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Monday, August 31, 2020

Magnus Granberg & Skogen ‎– Let Pass My Weary Guiltless Ghost (Another Timbre, 2020) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

Music can be very precious, with a few notes carefully positioned leading to a strange sonic universe. We have reviewed Magnus Granberg and Skogen before (reviews herehere and here) and his approach to composed improvisations continues to astonish us. 

Like with the previous releases, this one hour long piece evolves slowly, quietly and intimitaley, with barely noticeable changes adding layers of nuances and perspectives. 

The band consists of Magnus Granberg on prepared piano, Anna Lindal on violin, Rhodri Davies on harp Toshimaru Nakamura on no-input mixing board, Petter Wastberg on electronics, Ko Ishikawa on sho, Leo Svensson Sander on cello, Simon Allen on vibraphone and amplified strings, Henrik Olsson on objects, and Erik Carlsson on percussion. It never sounds like a tentet, the texture is so thin it sounds like only two musicians playing at any time, even it that is not the actual case. 

Granberg emphasises the importance of the musicians themselves to participate in the same composition but by playing and rehearsing it, adding things and developing into something that becomes very much their own, yet without changing the nature of the original concept: "I guess there is always a risk of failure and an element of danger to this almost ritualistic process of almost trying to conjure up or invoke the music. At the same time I must say that I feel quite confident in how it works: how the nature of the materials and the intelligence and the sensibility of the performers provide a rather dependable potential for the music to arise from".

The title is inspired by the poem "O Death, rock me asleep", allegedly written by Anne Boleyn, queen of England and second wife of Henry VIII, before her execution in 1536. 

O death! rock me asleep,
Bring me the quiet rest;
Let pass my weary guiltless ghost
Out of my careful breast:
Toll on the passing bell,
Ring out the doleful knell,
Let thy sound my death tell,
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy
There is no remedy

My pains who can express?
Alas! they are so strong,
My dolour will not suffer strength
My life for to prolong:
Toll on, thou passing bell,
Ring out my doleful knell,
Let thy sound my death tell,
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

Alone in prison strong,
I wait my destiny,
Woe worth this cruel hap that I
Should taste this misery?
Toll on, thou passing bell,
Let thy sound my death tell,
Death doth draw nigh,
There is no remedy.

Farewell my pleasures past,
Welcome my present pain!
I feel my torments so increase
That life cannot remain.
Cease now,thou passing bell;
Rung is my doleful knell,
For the sound my death doth tell,
Death doth draw nigh,
There is no remedy.

The art work of the album is a painting by Johannes Vermeer, "A Maid Asleep", possibly painted around 1656. 
"The misbehavior of unsupervised maidservants was a common subject for seventeenth-century Dutch painters. Yet in his depiction of a young maid dozing next to a glass of wine, Vermeer transfigured an ordinary scene into an investigation of light, color, and texture that supersedes any moralizing lesson. While the toppled glass at left (now abraded with time) and rumpled table carpet may indicate a recently departed visitor, X-radiographs indicate that Vermeer chose to remove a male figure he had originally included standing in the door­way, heightening the painting’s ambiguity", according the text of the Met, where the painting is exhibited. 

In an interview on the label's website, Granberg describes his music: "When I first was in the process of envisioning the music in the early 2000s (after going through a very thorough crisis where I more or less stopped playing the saxophone and more or less quit playing jazz and free jazz) I realized that I had this desire for the music to be more of an environment, a place or a terrain rather than primarily being an object, an architecture or a means of individual or collective expression. I also felt something of a frustration with what I perceived as a dichotomy and separation of compositional and improvisational practices, and that there should be so many possible gradations of the spectrum between freedom and fixation that perhaps weren't being explored. So gradually I started to envision a musical environment in which the musicians were allowed and encouraged to move freely in accordance with their own judgment and individual dispositions while at the same time being governed by the same overarching principles or perhaps rather just simply being part of the same creation or environment, a creation or environment which was in more or less constant flux, change or transformation while at the same time always being the same. To provide a potential which could be realized in more or less an innumerable number of ways while still being coherent and retaining a clear identity."

A poem, a painting, an ensemble. They result in music that is at the same time a calm resignation, a desire for rest and peace provided by death, but just not yet. The intimacy of the moment. The closed space. The tension in the narrative. The space dominated by what is not visible: the cause and the consequence, the past joy and the coming pain. There is the actionless waiting, with conflicting thoughts and emotions creating a dynamic tension, almost unseen, but more present than perceivable, determining the inherent ambiguity of the moment: asking for the welcoming peace of death. 

Granberg is a master.