February 15, 2012
Live at the Rothko Chapel
Rothko Chapel Publications No #
For Flowers Cars and Merry Wars
Hubro CD 2505
Sonic creativity for an improvising musician in the 21st Century usually involves a peripatetic life and multiple affiliations. Nearly every improviser appears to have several metaphoric quivers in his bow, with consistency only related to inspiration. Most instrumentalists play in several formations simultaneously and unlike the late 1950s, when a valued player would easily move say from the Jazz Messengers to Horace Silver’s quintet, musical chasms are much wider than that.
This is the reason for celebrating the quality of these trio CDs sharing the talents of Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach. For Flowers Cars and Merry Wars is a prime example of gripping drone improv, highly electric and seasoned with echoes from rock music, shaped not only by Zach, but also by guitarist/banjoist Ivar Grydeland, bassist Tonny Kluften and on the defining title track vocalist Hanne Hukkelberg. As different to this CD as Australia is from Texas or both from Norway, is Live at the Rothko Chapel. It’s a single-track, spatial-sound mediation, recorded in Houston within the confines of the octagonal Rothko Chapel, which displays 14 canvases by the deceased American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko (1903-1970). Here Zach’s subtle percussion skills are utilized in a microtonal situation, alongside the self-contained string licks from fellow Norwegian Kim Myhr’s guitars and zithers and Australian Jim Denley woodwinds. Myhr and Denley are also involved in projects that range from electro-acoustic compositions and field installations to song oriented bands. Meanwhile Grydeland, Zach and Kluften appear on various understated projects, while the percussionist and guitarist are also one-half of the microtonal Dans les Arbes band with clarinetist Xavier Charles and pianist Christian Wallumrød.
Languid, deliberate and invested with microtonal time-shifting as methods to approximate the contemplative transcendence and spiritualism Rothko designated for the chapel, Mural stretches with non-electronic granular synthesis the sliding tones and timbres that make up its interpretation. Initially Myhr’s strumming and sawing actions on multi-strings alternate with descending finger-picking clanks as Zach’s backing percussion patter remains diffident, with resonation only apparent from hollow-wood mallet pumps, vague bass-drum kicks and shakes and friction from smaller instruments. Meanwhile Denley’s tremolo tongue stopping and wispy split tones are joined by gentling peeps and solid flattement. All along the reedist’s watery tongue jujitsu makes its presence felt even when locked into triple counterpoint with the other instruments whether it’s transverse shrilling or pressurized reed tones. Similarly the ratcheting of the strings takes on droning hurdy-gurdy characteristics as bell-tree peals and woody marimba-like pops provide polyphonic equalization to the guitarist’s often harsh rasgueado plus moderated flute gusts.
By the final variant balance is maintained between narrowed flute squeals, delicately stroked strings and scraping and shuddering percussion. While vibrations from the over-sized horizontal bass drum finally become loud enough to make their presence felt, reed whistling and strummed guitar licks climatically combine. By the finale the trio has produced a mixture both continuous and hypnotic enough to suggest spiritual meditation.
If the performance on Live at the Rothko Chapel is meditative as well as mesmerizing, then the playing on the other CD leads to a program that is hypnotic mixed with hypertension. The gentle, Scandinavian-accented English verbal musings of Alt-Pop vocalist Hukkelberg don’t even add a touch of hysteria to the nearly 19-minute title track. Like many of the instrumental asides her voices comes in-and-out of aural focus as emphasis is directed towards Zach’s near martial beats and the rhythmic pulse from Kluften’s bass strokes. With some of the extruded timbres including guitar distortion and crackling drum ruffs overdubbed and multiplied, blurry tremors and drones often predominate. In fact before calming folksy licks from Grydeland nudge the piece towards a harmonious climax, there’s a danger the chunky polyrhythms and flanges will harden into pseudo-psychedelic era freak-outs for no reason. Luckily the three are too disciplined as musicians to let that tendency get out of hand.
Simultaneously released on vinyl with the “to be played at high volume” suggestion appended, the CD subtly mocks heavy rock as it mimics it. At least that’s what the 26 seconds of faux sitar echoes insinuate on the subsequent “For the Working Class”. In honesty it may be that the penultimate and final tracks which come in at less than 13 and nearly five minutes may be more representative of Hunstville’s skills. In the abbreviated time frames, Grydeland’s ability to polyphonically reference slacked guitar strings and juddering arches, as well as Zach’s skillful movement from staccato drum beats to crackling pulses that at varied times would come from a drum machine or a shaken coffee can, are better showcased.
Only two instances of the multi-colored musical tapestries in which many experimental musicians are entangled, both CDs are valid. Some may prefer the more bombastic thrust of Hunstville, while others may insist on the minimalist aesthetic of Mural.
Track Listing: For: 1. For Flowers Cars and Merry Wars* 2. For The Working Class 3. Ear/Eye Connector 4. Star Spangled Pillow
Personnel: For: Ivar Grydeland (guitars, banjo and effects); Tonny Kluften (bass and effects); Ingar Zach (percussion and effects) and Hanne Hukkelberg (vocal)*
Track Listing: Live: 1. Doom and promise
Personnel: Live: Jim Denley (flutes and alto saxophone); Kim Myhr (guitars, zithers) and Ingar Zach (percussion)