Huntsville

echo arches & eras
Rune Grammofon RCD 2079

Heaven And

Bye And Bye I'm Going to See the King

Staubgold 98 CD

Plowing a furrow in between Rock and Jazz, without resorting to the pyrotechnics of Fusion are two European ensembles with unbeatable improv cred, dedicated to trying out groove-and-electronica-based material.

Norway’s Huntsville, is a trio consisting of multi-string instrumentalists Ivar Grydeland, percussionist Ingar Zach and bassist Tonny Kluften, with all usually found it the company of sound explorers such as trumpeter Axel Dörner and synthesizer player Thomas Lehn. Similarly often-involved in reductionist improv are Heaven And member guitarist Martin Siewert, in Trapist with bassist Joe Williamson, and drummer Steve Heather in efzeg with guitarists Burkhard Stangl. Heather’s fellow Aussie-in-Berlin, drummer Tony Buck is best-known for his long-time membership in The Necks, as well as microtonal playing with pianist Magda Mayas. Meanwhile bassist zeitblom – whose allegiance to lower-case sounds extends to his name – was initially a member of the avant-rock band Sovetskoe Foto, and has collaborated with figures such as guitarist Fred Frith and turntablist Christian Fennesz.

Involved with constructing novel soundscapes, both bands add guest musicians to these CDs. Most notable on Bye And Bye … are the disconnected tremolo brays and solidified sound blocks of trumpeter Franz Hautzinger. Unfortunately, further tone and rhythm add-ons from keyboardist Ali N. Askin and percussionist Michael Weilacher crown the already-busy interface with piles of hardened and fortissimo timbres causing some pieces at junctures to resemble 1960s psychedelic freak-outs.

This sonic likeness is also apparent on Huntsville’s disc, when the basic trio is augmented by guitarist Nels Cline and percussionist Glenn Kotche. As Californians, extended rock jams may be part of the guests’ heritage. In contrast, Disc One aims for a more universal feeling, or is it vibe? With Sidsel Endressen’s voice prominent on one track, and the five tracks pulsating with staccato, Carnatic drones from Zach’s tabla machine plus discordant banjo licks from Grydeland, the outcome suggests a cosmic jam among Pete Seeger, Ali Akbar Khan and Derek Bailey.

More than 50 minutes long, “eras” is an extended essay on chromaticism rather than variants to climax. Awash with flanged guitar distortions and clattering percussion, near-anthropologically correct buzzing drones plus electronically hisses and blurs, the only asides come via Grydeland’s pressured banjo flanges and further folksy strums, probably from Cline. When one crescendo of polyrhythmic and polytonal whinnies and ramping timbres is reached one-third of the way through, grinding and clattering guitar tones, drum backbeats and tabla machine thumps maintain the sonic tension. Moving into a section that attains an R&B-styled groove – with feedback reverb and rasping, distorted guitar licks with suggestions of drum backbeat and organ-like smears – the pace finally lessens due to echoing steel guitar licks and whistling guitar flanges. As ektara and sarod-like drones predominate, the return to broken-octave concordance is created by guitar picking plus weeping licks from the pedal steel.

Less protracted and without additional musicians’ tone colors, the line from Sandy Bull-like folk psychedelia to Huntsville becomes apparent on the other tracks. Buzzing oscillations create the tightening percussive ostinato upon which the string-players express themselves. Endressen’s folksy vocalizing is only a momentary distraction from Scruggs-style banjo twangs, country blues guitar licks, as well as speedy ruffs and paradiddles from Zach. A typical finale involves the strings referencing both downwards cross-pulsed guitar strums and the upwards claw-hammer banjo licks, plus percussion rolls and pops abetted by the sound of bass strings prepared with sticks and rubber bands.

A distinctive interface is also apparent from Heaven And. Here however folk references are replaced by a stronger orientation towards electronica. Bottleneck blues are heard, but so are guitar rasps that could fit into a Heavy Metal band, a 1960s’ R&B-like bass line and drum beats that move from simple shuffles to complex, layered polyrhythms.

“Earth magic” plus the title tune are the most characteristic pieces. The former has a fuller Rock-styled sound with what is apparently a solid electric bass line, whining rubato guitar flanges plus rolls and ruffs from the dual drummers. Protruding from among signal-processed electrical pulses and sputtering trumpet lines, amplified guitar licks are concentrated in the performance’s higher vectors, peaking following downward electric piano glissandi. Brassy smears from Hautzinger expose a coda of ghostly echoes. More upbeat “Bye And Bye I'm Going to See the King” finds thick backbeat percussion evolving in parallel lines with wheezy guitar licks. Following guitar-hero-like expansive solo from Siewert, the final variant matches bottleneck stops with distorted tones from all concerned.

While fastened to a strong beat like a hospital patient to a heart monitor, both bands demonstrate that a relentless groove from highly amplified guitars and thick drum beats doesn’t preclude intelligent improvisation.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: echo: CD1: 1. lancet 2. eco+ 3. ogee 4. arrow and rain 5. tudor CD2: eras*

Personnel: echo: Ivar Grydeland (acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, pedal steel guitar, radio, voice, organ and sruti); Nels Cline (guitar)*; Tonny Kluften (bass, drum machine and clockenspiel); Ingar Zach (snare drums, tabla machine machine, sarangi box, shruti box and percussion); Glenn Kotche (percussion)* and Sidsel Endressen (voice)+

Track Listing: Bye: 1. Babylon 2. Bye And Bye I'm Going to See the King 3. Om 4. Blue, Even 5. When the Roll is Called 6. Earth Magic

Personnel: Bye: Franz Hautzinger (trumpet); Martin Siewert (guitars and electronics); zeitblom (bass); Ali N. Askin (piano); Tony Buck (drums); Steve Heather (drums, marimba, percussion and harp) and Michael Weilacher (vibraphone and marimba)