Splashgirl: Pressure

It's a confident group indeed that begins a recording at as slow a tempo as does Splashgirl on its third album Pressure, but, heard in its entirety, the set ultimately proves to be amply rewarding. In operation since 2003 and responsible for 2007's Doors. Keys. and 2009's Arbor, the Norwegian outfit's latest effort showcases the considerable talents of pianist Andreas Stensland Løwe, double bassist Jo Berger Myhre, and drummer Andreas Lønmo Knudsrød, supplemented by key contributions from a small coterie of guest musicians, most prominently electric guitarist Juhani Silvola, whose playing is often so integral to the material he could easily be accorded full member status (trombonist Erik Johannesen, vocalist Mari Kvien Brunvoli, and tuba player Martin Taxt also appear, with Lasse Passage Nøsted adding tape feedback and field recordings).

An audacious choice for an opener, “Devata” begins the album in mysterioso mode with atmospheric guitar shadings before the trio enters at a deathy crawl, setting the stage for a biting, Ennio Morricone-styled guitar theme and the trio's own elongated musings. “Creature of Light” follows without pause, initially perpetuating the restrained tone of the opener but then gradually growing in volume (via Løwe's dense clusters of piano) as its bluesy vamp comes into progressively clearer focus, and the connection between the opening tracks is made even more clear when the jagged guitar theme reappears one more time. Even more sunlight creeps in with the advent of “Alpha State Of Mind,” where a controlled sense of uplift is carefully nurtured through a series of soothing chord changes and elegant trio interplay that finds Løwe leading his partners upwards.

The telepathic quality of the trio's playing is especially noticeable during the slower passages, of which there are a generous number during the fifty-minute album. The tide turns, so to speak, during the album's second half where things grow more a tad more intense and aggressive. In its initial moments, “The Other Side” opts for funereal moodscaping of the most sombre kind, until ponderousness swells into something far more unsettling when Myhre's anguished bowing is joined by the lethal wail of Silvola's violent stabs and Johannesen's warm trombone support. The title track ends the album in a more free-spirited mode, with the trio improvising exploratively for the first half of its ten minutes and opening its sound up with prepared piano textures and high-frequency noise effects. Halfway through, however, Myhre takes charge and brings the other two along with him until all three are plunging forward at a breakneck pace to take Pressure out on a semi-euphoric wave.

Though on paper Splashgirl has the make-up of a standard jazz trio, the group's sound is light years removed from traditional jazz. If anything, Pressure presents the musicians as no-holds-barred sonic experimentalists and explorers who simply happen to play instruments associated with the jazz trio format (for the record, it should be mentioned that Løwe augments the trio's core acoustic sound with electronics and synthesizers). One comes away from the recording hearing Splashgirl as an uncompromising unit that's fundamentally incapable of accommodating anyone's impulses but its own.

November 2011