“This album has everything. Which is why it’s not for everyone.”
The statement belongs to Øyvind Skarbø; bandleader, drummer and composer. His ensemble Skarbø Skulekorps released their highly praised debut album on Hubro in 2019, universally hailed for being both catchy and unpredictable at the same time. Dugnad does the same thing, but amplified to the extreme. It marks a deeper and even more radical exploration completely outside normal paths of genre and expectation.
The album takes you from one extreme to the other. With 14 completely different tracks in just over 30 minutes, the structure of the album is inspired by the cassette mixtapes he used to listen to as a kid. “Since I was very young my older sisters used to make me tapes with what they were listening to. It could be anything: From Prince to Glenn Miller, from Enigma to Sepultura. My music has been very informed by this multitude.”
The almost lexical insight of music history is evident from the get-go: The music runs the gamut from 20th century classical composers to late-70s TV crime series, only to end up inside what sounds like the soundtrack of a mid-90s gaming console. But it’s the unorthodox and seemingly impossible way in which all these elements are combined into a coherent whole that make up the brilliance of this album. Instead of being nostalgic and referring, it feels new and unheard.
Dugnad is the recording where Skarbø not only cements his abilities as one of the most creative drummers and composers, but also steps into the frontline as a progressive producer in his own right. “I had been searching for better ways to make my ideas come to life. The pandemic situation forced me into a new way of working. As a jazz musician, I’ve always thought of things from an acoustic, live perspective. When I managed to let that go, many doors opened up.”
Initially intended as a regular session with everyone in the studio together, the worldwide pandemic forced the band into new ways of working. After writing the material, the musicians recorded their parts at home, either alone or in small groups. These recordings were then totally restructured and recomposed by Skarbø over the course of 6 months, culminating in 8 days of mixing with wizard engineer Jørgen Træen, who also mastered the album.
The core ensemble is almost the same as on the previous album, and reads like a who’s who in Scandinavian modern creative music. Reedists Signe Emmeluth and Eirik Hegdal deliver beautiful melodies one moment, only to burst into flames the next. Trumpeter Stian Omenås has a playing history with Øyvind that goes back 27 years. Listen to his solos on Kassett and Murgröna, and you’ll hear why he is one of the most melodically gifted musicians around. New arrival Ivar Grydeland brings a new twist into the string department, with highly creative guitar parts hinting towards the grittier sides of rock, while his evocative pedal steel playing adds the melancholy. Chris Holm – prior to this known mostly for supporting artists in the pop realm – anchors the band with extremely musical bass playing, covering the album with subtle yet distinctive details.
There are also guest appearances by select musicians. Reedist Klaus Holm brings a crackling alto solo on Anti-Crime Computer in tandem with Hegdal. While pianist Guoste Tamulynaite tackles the 10-finger chords on Central Parker with ease, recorded straight to cell phone. Guitarist Thomas Dahl sets the tone on Triple F and brings out his inner Steve Jones on F-Punk. Skarbø’s son, Elia, makes his recording debut on the track bearing his name. Whilst one of the most praised composers of contemporary classic music, Øyvind Torvund, makes a special appearance on modular synth.
“All in all, it’s been a good DUGNAD,” says Øyvind, referring to the impossible-to-translate Norwegian word. “Everybody gave their all, despite trying times. We brought our efforts together, and out came the new album. That’s the definition of DUGNAD.”