Pixel - We Are All Small Pixels
(Cuneiform Records Rune 372. CD Review by Rob Mallows)
The first thirty seconds of this album was enough to tell me that I would probably like Norwegian band Pixel. I did.
Opener Be Mine kicks the musical doors in and sends a signal of intent. A very simple but insistent electronic bass riff and hi-hat, followed by a joint trumpet and sax melody into which the sweet voice of bassist/singer Ellen Andrea Wang jumps.
Ellen Andrea Wang has a voice that has retained enough of its nordic phrasing to keep it distinctive and could be described as ‘crystalline’. It’s certainly clear and has a jaunty pop feel. That’s not a criticism - it’s has a warmth that contrasts with the muscular sounds of her three band mates. But then on the second track, Space, she sings in unison with trumpeter Jonas Kilmork Vemøy which works so, so well in a pulsing tune with rich orchestration. Track three, Farris, drops the album into a lower gear, Vemøy’s trumpet letting the silences work as hard as the sparse notes he plays to provide a contrast to the helper skelter of the first two tunes.
Pixel has a joyful pick-&-mix of influences with jazz the strongest flavour but there are definitely elements of indie-pop in its production. Each track is on average three to four minutes long with a couple of exceptions and clearly targeted at a the iTunes generation with its short attention spans and readiness to listen to just single tracks rather than a full album. But, that’s perhaps just a marketing strategy - the band still works hard in those short bursts to give the listener a range of experiences.
Pixel’s material is described as having the orchestration of Ornette Coleman and “wantonly propulsive” beats. PR exaggeration aside, there’s definitely a lot of elements for the ear to pick up on and varieties of tempo, loudness and harmony to keep things interesting. Chief among them are Ellen Andrea Wang’s voice and Lassen’s sax playing, particularly the ground-shaking, single note riffs on Dreaming that could shake the plaster off the walls.
Wang is also a kick-ass bass player and composer who is in demand in her country. The production also gives plenty of room to Vemøy, sax player Harald Lassen and drummer Jon Audun Baar, who provides a lot of heavy two-by-four rock beats along with more complex pacings. The choice of songs gives the band space to show how tightly they play together.
Whatever you choose to define Pixel as - the PR material describes it as ‘indie-jazz’ with a pop feel - this band has something new to say musically and produces tunes that are toe-tappingly, wantonly catchy. Ellen Andrea Wang’s voice is a new colour on European jazz’s vocal palette and, based on this album, is deserving of display on a bigger canvas.