1982 + BJ Cole: 1982 + BJ Cole

Ivar Grydeland: Bathymetric Modes

Moskus: Salmesykkel

Jessica Sligter: Fear And The Framing

When the moment came to select textura's favourite labels for its 2012 article, Hubro came immediately to mind. The Norwegian label's been issuing superb music since 2009, and a recent quartet of new releases finds it in particularly fine form. Though the imprint could be seen as a perpetuation of the traditions associated with ECM and Rune Grammofon, Hubro's releases present a comparatively more accessible sound with no compromise to the integrity of its output and where musicality is always at the forefront. From Moskus's riff on the piano trio genre to Jessica Sligter's vocal explorations, the four releases range widely across the musical spectrum in consistently memorable manner. They're admirably succinct releases, too, that typically weigh in at about thirty-five minutes on average and so never feel bloated.

The most sonically distinctive of the four can't help but be the collaborative outing by 1982 and BJ Cole, simply due to the combination of the latter's pedal steel and Nils Økland's hardanger fiddle (in addition to Økland, 1982 includes drummer Øyvind Skarbø and Sigbjørn Apeland on church organ and harmonium). That ECM connection comes explicitly to the fore in this instance as Økland and Apeland have recorded for Manfred Eicher's label, and Økland also has issued material on Rune Grammofon in the past. All eight pieces on the thiry-four-minute recording are titled by duration only, suggesting that the pieces are improvs (that the album was recorded in a single day—December 7th, 2011—also implies as much). But even in the absence of formal through-composed material, the musicians' interactions are compelling. That's especially true when there are only four, which allows ample room for each to maneuver and make powerful individual impressions. As we've noted before, Økland's hardanger fiddle (and violin) playing is a thing of beauty indeed, and hearing it in conjunction with Cole's pedal steel only enhances the listening experience. There are moments when one could mistake Cole's playing for Bill Frisell's, in particular during those moments when the pedal steel's twang is emphasized. The quartet stokes some intense heat during the fifth and eighth settings (“5:21,” “2:59”) but the general mood is largely restrained and even meditative. Think of 1982 + BJ Cole as traditional Norwegian folk music filtered through an improvisational prism.

As distinctive a sound as Økland's fiddle and Cole's pedal steel is Jessica Sligter's voice. Having previously issued Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain in 2010 under the alias JÆ, the Dutch musician re-emerges with Fear And The Framing, a ten-song collection released under her birth name. Accompanied by guitarist Daniel M. Grønvold, violinists Ole-Henrik Moe and Kari Rønnekleiv, and others, Sligter presents an eclectic set of murder ballads, blues-pop, and even post-punk. While the theme of anxiety is a recurring touchstone, the way in which it's broached dramatically differs from one song to the next. Anything but a wallflower, she alternates between a clear-throated warble and full-bore belting in “Man Who Scares Me” with a robust arrangement of horns, drums, and percussion in tow to amplify the bluesy drama. “Fear” finds her moving between songbird enunciations and a full-throated howl, with the song's acerbic tone reinforced by atonal guitar shadings and primal beats, while “The Perfect Vessel” plunges into darker depths in a stark dirge of the kind Nico might have been drawn to. The subsequent “Everly” pulls her back from the brink for a breezy stab at melodic folk-pop that even makes room for synthesizer amongst its acoustic jangle and vocal harmonies. The remainder of the forty-one-minute collection unfolds in similar manner, with Sligter offering up a different side of herself in every one of the compelling set's songs. Nowhere is that contrast more evident than at album's end, where Sligter follows the raw fury of “Pricklet” with the timeless folk meditation “Fall. here.” It's at such moments that one hears her powerful voice as carrying on the tradition of the well-traveled folk singer.

Salmesykkel is the debut recording from Moskus, an acoustic jazz trio featuring pianist Anja Lauvdal, double bassist Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson, and drummer Hans Hulbækmo, all of whom are in their early twenties. The title track establishes the open-ended tone on the ten-track outing in drawing on folk and, as becomes apparent during its closing moments, hymn musics, both filtered through the prism of an acoustic piano jazz tradition that's been solidly in place for decades; blues, gospel, and rock are also some of the influences drawn upon. It's Lauvdal, naturally, whose the lead melodist, and the pianist's lyrical and oft-delicate touch comes through loud and clear in an introspective ballad like “Bibelbeltet.” The trio format, of course, affords ample space for the others to make their presences felt, too, which the bassist and drummer do with confident ease without ever asserting themselves too domineeringly either. A gorgeous thematic statement by Lauvdal gradually comes into focus during “Narr dat regne paa presten dryp det paa klokkarn” that Dietrichson and Hulbækmo are more than ready to complement with their own embellishments. Light-heartedness isn't foreign to the trio's mindset either, as exemplified by the rollicking jaunt “Farlig norsk hengebu” and the playful reverie “Creperie de Marie.” A pleasing balance is judiciously set, too, between the relaxed feel characteristic of improv and structured compositional form, and there's a maturity to Moskus's rendering of the album material that belies its creators' relative youth. Moskus is firmly in the tradition, so to speak, but satisfying nonetheless.

Even more succinct is Bathymetric Modes, the thirty-one-minute solo debut by Huntsville member Ivar Grydeland. In contrast to its brevity, the recording's six pieces were laid down over a four-year period between 2007 and 2011. It's wide-ranging, too, not just stylistically but also sonically. Following a blink-and-you'll-miss-it intro of solo acoustic guitar, the panoramic “Roll” uncorks a wellspring of radiant gestures, among them galloping snare drum patterns and trombone playing by guests, and sun-dappled guitars and pedal steel guitar by Grydeland himself. But then, after those opening guitar-based settings, Grydeland abruptly shifts the focus to material that suggests associations with the minimalist pattern-driven works of Terry Riley and (mostly early) Steve Reich. Though acoustic strums do adorn “Ping Back,” for instance, the chiming electric guitar background pattern can't help but call to mind Reich's Electric Counterpoint. Guitar and acoustic instruments aren't absent during this part of the recording, but a primary focal point is the sound generated by the compact graphic synthesizer Tenori-on. The longest piece, “Bounce,” carries on in that regard, with Xavier Charles's clarinet and Grydeland's guitar providing an acoustic counterpoint to the gleaming minimalism patterns pulsating below—until, that is, the acoustic sounds recede, leaving the soundworld wholly dominated by the synthetic mass.

November 2012