March 14, 2011
Gjerstad, Skaset, Grenager, Tafjord, Mølstad, Moe
Conrad Sound CNR 304
Forging a path midway between the extremes of so-called cold Nordic Jazz, represented by the ECM label, and newer, looser varieties typified by Scandinavian bands such as the Thing and Atomic are these two ensembles. Each taking cues from modern chamber music, both bands eschew percussion instruments and base their strategies on the somewhat abrasive interactions of brass, reed and strings.
Interestingly enough, one member of Sekstett is veteran reedist Frode Gjerstad, who has been leading the fight against enervating music since the 1970s. Besides working with the likes of British drummer John Stevens and American bassist William Parker, Gjerstad has organized groups for like-minded local players, ranging from a trio to the larger Circulasione Totale Orchestra, in which Sekstett’s tubaist Børre Mølstadis is a member. Meanwhile French hornist Hild Sofie Tafjord and cellist Lene Grenager, best-known for their work in the rock-influenced, chamber-improv quartet Spunk, are featured on both CDs. Bergen-based flutist Bjørnar Habbestad and Trondheim-based bassist Michael Francis Duch, who also flit among Rock, Jazz and Free Music, fill out Lemur. Meanwhile Sekstett’s other core members are guitarist Håvard Skaset and bassist Guro Skumsnes Moe, who together play in a variety of settings, most notably the Bay/Oslo Mirror Trio.
Be that as it may, despite the distaff duo overlap, there’s no sound mirroring between Lemur and Sekstett. For a start, the quartet is more concerned with stretching to its limits the contrapuntal qualities of each instrument. The flutist for instance modulates from gentle whispers to siren-like overblowing; while making common cause with timbres from Hild Sofie Tafjord’s French horn that burble on the bottom or soar alp-horn-like to the top. Opposing or connective string stretching and woody reverberations from Lene Grenager and Duch complete the sonic recital.
A piece such as “Dzibilchaltun” for example features kinetic double counterpoint from Habbestad and Tafjord while the scuffed strings produce harmonies that are both atonal and polyphonic. Soon the cellist’s flying spiccato contrasts with pedal-point potamento from the bassist as the flutist’s recurring blows become shriller and echoing just as the hornist’s tremolo grace notes become growly and rough-hewn. Agitato, Tafjord’s sour and fortissimo textures separate themselves distinctively from the others’ tones, which appear to be sonically chiaroscuro. As a change of pace, consider “Saragasso”. An intermezzo of plucked rebounds and splayed stops from the strings initially contrast contrapuntally with flute polytones. By the finale however, while Duch provides pedal-point accompaniment, Habbestad’s pressurized chirps are expand in tandem with slap-and-stop-tongued obbligatos from the hornist, at the same time as Grenager’s splintering strings provide a counterline.
Tafjord’s and Grenager’s contributions are more varied on the other CD since they have four partners off which they can bounce timbres rather than just two. For instance, a track such as “6.5” is an exercise in foundation tones, with the hornist’s quivering grace-notes abutting tuba burps and snorts. Eventually a fluid tonal intersection arrives, with speedy guitar and guitar-like strokes from the strings plus Gjerstad’s gentling clarinet glisses completing the intermezzo.
On the other hand as the chromatic underpinning of “6.2” moves from allegro to adagio and back again, different reductionist strategies are applied. Again with most of the timbres modulating in low pitches, the only contrast is provided by the peeps and pressurized split tones from the clarinet and miniature col legno and sul tasto chiming from the three string players. Double-tongued trilling from Gjerstad and braying slurs from Tafjord add to this harmonic layering until connective links are established. Finally, an interlude of rough plunger brass blasts and twittering flute coloration pitch-slides and change positions consistently until the end is reached.
Notable exercises in unrestricted yet unhackneyed improvisation, these CDs capture two intrepid groups of Norwegian aiming for distinctive creativity. Neither quite attains this. Perhaps each one`s subsequent CD will define an inimitable, individual style.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Aigéan: 1. Dasht E Lut 2. Panthalassa 3. Betpak–Dala 4. Imbrium 5. Dzibilchaltun 6. Saragasso 7. Kriznajama
Personnel: Aigéan: Hild Sofie Tafjord (French horn); Bjørnar Habbestad (flutes); Lene Grenager (cello) and Michael Francis Duch (bass)
Track Listing: Sekstett: 1. 6.1 2. 6.2 3. 6.3 4. 6.4 5. 6.5
Personnel: Sekstett: Hild Sofie Tafjord (French horn); Børre Mølstad (tuba); Frode Gjerstad (clarinets); Håvard Skaset (guitars), Lene Grenager (cello) and Guro Skumsnes Moe (bass)