Nikolaj Hess

Spacelab & Strings
(Sunnyside)

Nikolaj Hess’ new album Spacelab & Strings isn’t a conventional jazz record. Its title bears the names of the jazz trio Spacelab and the string quartet Strings (led by Cæcilie Balling) in a distinctly functional fashion. Yet, the album created by uniting these seven musicians doesn’t maintain the kind of stiff boundaries its identifying facade might otherwise imply.

“Indigo Meadow” encourages specific imagery, but the music still prompts wonder and delight. Strings’ soft and gingerly harmonies dance with Christensen’s intermittent bass pizzicato. The all-string emphasis makes classical prioritization seem imminent. Nevertheless, Christensen’s jazzy swing takes the lead before Nikolaj’s carefree piano and Mikkel’s relaxed brush strokes pivot the scene toward a cooler, freer flow. “Ravel Reflections” honors the late French composer, employing lively pizzicato, harmonizing tremolo and bowed flourishes. Still, when the quartet’s descending melody leads into a perfect opening for harp, flute or other orchestral element, light cymbal taps, chugging brush stokes and galloping piano usher in stylistic transformation that ebbs and flows without conflict throughout the record.