1982+ BJ Cole

1982+ BJ Cole
Hubro CD 2522

Effective and affecting avant-folk improv – if such a category exists or in actual fact those adjectives should be in proximity – this eponymously titled CD adds British steel guitar player BJ Cole to the Norwegian 1982 trio.

Recorded in a single day’s session, the resulting eight improvisations are Free Music with absolutely no relationship to Jazz. Of course that indescribability fits in with Cole’s long-time crusade to apply steel-guitar textures to other than Country Music situations. Best known as a pop and session musician, he’s probably the only person to have played with Sting, Elton John, Brian Eno, harpist Rhodri Davies and also be a member of the London Improvisers Orchestra.

The 1982 trio doesn’t consist of easily classified musicians either. Nils Økland comes from the Folk-Ambient area, was a member of keyboardists Christian Wallumrød Ensemble for many years, and plays the distinctive Norwegian Hardanger fiddle plus violin. Working in Folk, improv and church music, harmonium player Sigbjørn Apeland has played with tenor saxophonist Håkon Kornstad. So has young drummer Øyvind Skarbø who also studied Nigerian and Cuban percussion at their respective sources.

There are no hints of those excessively rhythmic musics here. Instead the emphasis is on moderato-paced, timbre-spreading soundscapes. Aleatoric in every instance, this live-off-the-floor session is also a full-fledged experiment since the others had not played with Cole beforehand; in fact Skarbø had never met him. Perhaps as a consequence, except for the occasional muted strokes and shaking clatters the drummer’s presence is more felt than heard. Cole is similarly obtuse, stepping forward with echoing steel guitar licks only where appropriate, as on the first and fifth untitled tracks, and now and again adding C&W-like twangs to the pieces. Similarly, although the textures from either one of Økland’s fiddles are always present, he avoids any obvious orientation towards local folkloric or American Country music. Instead on the first tune, for instance, Økland thins his spiccato output to a fine sheen; and on to the fifth outing, adds agitated thrusts to the otherwise melodic interchange – with the result both contrapuntal and watery. In contrast Apeland’s harmonium puffs provide the undercurrent to most of the tracks, uniformly spreading ostinato licks like jam distributed on toast. What’s more when he cranks out shuddering tremolo patterns as he does on track 5, the resulting timbres sound as if they could come from a portable electric organ or a chromatic accordion.

Although it isn’t certain that the tracks are released in the order in which they were recorded, the foursome reaches a climax of sorts on track 7 and 8. On the first, concertina-like vibrations from Apeland create a gigue-like dance-styled exposition, which is soon broadened with layered textures from the other players’ instruments. Evidently a variant of the previous tune on track 8 enhances the group sonic intensity in a manner similar to the ambient hypnotism created by bands such as Huntsville and The Necks.

With such conventions as story-telling and virtuosic soloing set aside for atmosphere and cooperation, this trio and guest have created an unmatched CD. It soothes if taken only as an unforced soundscape, but rewards micro listening with unexpected sonic ideas as well.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. (09:03) 2. (04:22) 3. (03:43) 4. (01:06) 5. (05:21) 6. (02:57) 7. (04:00) 8. (02:59)

Personnel: Nils Økland (Hardanger fiddle and violin); BJ Cole (pedal steel guitar); Sigbjørn Apeland (harmonium) and Øyvind Skarbø (drums)