Taken from a performance at the Taktlos Festival, Rote Fabrik, Zurich, Switzerland, June 4th 2005, Oval is comprised of four tracks of free-flowing improvisation performed by Swedish pianist Sten Sandell, bassist Johan Berthling and percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love. With the exception of the disc closer, "Oval Ballad," each piece is a lengthy exploration of collaborative sound probing.
The opening track, "Ovala Takter I," begins with an unrelenting momentum, centered on Sandell’s whirling, middle register theme. About half way through, Sandell drops out, exposing the subtle intensity of Nilssen-Love and Berthling. After a lengthy build towards the end, the piece ends with quiet resolve.
"Ovala Takter II" begins with Berthling’s unorthodox, surprisingly lyrical arco stabs. Sandell enters with a sense of urgency; his quick manipulation of the piano’s full range, furious single-line runs and bombastic approach expands the textural simplicity proposed by the bass.
Leaning more towards a jazz aesthetic, Berthling’s bass sans bow also begins "Ovala Takter III," a more spaciously developed piece with an eerie element of serenity that is eventually disrupted by Nilssen-Love’s explosive cymbal work and Sandell’s full-range flourishes.
The brief, and hauntingly beautiful, "Oval Ballad" closes out the session with a semblance of lyricism and relaxed pulse underneath a blanket of dreamy dissonance. The piece ends in an abrupt, unresolved manner.
The music presented on Oval is challenging, yet rewarding. Sandell, Berthling and Nilssen-Love perform at a level well beyond exception. The three express themselves in a straight-forward, realistic way. Take it or leave it, these sounds speak of honesty, truth and beauty undisguised and unfettered.