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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Signe Bisgaard - Meander (Finland Studio Records, 2015) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni 

Signe Bisgaard is a young Danish, Aarhus-based composer-pianist who focuses on exploring the improvisational possibilities in through-composed music. The title of her debut solo album, Meander, alludes to the curved, stretched course of her compositions. Likewise, Bisgaard compositions move organically between through-composed music and open improvisational passages, offering surprising detours from any familiar, conventional courses.

Bisgaard assembled an impressive ensemble of eleven musicians to record her challenging compositions, among them trumpeter Jakob Buchanan (who often collaborates with pianist Simon Toldam and percussionist Marilyn Mazur), sax player and flutist Julie Kjær (now playing in Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit and before with London Improvisers Orchestra), sax player Christian Vuust, guitarist Mark Solborg and Norwegian percussionist Helge Norbakken (member of pianist Jon Balke’s ensembles). This ensemble transforms Bisgaard's arresting musical vision into a unique listening experience.

Bisgaard's compositions demand careful, repeated listening as the layers upon layers of her ideas and compositional strategies become clear. At first, her lyrical compositions sound minimalist and restrained, balancing between delicate, subtle contemporary chamber music and reserved, even sparse manners of improvisation, still, relying on her ensemble to find intuitively the right balance. But with each listen, Bisgaard's unorthodox architecture of compositional ideas, fresh instrumentation and thoughtful arrangements, together with her unique sense of sound exploration, starts becoming decipherable. By then, it is already clear that the gentle, patient playing of all the ensemble musicians, especially Buchanan, has a strong and lasting emotional appeal.

Bisgaard, as a pianist, takes a modest role in her arrangements. She plays a beautiful and contemplative solo on “Das Kleine Rote II”. She sounds as almost offering a philosophical perspective on the meeting between contemporary music and an improvised one.