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Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Swedes Are Coming #2

By Eyal Hareuveni

A few recent releases by and with Swedish musicians that guarantee to keep your ears warm, even in the coming, freezing Nordic winter.

Fredrik Ljungkvist / Mattias Risberg - And Now the Queen - A Tribute to  Carla Bley (Lilalo records, 2016) *****

And Now The Queen calls for many reasons to celebrate. It is a beautiful tribute to one of the greatest queens of modern jazz, Carla Bley, on the occasion of her 80th anniversary. It is also the debut album of the independent label Lilao Records, founded by vocalist Lina Nyberg. And it offers an imaginative interpretations of Bley compositions by two acclaimed Swedish musicians - reeds player Fredrik Ljungkvist, the husband of Nyberg, and keyboards player Mattias Risberg.

Ljungkvist is best known as a member of the Swedish-Norwegian quintet Atomic, leader of the Yun Kan groups (3, 5 and 10 that released its last album, Yun Kan 10 on Hoob Records, 2013), and a frequent collaborator of reeds players Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson and Per ‘Texas’ Johansson and pianist Bobo Stenson. Ljungkvist also plays in Risberg’s yet-to-be-recorded Ritualia ensemble. Risberg is a composer in his own right, plays regularly with Ljungkvist in the last decade as a member of the Yun Kan 10 and is passionate about “soulful” vintage instruments as the mellotron and analog synthesizers.

Ljungkvist and Risberg cover Bley iconic compositions from the early sixties, most of them were written originally for the Jimmy Giuffre Trio - with Paul Bley, her husband at the time, and Steve Swallow, or for Paul Bley first solo albums. Their intimate interpretations are true to Carla's spirit - elegant, clever and ironic but far from being reverential. They reimagine and reconstruct these compositions, referencing the sixties and seventies sonic experiences with electronic sounds.
The duo offer two different versions for the title-piece and “Donkey”. The latter is first interpreted by Ljungkvist alone, in an intense tone that even cries and shouts, and later by the duo in a more playful mode. The reimagination of “Ida Lupino”, one of Bley most loved compositions, her moving homage to the actress, still captures its dreamy and melancholic essence as played on Paul Bley first recorded version (Turning Point, 1964), but Ljungkvist and Risberg version suggest free-associative perspective. The cover of the bluesy "Sing Me Softly of the Blues” cements even further this emphatic, free-associative vein. Nyberg joins the duo for the last song on this arresting album, an emotional cover of “Vila (AKA Jesus Maria)", sung in Swedish, a soulful acknowledgment of Bley lasting legacy.

Lisa Ullén-Nina de Heney duo feat Charlotte Hug - Quarrtsiluni (Lamour, 2016) ****

Quarrtsiluni is an Inuit term referring to a state of deep silence in which one sits together and waits until something is ready to burst. The Inuit ancestors believed  that all songs came from such deep silence, coming to the human consciousness as bubbles from oceanic depths.

Quarrtsiluni is also the fifth recorded album of pianist Lisa Ullén and double bass master Nina de Heney, hosting this time Swiss violinist-vocalist Charlotte Hug. The Ullén-de Heney duo previous collaborations were with cellist Okkyung Lee and vocalist Mariam Wallentin. De Heney collaborated before with Hug on Acoustic Electronics (LJ Records, 2008), a trio with percussionist Christian Jormin.

The six improvisations-songs on this digital-only album were recorded on June 2015 in Gothenburg, after the trio gathered a crop of sounds, rhythms and ideas. The trio already passed its silent Quarrtsiluni phase and its songs flow in an organic, collective stream, emphasizing the rich, nuanced language that Ullén, de Heney and Hug have developed.

“Song Three”, the longest song here, almost 15 minutes long, answers best the ancient Inuit concept. Its sonic bubbles surfacing from a half-hallucinating, half-dreaming deep consciousness, morphing into a steady flow that keeps unwinding by its own secretive spell, sensual and tempting despite its dissonant atmosphere. The more you listen to it the more you are drawn by its haunting spirit. I guess that Ullén, de Heney and Hug may have connected with a spirit of ancestral, oceanic beast, most likely a singing whale who conveyed this trio some of its mysterious unsung rituals.

The Revoid Ensemble - s/t (Found You Recordings, 2016) ****½

Pianist Klas Nevrin’s Revoid Ensemble consists of eight opinionated and resourceful improvisers - Swedish Nervin on keyboards (he also plays in Ljungkvist’s Yun Kan 5 and 10), violinists Anna Lindal and Katt Hernandez (the latter plays in Yun Kan 10) , double bass player Vilhelm Bromander, reeds player Per “Texas” Johansson and drummer Ricard Österstam; Norwegian trumpeter Eivind Lønning and American cellist-vocalist Audrey Chen. Nevrin assembled this octet, an expansion of his own quintet, in attempt to explore improvisations strategies based on different compositional methods, moods and sounds, inspired by the Third Stream movement.

Nevrin modular compositions draw their inspirations from diverse, innovative composers - György Ligeti string quartets, Jimmy Giuffre trio, Barry Guy orchestral works and John Carter’s classic Castles of Ghana (Gramavision, 1986). His ensemble electro-acoustic language offers rich, dynamic spectrum, ranging from minimalistic, almost silent sonic events through dense and intense polyrhythm to reductionist textures and microtonal impressionism. He uses non-standard intonations, inspired by West-African balafon and Indonesian gamelan percussion tunings and the works of composers Terry Riley and Lou Harrison. He also superimposed "disorderly order" of shifting pulses and demanded collective improvisation in order to create ambiguity that demands the musicians to reflect on the ethical aspects of reciprocal interaction and interplay. This ensemble is already committed to an ongoing artistic research project at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm during  2016-2018, focusing on the workings of collective improvisation.

The Revoid Ensemble debut album was recorded live on January 2016 at Theatre Lederman in Stockholm. The experimental, complex compositional tools and the  disciplined improvised strategies unite organically and form a fascinating, highly nuanced language. Nevrin compositions are colorful, surreal kaleidoscopic textures that keep spiraling and shifting sounds, moods and ideas in some distant, hazy electro-acoustic atmospheres. “158-c” and “Spkkr” demonstrate the delicate tension between the composed, chamber-sounding segments and the ensemble collective abstraction of these segments, shifting the focus from the contemplative and reserved strings and reeds to an exploration of earthier rhythmic patterns. The almost silent, often dissonant “13.z” revolves around the weird, wordless recitations of Chen, as in some mysterious ritual, while “A+psq” trips gently in some dreamy, Eastern territory.

Konvoj Ensemble - Mira (Konvoj Records, 2016) ****

The sophomore release of the pan-European Konvoj Ensemble - featuring sax players Danish Lotte Anker, British Evan Parker and Ola Paulson, Lithuanian clarinet player Liudas Mockūnas, pianist and vocalist Sten Sandell, electronics player Jakob Riis and drummer-percussionist Anders Uddeskog - explores a new composition of Paulson and Riis. Mira is a five-parts composition, based on a collection of graphic scores and interactive methods used as tools for collective ensemble improvisation. Mira also asks the ensemble experienced improvisers to employ their skills as sound explores and navigate together through this complex musical organism, following its rational “to work between- to act among”.

The five pieces ebb and flow, alternating between patient, collective improvisations to eccentric, volcanic eruptions. Each piece emphasizes a certain strategy of the ensemble collective language. “Prelude/Hommage to O Ceti” uses the sparse, unique extended breathing techniques of reeds player Anker, Parker, Paulson and Mockūnas as its basic materials. “Speak out, Oh Ye Red Giant” intensifies the previous vein, structuring and deconstructing the multilayered sounds of the muscular reeds. Sandell sketches its outlines of the  central piece, the 20 minutes of “In the Belly of the Whale - 3 Days and 3 Nights”, beginning with a commanding solo piano introduction - playing all over the piano - and later with minimalist touches that  accentuates the stormy interventions of the reeds, drummer Uddeskog and the live processing of Riis. “A Part of Miranda” plays again with ever-shifting, multi-layered voices of the reeds, ornamented by Sandell, Riis and Uddeskog. The last piece “Postlude/Hauers Treasure” highlights the dense yet highly nuanced collective language of the ensemble. This composition demands repeated listening in order to fully explore its complex, nuanced aspects.

Martin Küchen / Johannes Heuer - Bagatellen / Cirfa 01-08 (Lenka Lente, 2016) ***½

The French publishing house Lanka Lente like to bring together left-off-center, eccentric musicians with poets and visual artists. This time it offers 50 copies only, special box edition that matches 43 short improvisations of alto sax player Martin Küchen with eight double-sided printed cardboards of Austrian artist Johannes Heuer, numbered and signed by Heuer. Küchen, who also plays with an electric toothbrush and radio, also contribute four poems to box, written in Swedish. He is known as the leader of the Angels group and from many free-improvised meetings with such innovative musicians as Keith Rowe and John Tilbury. Heuer art is done with everyday objects that have been cut and assembled again.

Küchen's brief, concise improvisations last only few dozens of seconds. All offer his highly personal approach to sound. He uses the sax as an instrument that produces abstract breathing sounds, then colors, disturbs or collides these sounds with the noises of the toothbrush and white-noise, alien radio waves, until these sonic events make some sense. It may be a weird, unsettling, even threatening sonic sense, but one that corresponds beautifully with Heuer art. Sounds and image that say that now is here but it is already gone, almost as life and its surrounding objects, all are on a declining course as it is captured on Heuer cardboards.