If you are a jazz purist, there is no need to read further. If you're a musical adventurer, please continue reading.
Last year I gave Mural's "Nectar Of Emergence" a five-star rating, because of the surprising listening experience I had from the minimalist power that is evokated by the band's music. Today, I present four new albums featuring Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr, whose journey is quite comparable and joined at the hip with Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach.
The first time I heard this musical approach was with "Dans Les Arbres", whom I've seen perform in the meantime, and their uninterrupted improvisations are as impressive as their recordings.
I'm not sure whether the genre has a name : you can call them minimalist acoustic soundscapes, or "silencescapes" if that word exists, in which the musicians' incredible knowledge and control of their instruments lead to the most fragile and subtle interchange of almost isolated sonic ingredients to create one single overarching sound. Some call this noise, but it is basically its exact opposite.
Mural - Live At The Rothko Chapel (Rothko Chapel, 2011) ****
Mural is Jim Denley on flutes and sax, Kim Myhr on guitars and zithers, and Ingar Zach on percussion.
The minimalist aspect comes from the fact that the musicians only play individual tones, which appear from nowhere and evaporate into thin air. They are usually stretched but not necessarily. The intensity with which the notes are played vary greatly, as is the density of the whole band playing together. What you hear is beyond instruments, like wind, like raindrops, like dark underground rumblings, the sound of flowers opening, of dungeon doors closing, of birds awakening ...
You are in a strange universe, full of surprise and wonder. It is as sweet as it is dark.
Kim Myhr - Live at Ringve Museum (Audition Records, 2011) ***½
You can listen and download the full album on the label's website.
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Kim Myhr - Stems & Cages (MNJ, 2010) ****
With a 13-piece orchestra, you would expect the density of Myhr's music to increase, together with the "noise" element, but the opposite is true. Even if improvisation is still at the core of the music, some pieces are clearly composed and arranged, which makes the single-tone approach and the mixing of sonic ingredients even the richer, resulting in a vibrating resonating intensity.
In the last few pieces the smoothly-flowing approach gives way to dissonance and vocal eruptions, full of inherent drama, as if Japanese No theater and dark ambient got intertwined to become something else, deeper, more resonating, more disconcerting ...
The band is Kim Myhr (guitar), Kari Rønnekleiv (violin), Sidsel Endresen (voice), Christian Wallumrød (piano, harpsichord), Clare Cooper (guzheng), Michael Duch (bass), Jim Denley (flutes, sax), Klaus Holm (clarinet, sax), Espen Reinertsen (sax), Eivind Lønning ( trumpet), Martin Taxt (tuba), Tor Haugerud (percussion) and Ingar Zach (percussion).
Listen and download from eMusic.
Watch on Youtube :
Silencers - Balance des Blancs (Sofa, 2011) ****
Fans of French pianist Benoît Delbecq should be cautious, because the pianist has played in many styles over the years, but on this album he dives deep into the sonic unknowns of his instrument, and is joined by
Kim Myhr on guitar and resonant objects, Nils Ostendorf on trumpet and Toma Gouband on percussion.
Any listener without knowledge of the subgenre will really have a hard time to tell which instruments are used on this album, on which the subtle and lightest of touches make the instruments and strings resonate. I rarely use the liner notes to describe the music, but the description is a good one : "The music itself flows dexteriously between fragile sounds and large, open spaces to more densely articulated structures. The minute attention to detail attests to the sensitivity of the musicians: every little sound is important and has the potential to lead the music in new directions".
It is no surprise that the album's title is "Balance des Blancs" (white balance) a photographic term for the various shades of white that can be given to a picture. Our eye perceives all these whites as white, but when put next to each other, the differences become apparent.
Listen and download from eMusic.
Watch on Youtube
In sum, all this music is an absolute treat for the listener. Its minimalism is deceptive, because it lies at the basis of the incredibly intensity of the total sound, which is rich, varied and compelling. It redefines music because the notions of harmony, melody and rhythm have become meaningless. Yet at the same time it has a resonance with life that is quite strong, as if you are listening to the soundtrack of life itself, all natural and unpredictable, with shifting emotional layers that require attention, that grab attention, in which details suddently become significant and perceived ground tones dissapear like fog in the sun.
It sounds like the natural heir to free jazz and free improvisation, assimilating former styles and genres, taking out all patterns while remaining inclusive. I truly hope this young generation of artists will find audiences who are as willing to give up preconceived musical notions and just enjoy the experience.
Isn't it all interchangeable and is this not a musical dead end, you may ask? Yes, maybe with superficial listening, as many audiences commented on free jazz in its early years. But this music requires full attention. Listen to all of the above, and decide for yourself ...
... and enjoy it.