Building Instrument: Building Instrument
Håkon Stene: Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal
Nothing brightens this reviewer's day more than when a new collection of Hubro releases arrives at the door. The quality level is always exceptionally high, and the label constantly surprises in the way its products reset Hubro's stylistic boundaries. It's telling that the thing most connecting its releases isn't something specifically musical but the always charming cover designs by Yokoland.
Building Instrument's eponymous debut album sounds like something one would expect to hear on Fonal as opposed to Hubro, given the recording's vocal-and-acoustic song-styled emphasis. It's a project that's been long in the works, as the trio formed six years ago. While not wishing to downplay the contributions Øyvind Hegg-Lunde (drums, percussion) and Åsmund Weltzien (synthesizer, electronics, melodica) make to the group's sound, it's Mari Kvien Brunvoll (vocals, sampler, electronics) who stands out as the figurehead, simply because her Norwegian singing is so distinctive. She's appeared on disc before, incidentally, on a solo album and on separate collaborations with Stein Urheim and the duo Tim Tygg.
Though the three originally intended Building Instrument to be an electronic music project, the group quickly shifted the focus to its current psych-folk sound. Their music is many things—loose, lo-fi, warm, raw, and rustic—but first and foremost melodic. Also entrancing, it's a sound enriched not only by Brunvoll's voice but the percussive and organ-styled playing of Hegg-Lunde and Weltzien. The serenading opener “Historia” presents as strong an argument for their sound as any, with the singer's wordless vocal line providing a haunting complement to a background so rich in musical colour and texture it borders on magical.
“Alt E Bra” proves to be as haunting when Brunvoll lifts her voice to a higher register, and hearing her ethereal cry blend with tinkling percussion and woodland organ tones makes for one of the album's most striking moments. The music takes a melancholy turn when Weltzien's melodica merges with Brunvoll's hushed delivery during “Kanskje” and grows increasingly emotive as the trio undertakes a seven-minute ascent. On an album filled with strong material, “Bli Med” stands out as the arguable peak thanks to its endearing sing-song vocal and generally buoyant tone. At thirty-seven minutes and seven songs, it's a relatively short collection yet is captivating despite its brevity, and Building Instrument's album proves to be a rewarding surprise.
Surprising, too, albeit in a different way, is the fourth 1982 album release by drummer Øyvind Skarbø, Hardanger fiddle player Nils Økland, and pianist and harmonium player Sigbjørn Apeland. A/B might not be the most adventurous of album titles, but it does imply that the recording's two sides are different in kind and on that count is accurate. Its contents, the first half in particular, are certainly adventurous enough: the A side is devoted to a single piece, “18:16,” that saw composer Stian Omenås using an improvised out-take from the trio's 2009 Pintura sessions as a building block for formally composed material that, arranged for quintet, was then layered overtop the original improvisation—an audacious merging of improv and notated music to be sure. The more straightforward B side features five brief settings representative of 1982's established sound, though a new wrinkle does surface during “03:12” when Økland's voice is included.
1982's soundworld obviously expands dramatically during “18:16” when the contributions of bassoonist Hanne Liland Rekdal, clarinetist Fredrik Ljungkvist, flutist Sofya Dudaeva, trombonist Erik Johannessen, and tenor horn player Mattias Wallin are factored in. Awareness of the piece's production history adds an enhanced level of appreciation for the accomplishment of all concerned—Omenås most of all—for the naturalness and fluidity of the piece. At no time does it feel as if one part has been awkwardly grafted onto another, even if some sections seem more formally executed and others freer in spirit. Stylistically “18:16” presents itself as a chamber-styled setting equally comfortable accommodating atonality as 1982's soloing, and as the piece unfolds, it's fascinating to witness the artful way the musicians' playing merges. The rustic cry of Økland's Hardanger fiddle is prominent, of course, but so too are the woodwinds and horns of the guests.
As mentioned, the second side is more in line with 1982's customary style, an approach that sees the three interacting in an explorative and loose manner. If the five short pieces impress less on conceptual grounds than the opening setting, they still satisfy for simply allowing the memorable Hardanger fiddle and harmonium playing to be heard. The side also features some beautiful moments, such as the closing “05:00,” and the mood contrasts between the pieces also deserves mention. 1982, by the way, is hardly resting on its laurels: a new recording in collaboration with a fourth person is already in the works, and the trio is also mulling over a future recording project that will coincide with the trio's tenth anniversary in 2017.
That Håkon Stene's Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal is dominated by works by British composers Laurence Crane (b. 1961) and Gavin Bryars (b. 1943) says much about its stylistic character. Crane and Bryars share a propensity for sumptuous, harmonious expression, and one is presented with no shortage of elegant reserve on the recording. On this fifty-three-minute collection, the Norwegian percussionist supplements his vibraphone and bowed marimba playing with keyboards and guitar (electric and acoustic) and is joined by pianists Christian Wallumrød and Heloisa Amaral, cellist Tanja Orning, and cimbalom player Hans Kristian Kjos Sørensen.
Stene and Wallumrød also contribute compositions, “Sit” and “Low Genths,” respectively, that don't sound out of place, the latter especially so, given its pronounced to-and-fro between Wallumrød's piano and Stene's vibes. As far as the actual sound of the album is concerned, Stene's vibraphone and marimba playing are naturally prominent, as is Heloisa Amaral's robust piano on Bryar's “Hi Tremolo,” while Orning's cello and Stene's vibraphone make for a haunting combination in Crane's “See Our Lake I” and “Holt.”
Bryars fans might be disappointed that only one of the album's nine pieces was composed by him (though at eleven minutes “Hi Tremolo” is the longest), in contrast to Crane's six. But even a single run-through confirms that the stylistic distance separating them is relatively small, especially when ruminations such as Crane's “Prelude For HS” and “Blue Blue Blue” could just as easily pass for ones by Bryars. Furthermore, there's no denying the ascetic allure of Crane's graceful “Bobby J,” no matter who's responsible for it. That being said, the album's high point remains “Hi Tremolo” for the stirring beauty of Bryars' trademark modulations. Anyone familiar with his work would identify the piece right away as his the moment those signature slow-motion shifts occur.
Of the four releases, the one that comes closest to a conventional jazz affair is Mestertyven (Master Thief), the sophomore outing by Moskus, though even here the standard rules don't totally apply. Yes, Moskus is a piano trio, but, with many of the album's pieces being two to three minutes in length, its settings are short compared to the jazz trio norm, and furthermore pianist Anja Lauvdal, double bassist Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson, and drummer Hans Hulbækmo less approach them as vehicles for soloing than as instrumental songs. The loping “Tandem Med Sankt Peter” offers such a refreshingly loopy change of pace, for example, one almost fails to notice that the trio wholly concentrates on stoking the tune's swinging groove than bothering with solos. Though it differs significantly in mood, the penultimate piece, “Tradisjonskvelern,” is so melodically engaging, one again tends to overlook the absence of soloing.
Moskus brought a decidely different approach to the creation of Mestertyven: whereas the debut effort Salmesykkel features material that had long been in the trio's repertoire before being laid down in Stockholm's Atlantis Grammofon Studio, Mestertyven was recorded at Risør Church with the focus on spontaneous creation rather than pre-scripted compositions. Ultimately the hours of material the trio recorded were whittled down to the final product's thirty-three-minute total. All three push up against the conventions associated with their respective roles, none more so than Hulbækmo who, eschewing the usual jazz drummer's playing style, provides little more than a skeletal plod to “Jag Är Ett Ägg” and simulates a hard-at-work percussion collective during the African-tinged workout “Fuglene Var I Ertehumør.”
A spirit of playfulness is evident from the moment “Fjesing” opens the album with two minutes of rambunction, and much of what follows is infused by a similar carefree vibe. In fact, as I listen to tracks such as “Leverpostel Med Brie” and “Yttersvingen,” I'm reminded of the trio of Geri Allen, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian that issued recordings a number of years ago on JMT and DIW. Moskus shares with that outfit a looseness, a kind of relaxed swagger, in the handling of its material; there's an ease to the playing that exudes confidence, and a democratic approach that sees all three musicians interacting at the same free-flowing level.