Anders Lønne Grønseth: Mini Macro Ensemble 2nd Edt Vol 1
Pling Music

The title of Anders Lønne Grønseth's album might not roll off the tongue easily, but there's nothing clumsy about its contents or the playing of the ensemble itself. The Norwegian saxophonist, composer, and band-leader (b. 1979) guides his eight-member outfit through a remarkable set-list that collapses genre boundaries and blurs the distinction between through-composition and improvisation. The latter two aren't merely juxtaposed either; instead, each supports the other, with the musicians segueing fluidly between them.

A bit of background is necessary to bring the project into focus: with percussion and Indian tabla added and winds replacing strings, the 2015 iteration of the group expands on the vision and instrumentation of the 2008 model (hence the ‘2nd Edt' detail); Fender Rhodes also forms a prominent part of the new outfit's sound. Its octet size might seem on paper modest, but the conceptual scope of Grønseth's writing and arrangements is large. Joining the leader on saxophones (soprano, tenor, baritone) and bass clarinet are Hanne Rekdal (flutes, bassoon), Morten Barrikmo (clarinets), Martin Taxt (tuba), Sigrun Eng (cello), Audun Ellingsen (double bass), Anders Aarum (keyboards), and Andreas Bratlie (tabla, percussion).

Though Grønseth's an innovator who's developed his own Bitonal Scales system, his music is hardly inaccessible; it's sophisticated, yes, but surprisingly easy on the ears. On this fifty-five-minute collection, he integrates his interests in Western classical music, jazz improv, Indian classical music, and the Maqam tradition of the Middle-East into a style that doesn't feel contrived. The eye-catching cover display provides an apt visual analogue to the vibrant music with which it's partnered, and track titles such as “Heliotrope” and “Fuchsia” likewise reflect the richness of their contents.

On “Aurelion,” the combination of tabla, flute, cello, and saxophone brings out the exotic colours of the ensemble, as do the sinuous, Eastern-tinged melodies of the composition itself; add Miles-flavoured Fender Rhodes and you've got a World music fusion comfortably drawing from ‘70s jazz. Even more aromatic are “Orchid,” which exudes a snake-charming allure strong enough to induce trances, and the vaguely Debussy-esque intro (and outro) to the otherwise swinging “Coquelicot.” Elsewhere, “Auro Metal Saurus” carves out a darkly explorative space that in its most morose moments calls to mind Henry Threadgill's “Soft Suicide at the Baths” (from 1982's When Was That?). On this exceptionally well-realized recording, Grønseth's music is repeatedly enriched by the group's woodwind and percussion textures and its luscious, mini-orchestral presentation. One of the best things about it? Volume two is scheduled for spring 2016.

January 2016