Arve Henriksen: Chiaroscuro
Rune Grammofon

Arve Henriksen hails from Norway but there's certainly nothing regional about the global style of this fantastic collection. Evidence of his interest in Balinese sounds and Mongolian overtone singing occasionally surfaces, but traces of African music, classical minimalism, and jazz emerge too. Yes, Henriksen's a trumpet player but don't expect Maynard Ferguson brassiness as you'll find none. Instead, Henriksen pursues similarly exploratory paths, at least in spirit, to Nils Petter Molvær. Henriksen's breathy, blurred tone calls to mind Jon Hassell and the boldly expressive smears suggest Lester Bowie but musically Henriksen pursues a “world” style that's uniquely his own.

Chiaroscuro is actually the follow-up to the 2001 debut Sakuteiki from this founding member of Supersilent. The new recording's ten compositions are credited to its three musicians, Henriksen (who augments his trumpet playing with voice and electronic contributions), sound artist Jan Bang, and percussionist Audun Kleive, suggesting that much of it was recorded live with electronic enhancements and overdubs added later.

“Opening Image” plunges us immediately into a poignant string-laden soundscape with Henriksen's trumpet crying softly, its soft tones even resembling a flute. His voice enters, so high-pitched it resembles a choirboy's. It's a remarkably beautiful opening that is reprised at the album's end as an equally moving, almost heartbreaking, coda. The exotic percussion of “Bird's-Eye-View” then transports us to Africa , with Henriksen's singing trumpet featured against the afro-jazz backing. Here and elsewhere, he solos, sometimes in a free manner that recalls Bowie (“Holography”), more often as muted, piercing cries (“Parallel Action,” “Time Lapse”). In the classical-flavoured moodscape “Scuro,” his querulous trumpet bleats searchingly against foreboding string samples. He retires the horn in “Chiaro” to spotlight his voice, heard against a backdrop of percussion and electronic washes. The singing assumes a more prayer-like incantatory feel in the plodding, dirge-like “Blue Silk” where Kleive works up an animated, colourful base alongside a murmuring array of trumpets.

While not obviously “jazz” in the conventional sense, artists like Henriksen and Molvær keep alive a legacy of exploration pursued with unwavering dedication for many decades by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, something needed now more than ever in light of Lester Bowie's premature passing. This marvelous album testifies that that spirit still lives, so long as there are artists of Henrikson's caliber to be heard. How ironic that the album's title refers to the technique of using light and shade to create illusions of depth in two-dimensional imagery, as there's nothing illusory about the deeply affecting qualities of Chiaroscuro.

August 2004