances across the Midwest, the musician felt an eerie connection with the landscape.

Then we reached the area called the Rural Midwest and I suddenly had the strange feeling that I was home. It occurred to me that some of the early settlers must have felt this way, when they looked at the rich soil of the plains and saw that this was wonderful land for farming. Parts of the Midwest remind me strongly of parts of Norway – including the southeast of Norway where I grew up.

This moment of epiphany provided the creative spark for Midwest. In the 19th and early 20th century, over eight million Norwegians emigrated to the US and the majority of them settled in the Midwest. On the record, Mathias Eick imagines an emigrant’s journey from his or her native Norway (“Hem”), across the ocean (“At Sea”, “Lost”) and into the fertile plains of the Midwestern United States (“Midwest”, “Dakota” or “Fargo”).

The track titled “Fargo” is of course a reference to the Coen Brothers’ eponymous film whose Scandinavian backdrop was an integral part of the film throughout.

DakotaLive at Nasjonal Jazzscene, Oslo – 27 Feb. 2015.
Mathias Eick: trumpet; Andreas Ulvo: piano; Mats Eilertsen: bass; Erlend Viken: violin; Torstein Lofthus: drums.

If a line-up of eight musicians (including two drummers) showcased the “pop” production and more electric sound of his previous record Skala, Midwest is entirely acoustic and features the violin of Norwegian traditional folk musician Gjermund Larsen. As a result, the entire album hinges on the rare pairing of trumpet and violin, where jazz and folk converge beautifully into strong melodies while striving to achieve a delicate sonic balance.

Along with double bass player Mats Eilertsen, the sound of Gjermund Larsen’s violin also featured on Norwegian trumpet player Arve Henriksen’s The Nature of Connections (Rune Grammofon – 2014) which saw the playing of Henriksen pitched against a chamber music ensemble.

With Helge Norbakken on percussion, the piano of Jon Balke steers the ship. A seasoned ECM artist who already appeared on Mathias Eick’s first solo record, the musician is the former leader of the Magnetic North Orchestra (1992 – 2005) which also featured strings and horn players.

Expressing both a longing for a journey into the unknown and a yearning for the Norwegian homeland, Midwest constantly alternates between trumpet and violin in unison, harmony or solo mode with lyrical and intertwining compositions for a marvellous quintet.