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

This second volume of material by Anders Lønne Grønseth's Mini Macro Ensemble again provides a creative outlet for the Norwegian composer's personally developed Bitonal Scale System (full details of which appear at his personal site). The recording is perhaps even more notable, however, for showcasing Grønseth's omnivorous stylistic appetite, seeing as how its ten compositions, one a three-part suite, encompass everything from modal jazz, electroacoustic, and contemporary classical to traditional forms originating out of India and the Middle East. It is, as one might expect, a heady blend that in Grønseth's hands is ever-stimulating yet accessible, too. As advanced and theory-rooted as the material might be, it never loses its fundamental ability to engage at an immediate, visceral level, especially when moments of improv are woven into the lavish arrangements and compositional structures.

Similar to the first volume, Grønseth's vision is well-served on this fifty-three-minute collection by a stellar octet that began working together in 2011. Augmenting the leader's saxophones (soprano, tenor, baritone) and bass clarinet are flutist (concert, alto, bass) and bassoonist Hanne Rekdal, clarinetist (soprano, bass, contrabass) Morten Barrikmo, tuba player Martin Taxt, cellist Sigrun Eng, contrabassist Audun Ellingsen, pianist (acoustic and Fender Rhodes) Anders Aarum, and percussionist Andreas Bratlie, whose tabla contributions give a good portion of the music a distinctive zing. While a unifying thread is established by the track titles, all of them derived from a colour scale, the music itself ranges widely while retaining an overall cohesiveness imparted by the band's playing.

Grønseth opens the album with an arresting tenor sax-and-percussion combination that gradually blossoms into a remarkable full group performance sprinkled with sinuous woodwind flavourings. Drawing for inspiration from the Middle Eastern Maqam and Indian music, “Caput Mortuum” is about as daring an opener as could be imagined, as well as a wonderful scene-setter for what lies ahead. In the “Jonquil-Sinopia-Urobilin” suite that follows, the focus immediately shifts to intricate, through-composed writing enlivened by the interplay of woodwinds, cello, contrabass, and tabla. As before, the music pulls into its orbit elements drawn from jazz and forms originating out of India and Arabia. The album's neo-classical dimension comes to the fore during the suite's brief central movement in its ponderous woodwinds-and-strings weave and improvisatory jazz during the third in its free-wheeling piano explorations. That jazz dimension surfaces elsewhere, too, perhaps most memorably during the ballad-styled “Celeste,” which again casts Aarum's playing in a superb light and gives Grønseth a chance to strut his smokiest tenor self.

It's important to note that Grønseth writes with the octet in mind as opposed to regarding the musicians as accompanists to the leader. By way of illustration, “Bisque” is a mournful setting given over entirely to the group's cellist, and there other moments where the leader steps aside, content to let the others carry the load. Though his music might be grounded in a concept such as the Bitonal Scale System, it never feels like anything less than a thoroughly integrated World Music that collapses with seeming effortlessness whatever boundaries otherwise exist between countries and cultures. If ever the word organic applied, it does here.

January 2017