Dans Les Arbes

Phosphorescence
Hubro CD 2581

When it comes to musical transitions, improvisers like progressive corporations or political parties follow one of two courses. Some, such as Apple or the 2016 US Republican party shift priorities so quickly that’s they’re soon barely recognizable; consider John Coltrane in the 1960s or Herbie Hancock in the 1970s for instance. Others work on refining what they do best in increments, advancing their output in subtle ways. This is the philosophy that guides bespoke tailors or quality watch makers and could be applied to ensembles such as the Modern Jazz Quartet or AMM.

That the Norwegian-French quartet Dans Les Arbes fit into the latter category is without question. Phosphorescence is only the third CD the band has released since forming in 2004 and during its slightly-more-than-half-hour length you can note subtle tweaks to the procedure the members collectively developed. Guitarist Ivar Grydeland and drummer Ingar Zach, also two-thirds of the Huntsville band, spend an equal amount of time with string strategy extensions and real-time sampling, in Grydeland’s case and stretching the properties of percussion and gran cassa in Zach’s case. Pianist Christian Wallumrød, who elsewhere leads his own bands, fastens on the texture available from prepared piano and synthesizer, while clarinetist Xavier Charles, the Gallic dressing to the Scandinavian meal, who has worked with everyone from Terrie Ex to John Butcher, is a repository of languid, abstracted reed timbres. “Sciure”, a brief introductory track and an equally terse “Luminescent” are like palete-cleansers among the extended ruminations. The two designate the musical landscape as dependent on whirling electronic oscillations, string reverberations and percussive rumbles.

Like untitled semi-abstract canvases, the output on “Fluorescent” and “Phosphorescent”, the protracted improvisations, offer few if any clues as to any deeper meaning behind the sounds. Purposely as well, individual instrumental timbres are difficult to discern. With the mix intentionally murky, the most illuminating part of the session is the song titles. “Fluorescent” is the track with a rebounding beat. But with ring-modulator-like gonging, dissociated, spittle-encrusted reed puffs and piano key hammering also audible, the designated theme frequently coalesces and splinters like an amoeba. When bottle cap-like pops and Tibetan bowl-like airy smears signal the impending finale, a chiming signal continues. However, the tortoise-like pace at which “Phosphorescent” evolves is appropriate, as each time a new timbre arrives the previous one, still unfolding in slow motion, is sharply cut off. Framed by guitar licks and keyboard shakes, the theme is clearly defined until subsumed under a pseudo-mechanized beat. More effervescent, but with no increase in volume, the narratives fuse into porridge-like constancy where singular individualism is signaled by half audible clanks, buzzes and rumbles, but where sonic nourishment is never in doubt.

Having refined its output to a few key ingredients distilled to their essence, Dans Les Arbes has created an unvarnished program that must be accepted on its own terns. For many however the precise unfolding will be as captivating as the end product.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Sciure 2. Fluorescent 3. Luminescent 4. Phosphorescent

Personnel: Xavier Charles (clarinet); Ivar Grydeland (guitar and real-time sampling); Christian Wallumrød (amplified prepared piano and synthesizer) and Ingar Zach (gran cassa and percussion