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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Dans Les Arbres ‎– Volatil (Sofa, 2019) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

When I heard "Dans Les Arbres" (English: "In the trees") for the first time in 2008, I was completely astonished by the controlled intensity of their music, the slow, precise and cautious development of a collective improvisation. I've seen them perform on stage, and then the effect is even stronger. Minimal, carefully crafted and positioned sounds create a wonderful landscape that is full of life and action.

We are now twelve years later, and the quartet has released its fourth album. Xavier Charles is on clarinet, Ivar Grydeland on electric guitar, Ingar Zach on percussion and Christian Wallumrød on piano, but forget the known nature of these instruments, you will not really hear a lot of piano or electric guitar in the traditional sense. I am not sure how often they perform together, but their sound has become even stronger.

"Volatil" offers one long track, called "Ramure, Brindille, Surgeon, Flèche" (in English "Branching, twigs, sucker, end of the trunk"), giving you an idea of how they continue exploring their tree. 

I've listened to the album a few dozen times (or more), and I still am at a loss of words to describe what's happening, and that's probably a good sign. The true wonder of their music is that the sound only works in its collectivity, with the non-descript sonic bites tagging themselves to other sounds to create a hypnotic texture of organically grown music. The density evolves, with calm passages alternating with more agitated, louder moments, but which themselves interestingly remain very minimal. The music conjures up images of nature, of wind, or rain drops, of the branches waving in the tree, of the small life that lives around this tree.  

The result is a musical aesthetic all on its own, the unique voice of this quartet. This is music for a quiet and undisturbed moment, when you can listen without interuption with headphones and closed eyes for the entire fifty-three minutes of the album. You will be transported to a sonic universe you've rarely heard, or even stronger, rarely been in. They offer you that opportunity. 

Be part of it.