SOFA 547

Coupling intense music with visual art has long been an accepted trope. Think of the many paintings and sculptures used on album covers. With Tempo, the Mural trio takes this painterly identification still further. Like a visual artist who apportions a series of canvases to allied subjects, the three-CD Tempo is the second music creation recorded at and dedicates to the octagonal Rothko Chapel, at The University of St. Thomas in Houston. Created by American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the non-denominational space contains 14 specially commissioned paintings by Rothko of monochromic triptychs in soft brown and opaque black rectangles part of the artist’s idea of expressing basic human emotions.

Fruits of a four-hour performance, the set isn’t programmatic, but is instead testifies to the collective skills of the band members to perform extended instant compositions. Like visual art that reveal new details and concepts each time it’s examined, so to do the tracks on Tempo. Sustainably magnetic at different pitches and, tempos, the trio’s skills and the intersections similarly throw up novel interpretations on each listening. However with the improvisation lasting up to one hour, like a wine-tasting rather than binge drinking, it’s best to savor each one at a time.

Member of the Dans Les Arbes and Hunstville ensembles, Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach is familiar with creating timbres raging from fortissimo to pianissimo. Throughout he breaks up interlocked textures that evolve during the performances with insistent drum smacks when he’s not contributing to the miasmatic sound synthesis by rubbing drone layers from his gran cassa or concert bass drum. Cast in a comparable foreground-background role is fellow Norwegian, Kim Myhr, who plays 12-string guitar and zither. Usurping the drone function that instruments like the ektara have in Indian music, Myhr also uses slurred fingering and finger-picking to cut through the whirring interface with guitar strokes that are as traditionally folksy as they are aggressively jazz-like. Odd man out, geographically and conceptually is Australian Jim Denley who in his work with likes of vibist Dale Gorfinke and on his own with field recordings knows exactly when an Arcadian flute breath adds to the general feeling of rustic relaxation; or those times when the theme that is becoming almost sluggish in its undulations needs to be pricked with s sharp reed bites to bring out a higher resolution.

Essentially like the programs of other trance-improv aggregations such as The Necks or AMM, the consistency of Mural’s performance makes individual examination almost tediously ludicrous. Pedantically Myhr’s ability to bend the 12-string guitar’s strings in such as way on “Second Hour” and elsewhere so that the resulting timbres make up a diorama of harpsichord-like plucks and smacks is notable; so is how Zach’s percussion strategy isn’t to mark time, but instead to hurry it along while masking its passage with subtle buzzes so that it almost seems static. Sequences of acceleration and deceleration, staccato and somnolence and loudness and silence are treated the same way. Each is knitted into the Tempo tapestry. To ask whether Rothko’s monochromic triptychs are accurately reflected would reduce the three-CD project to commentary rather than creativity.

On its own, for instance “Second Hour” builds up to a mid-point climax that because of buzzing zither strokes mixed with rubbed percussion structures appears to be as inevitable as the tides and moonlight. However Denley’s loon-like cries and stuttering reed split tones in the penultimate section corkscrews palpable timbral expansion onto the extended drones. Speckled with saxophone fire, the undifferentiated tones become livelier. Like others pieces of this Rothko-like oeuvre, “Fourth Hour” follows a similar trajectory moving up in successive sound waves from nearly inaudible wave form-like rumbles to a final fade back to white noise. Is this reenacting humankind’s arising from the sea? Slightly more spirited, Zach’s xylophone pumps and bell peals make a notable early link up with Myhr’s string strokes that are so regular they could almost be pre-programmed. Cymbal clatter introduces Denley’s wailing wall of sounds with a wide vibrato expanding as he plays. Before another rustic-sounding section has been introduced –, although whether it’s the rural area of Norway, Texas or Australia is being referenced isn’t clear – hand-bell-like clangs and heart-monitor-like pulses come and go. This bell-like sound continues to the conclusion as the guitarist’s locomotive-like chording faces a sardonic pseudo train-whistle from Denley. Despite his smears and counter explosions the limitless white noise returns as the finale, with the coda adding more velocity, plus a confirmation of the original theme.

Best taken in small doses, single CD listening will increase the appreciation for the memorable creation the three have provided.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Disc 1: Second Hour Disc 2: Third Hour Disc 3: Fourth Hour, Coda

Personnel: Jim Denley (alto saxophone and flute); Kim Myhr (12-string guitar and zither) and Ingar Zach (gran cassa and percussion)