It's probably inevitable that any review of any of John Moulder's recordings will mention that he is a Catholic priest. Not only is this an interesting dichotomy for most of us to reconcile?a century ago, people in Moulder's profession were calling jazz the devil's music?but it's also an indication that, just maybe, in exchange for his service the Almighty Father rewarded him with a record as fantastic as Bifröst, one of the best jazz records of 2009.
Moulder is not one of those musicians who is content to simply run through the changes. His compositions are well-conceived and executed and give him plenty of avenues to explore through his solos. He is firmly entrenched in the Pat Metheny camp of playing, and his guitar playing has a similar edge with crisp lines that hover just this side of rock. Moulder's songs all follow a similar format, in that they are built upon acoustic guitar motifs which are then fleshed out by the guitarist and the other players. Solos are used to develop the compositions rather than just a means to wail. The opening title track possesses a melancholy and rhythmically unsettled melody, which Moulder develops into a frenzy; "Watch Your Step" (and its brief solo intro), delves into the pastoral with a galloping melody. Much of this record recalls the aural landscapes of guitarists like Ralph Towner and Michael Hedges, both of whom expertly craft specific moods out of their melodies. Moulder is no exception.
In addition to being an ingenious improviser with a seemingly endless instinct for variety, Moulder has also surrounded himself with top-notch sidemen who are completely onboard with the spirit of what he is doing. Drummer Paul Wertico plays a restrained role, letting the rest of the instruments take the forefront while he is content to play around with shifting rhythms in the background. Two Norwegian imports, tenor saxophonist Bendik Hofseth and double-bassist Arild Andersen, are the glue that really keep everything together. Hofseth is the perfect complement to Moulder's crackling lines, with the ability to be either brazen or gentle as the occasion arises. Andersen has a complete command of his instrument and a wonderfully full wooden tone. He has two solos that are highlights of the record: one begins "Magical Space" and the other lies in the middle of the epic "Time Being." This second solo is an absolute stunner, a dazzling display of virtuosity and technique. It may very well be one of the best bass solos of the past decade.
In a realm where too many guitarists aspire to be the next Jim Hall, Moulder has a distinct and exciting approach that ensures that his albums sound like nothing else out there. He is definitely one to watch.