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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Konvoj Ensemble feat. Evan Parker & Sten Sandell - Colors Of (Konvoj, 2013) ****

By Stef 

It's hard to be a reviewer at times. Especially in music where all boundaries are just excuses to go a step further. What is in the musicians' mind? What are they up to? Konvoj Ensemble gives me just that feeling. Despite all the listening that's been done of thousands of albums and not of the easy listening kind, can you still be perplexed by what you hear? Yes, that's possible. 

Konvoj Ensemble is like that. The one long track is "composed and constructed" by Ola Paulson and Jakob Riis. Paulson plays baritone saxophone and alto horn with a saxophone mouthpiece, Riis is the man at the computer and real-time processing. The rest of the band are Lotte Anker on alto and soprano saxophone, Evan Parker on tenor, Liudas Mockunas on bass saxophone and bass clarinet, Sten Sandell on piano, and Anders Uddesklog on drums and percussion. 

"Colors Of" starts with a few piano sprinkles, but then the horns come in, and what they do is great, and beautiful, shaping common resonance and timbral interplay, quietly conversing in a sad and aesthetic way, with deep tones and high tones offering great perspective and depth. The kind of sound you want to keep hearing forever. It's brilliant, and only Lotte Anker can keep this high painful phrases full of subtlety and anguish. Then the horns start getting some rhythm in their play, like a train gathering speed, with Anker still soaring, but then this beauty stops, phased out, gone, to be replaced by Sandell's piano, now introducing some general mayhem, orchestrated chaos, full of wild noise and directionless screams. This moment of turbulence or storm or whatever merges into a sea of a deep computer bass sound, maintained hovering above silence, to be interrupted by solo percussion, for a little too long, then the rest of the band takes over, horns and piano. The sound has become harsh and dissonant and weird. Hard electronic noise interrupts all this, like machine guns heard through sheets of paper. Dramatic effects that shatter your listening. A wake-up call for Sandell and Parker to perform a duo, for a while, then the computer takes over again, with a strange kind of multiphonic noise, sustained around one single tone, and an electronic rehash of what you heard before, with sounds squeazed and speed altered, but somehow the acoustic instruments come back again, at the end, as if they had survived something terrible, something beyond words, mangled and maimed yet trying to sing with whatever is left in them, chaotic and bruised. The audience applauds, some enthusiastically, some hesitantly. 

It is bizarre. It is erratic and eccentric. It is not free, it is organised. It is structured. It is freedom forced into an organised structure. 

Why am I perplexed? Because I've listened to the album many times. And I don't know what to say of it. I like it and I don't. Some of it is brilliant. Some of it I want to fast forward. Yet I kept listening. 

Why am I perplexed? Because I don't understand it. What is going on here? What is the story? Why the structure? Why this structure? 

Why am I perplexed? Because the musicianship is so excellent, so brilliant at times, with phenomenal interplay - and I love Anker's tone especially! But then why doesn't it gel? Why do I feel that some things are happening on a different plane? 

If the only result are questions, you know you've something of value, or absolute crap. It certainly did not leave you indifferent. 

And in that sense it's great! I like being disoriented. I like being taken by suprise. I like having my expectations shattered. To be thrown off-balance. Mystified. 

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