Optics was produced in June 2007 at the legendary Sear Sound studio in New York City under the auspicies of sound engineer James Farber and mastering engineer Greg Calbi.
It has since received critical acclaim in a wide number of music magazines and blogs, having been a strong launching point for both the trio's live activities and Kjærgaard's growing international career.
The sound of the record is warm and spacious, bringing out all the subtle shades of the trio interplay. Kjærgaard, Street and Cyrille had only met once prior to the date and yet there is a natural and organic flow in the music, which is also reflects why most of the record was done in first takes.
The trio features drummer Andrew Cyrille and bass player Ben Street. Cyrille is a living legend and one of the true masters of improvised music. He has collaborated closely with artists like Cecil Taylor, Oliver Lake and Walt Dickerson in some of the ground breaking projects from the 60’s up untill the present day.
Ben Street is regarded as one of the most sofisticated upright bass players on the present scene, effortlessly encompassing virtousic instrumental facilities and a warm singing tone. Coming from New York he performs and records with artists like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Danilo Perez and Paul Motian.
♥♥♥♥♥ - Politiken (Denmark)
★★★★★ – Jyllandsposten (Denmark)
★★★★ – Gaffa (Denmark)
★★★1/2 - Downbeat (US)
Honorable Mention: Best Of 2008 Release - All About Jazz, NYC (US)
“Søren Kjærgaard's Optics is a study in movement and sound. Echoes of Andrew Hill and Cecil Taylor permeates throughout this bold, adventurous release.” – Jakob Baekgaard, All About Jazz (01/2009)
"Quiet, atmospheric, fascinating, enchanting, three-dimensional impro-jazz". – Ivan Rod, Gaffa (Denmark 10/2008)
"Søren Kjærgaard and his to American companions, who will embark on a small European tour, were to my ears one the greatest experiences on the festival. Solely, but not just because of Kjærgaard’s extraordinary sense of sound and his art of touch in all dynamic ranges and in all registres of the piano. If Claude Debussy had been born a 100 years later and as a jazz musician in Jutland, his music could very likely have sounded like this. And as a composer and musical director, Søren Kjærgaard is spanning from the very articulate to the very open, from total unpredictability to something that could be printed in a kinky version of the Danish folk school songbook. And even more so, it seems like he, with the solid Street and the visionary veteran Cyrille, has found something that sounds like a dream trio." – Jakob Levinsen, Jyllandsposten (Denmark 07/2008)
“There is a somnambulant quality to Optics, a kind of walking life feeling. Søren Kjærgaard, 29-year-old Danish pianist, recruited bassist Ben Street and the phenomonal drummer Andrew Cyrille for this trio, and boy, do they listen to one another. … this is minimalistic bliss” – Steve Greenlee, Jazztimes (US 08/2008)
"The title track of Optics provides a good overview to this beautiful and fascinating recording. While some young musicians seek to capture their audience with a fusillade of notes, pianist Søren Kjaergaard’s trio proceeds with the flowing confidence of a Zen master… Both “Elegy” and “Radio House Requiem” might be described as ballads and they are both gorgeous CD highlights. The latter does portray a sense of loss, but the sophisticated harmonies played at a slow, steady tempo make for riveting listening." - Francis Lo Kee, All About Jazz (NYC 06/2008)
“...Kjærgaard’s music is a rather special mixture of expressive minimalism and beautiful elegic ballads with a classic (European) cut. But the music does not degenerate into empty weaving; it is spinned into a fine artwork in a structure, which in contradiction to other contemporary trios refrains from “hip grooves” or neo romantic Brad Mehldau lyricism. The free improvisations are of a destinctive delicacy and are from the hands of the pianist carried by his fine touch, showing a little of Cecil Taylor’s dancing, eruptive keyboard treatment.” - Ib Skovgaard, Weekendavisen (Denmark 06/2008)
“The title tracks is in itself a masterpiece of epic dimensions…There is delicate lyricism; broad, melancholic strokes and eruptive waves, that flushes towards the listener with a dramatic effect. Always with a sense of the pause and the silence in the music, the gradual touch. The interplay is supreme, and nobody masters the abstract rhythms as Cyrille…The best part of Optics is probably the union of the lyrically lingering / dwelling and the constant moving and challenging. Kjærgaard and his co-players can play right into the heart as in “Elegy”, a ballad, which simply does not get any better, but they are also able to move into abstract and intricate compositions as “Mallets” and “Work Of Art”, which draws lines to Andrew Hill and Cecil Taylor.”- Jakob Bækgård, Geiger (Denmark 06/2008)
“The music never drowns in superficiality, but on the contrary it is always stimulating and audacious. Iconoclastic sonorities somewhere between avantegarde and minimalism.”- Pascal Rozart, Jazzman (France 05/2008)
“Kjærgaard is a canny improviser and an explorer of the piano’s interior sound-world.” - Signal To Noise (US 07/2008)
“Having released a number of records, Kjaergaard now releases "Optics", something that in my opinion, sees full realization of his own, unique style… Subtle with a particular focus on the lyrical side, "Optics" is bound to shine a brighter spotlight on Kjaergaard outside of his native Denmark.” - Tom Sekowski, Gaz-Eta (Poland 05/2008)
"This is a record you have to sit down and listen to in order to get the full picture… And play it loud! If the trio is performing on a festival or a club near you, then be there!” - Jan Granlie, Jazznytt (Norway 04/2008)
“Optics is an album that will become a personal “secret masterpiece” that if someone was to ask if people still make incredible, forward-thinking jazz in the 21st century, I'll have to bring this album up in conversation.”- John Book, The Run Off Groove (US 03/2008)
“Their collective outing is packaged as Optics, an enchanting soundscape that explores the complexities of Kjærgaard's eight compositions… Optics is a release that invites structure, but satisfies creative freedom. It really pays tribute to Kjærgaard's vision and caliber of musicianship. Kjærgaard is equally harmonious and dissonant, lyrical and jagged, accentuating his statements with rapidity and force that is reminiscent of Misha Mengelberg. Kjærgaard is aware of his originality and seems determined to mine his own territory.” - Peter Sanchez, All About Jazz, LA (US 03/2008)
“The music on this one is built around rhythm in the form of brooding percussion rattles and tense little piano figures that either stay quiet and hypnotic or build into something larger when Cyrille starts flexing his muscles and really working his drum kit as he does on “Cyrille Surreal,” “Mallets,” and “Work Of Art.” Kjaergaard and Street work around this, adding layers of melody and tension in a set that is alternately serene and stormy.” – Jerome Wilson, Cadence (New York, 10/2008)
"The title track of Optics provides a good overview to this beautiful and fascinating recording. While some young musicians seek to capture their audience with a fusillade of notes, pianist Sïren Kjaergaard's trio proceeds with the flowing confidence of a Zen master. That's not to say that Optics doesn't have its intense, passionate or loud moments, but the balance of moods and dynamics comes from a self-assurance that is not doctrinaire or pretentious. "Optics" takes on a unique three-part (yet seamless) form. It starts with tremolos in the piano and drums with the bass joining the piano for a simple eight-note question followed by a seven-note answer. Out of mystical Messiaen-sounding chords emerges bassist Ben Street's gently singing solo. The third major part of this piece is a kaleidoscopic jazz waltz that functions as a coda and ends as subtly as it began. The musical point being made, nothing else needs to be said.
Throughout the recording the balance and blurring of the composed and improvised is splendidly accomplished. Drummer Andrew Cyrille is arguably best known for his explosive work with Cecil Taylor starting in the 1960s. Street, much younger than Cyrille, has been involved with a slightly calmer improvising scene that includes guitarists Ben Monder and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Kjaergaard is the bridge between them: sometimes he plays the piano fiercely and percussively while at other times the space between the longer held, soft chords gives the bass voice a lot of space through which to sing.
Kjaergaard's respect for Cyrille and Cecil Taylor becomes particularly clear in two pieces: "Cyrille Surreal," a series of hypnotic chord sequences for Cyrille to groove and solo upon, and "Work of Art," which channels that intense 1960s Taylor/Cyrille energy in focused, concise composition.
Both "Elegy" and "Radio House Requiem" might be described as ballads and they are both gorgeous CD highlights. The latter does portray a sense of loss, but the sophisticated harmonies played at a slow, steady tempo make for riveting listening.
With eight tracks from three to thirteen minutes in length (at a total running time of approximately 56 minutes) and varying greatly in sonic and emotional dynamics, repeated listening will reveal more detail."