Christian Wallumrød Ensemble: Kurzsam and Fulger

An initial scan of the instrumentation and personnel involved on Kurzsam and Fulger might reasonably suggest the album's a jazz recording in the long-standing ECM tradition. After all, it does feature Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrød (harmonium, too) fronting trumpeter Eivind Lønning, saxophonist Espen Reinertsen, cellist Tove Törngren, and percussionist Per Oddvar Johansen, and the forty-minute release does arrive in the wake of five albums an earlier version of the ensemble issued on ECM between 2001 and 2012.

But Wallumrød can't be pinned down quite so easily, something that those who've been following his output on Hubro, which includes a solo piano outing, Pianokammer, and a collaboration with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses, know all too well. Consistent with such an explorative sensibility, Kurzsam and Fulger deviates from jazz quintet convention in downplaying soloing and overturning expectations by injecting unexpected twists into the seven compositions, and one comes away from the release hearing it more as a chamber classical-and-jazz hybrid than jazz recording per se.

Its eccentric bent is evident the moment the breezy opening track “Haksong” sets off on what appears to be a horse-driven jaunt through the great outdoors. It's clearly a warm and beautiful day on the prairie, what with the clip-clop of the tune's rolling rhythms and its sunny, sing-song piano melodies—so warm and beautiful, in fact, that one almost overlooks the absence of soloing. As if to emphasize even further Wallumrød's idiosyncratic side, the trip is hijacked during its closing minutes by a series of subdued glissandi flourishes. Perpetuating the recording's unconventional character, the austere miniature “Fulgsam” alternates crotales-like accents with extended pauses of silence, after which “Langsam” underpins muted horn-and-piano phrases with a tribal drum pattern.

Regardless of whether the piece is an electro-acoustic exercise (“Phoniks”), bright reverie (“Kurzsam und Onward”), or extended meditation (the eleven-minute “Arpsam,” where the horn players breathe through their instruments and the pianist delicately scatters ripples across the open spaces), Wallumrød and company eschew expected ensemble practice on Kurzsam and Fulger for performances that are consistently unusual and surprising.

November 2016