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Thursday, November 26, 2020

The End - Allt Ar Intet (RareNoise Records) ****½

The End comprise Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson (Fire!, The Thing), Norwegian saxophonist Kjetil Møster (Møster!, Zanussi 5), Ethiopian-born vocalist Sofia Jernberg (Fire! Orchestra, PAAVO), Norwegian guitarist Anders Hana (MoHa!, Ultralyd), and Norwegian drummer Børge Fjordheim (Cloroform). This release, the title of which translates roughly to 'All Is Nothingness' is their second. Anyone familiar with these boundary-pushing musicians will know their capacity for throttling ferocity and their ability to stretch music into brutal extremes with focused intensity. This was evidenced in The End’s 2018 debut, Svarmod Och Vemod Är Värdesinnen which featured Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier in lieu of Fjordheim. That album was recorded after only three gigs together but since then, the musicians of The End have come to understand each other and, as Moster says, 'play more as a single entity'.

In this release their continued exploration becomes apparent as they strike a balance between incandescent maelstroms and a more densely layered and haunting beauty.

“Everything really came together on this record,” Gustafsson says. “It’s still rough and dark, but I think we deal with the lyricism on a totally different level. The band consists of a very interesting mix of people, and the mix of brutal riffs and free jazz melodic material is, for me, a dream come true. I like simple, Neanderthal music too, but this has so many complex layers.”

The opening track 'It Hurts Me Too' is a version of the traditional blues song by Tampa Red and made famous by Elmore James . Karen Dalton's pared back arrangement requires a vocalist with pinpoint accuracy and emotive delivery. Sofia Jernberg is perfect for it and delivers in a style which becomes almost a harrowing cry - heartfelt and stirring. The emotive undertone is emphasised by Anders Hana's langeleik - a Norwegian zither. The song was a favourite of Gustafsson’s mentor in both music, life and literature, the late Harald Hult, who Gustafsson met whilst rehearing with the Aaly trio. Hult owned Stockholm’s renowned record store Andra Jazz and founded the Blue Tower Records label. The pair become firm friends and Hult taught Gustafsson to listen to music blindfolded - an experience which he feels gave him an immense insight into how to hear music, to find new layers and depths with each listen. He played this song often and Gustafsson played it at his funeral. The song is delivered with power yet an exquisite longing pervades.

Gustafsson's 'Dark Wish' is dedicated to Per Henrik Wallin, a pioneering jazz pianist who was influential in Europe and successfully spanned generations and styles in the Swedish jazz scene. He facilitated early opportunities for Gustafsson and his experimental cohort. Gustafsson comments, “Per Henrik basically came from Monk and that tradition. His friends and colleagues thought he was crazy to connect with me and drummer Kjell Nordeson, these young free-form dudes, but he heard something in us that he liked. He really taught me how to interact, how to trust your fellow musicians and learn to listen to signals. He looked at life in a pretty dark way, but had a great sense of humour so this is an attempt to celebrate his legacy.” Gustafsson charges through the track, introducing his energy-laden crescendos and rises which are such an integral part of his playing. It ricochets and rises until the surprising vocal entry, which is almost prog-rock and filled with spiritual menace. The forcing of the voice towards the reaches of its range is echoed by the sax and this threat-laden number is darkly beautiful, particularly when both saxes of Gustafsson and Moster and the searing vocals interact in the final section before a solo voice asks, 'why do I hide my wish?' several times to close. This track is a true revelation of Gustafsson's compositional and arranging skills.

Moster's composition, 'Intention and Release' is relentless, rhythmically intricate and uses repetitive rhythms subtly tweaked into different forms. These are echoed in the vocals as an almost lyrical intonation yet a darker sense is carried within, so it feels like a relentless walk towards the final end of death. Dark scratches, deep, loosely tongued sax notes and some male vocals which sound like torture add to the sense of a lurching, undeniable progression over which there is little control. The tongued sax outre is interesting. Even Gustafsson says this was one of the weirdest pieces he ever played. According to Moster it is about how the same thing can mean different things to different people -hence the echoed rhythms and alterations held within. He says, "I’ve been fooling around with rhythmic ideas for as long as I can remember, and this one is orchestrated to be really hard – not so dynamic, more static and driving like a slave march among the Egyptian pyramids. It was a struggle to record and I was getting more and more sweaty and stressed out until it suddenly fell into place. It often takes an effort to break through something challenging, but if you try long enough and really want something to work it usually works in the end.”

Hana's 'Allt Ar Intet' is fugue-like at its outset and works into a surreal and esoteric work of sheer beauty with strange vocalisations over gentle harmonics to start before it develops into a rhythmic, intrinsically detailed rocky number with inserted vocals, screams and ethereal voices over the never ceasing solid rhythms. The drums lead where the others follow. Gustafsson provided the lyrics for the number, which takes its name from the icon-inspired cover artwork provided by Gustafsson’s lifelong friend, artist Edward Jarvis. “Anders comes up with the best riffs and grooves,” Gustafsson says. “His background is in grindcore and metal music, but he’s also deeply into Scandinavian folk music. So he adds to the group a mixture of the raw brutality of grindcore but also a kind of melodic fragility.” A turbulent, brilliant track.

Hana delivers again with his composition ' Rorde Sig Aldrig Mer ( which translates oddly into ' Crow. Never Moved again' and is a tip of the hat to British poet Ted Hughes and his revered collection Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow. The track begins with paired saxes and heavy drums, delirious vocals which sounds like someone being forcibly delivered to an asylum. A huge track, big sounds, extended harmonies and mad-cap phrasing. Absolutely outstanding but not at all relaxing. The bass and percussion lines in the central section sound Black Sabbath-like with wonderful guitar work, until the saxes work their way over the top delivering a contrasting maelstrom of blistering cacophony - very pleasing to the ears.

The final track is a cover of Dewey Redman's 'Imani'. The track seems to morph out of some primordial mist, as a swirling cacophony of vocal chirps, growls and grunts together with breathy rasps and fluttering flute. The vocals swing from rasping to delicate and tentative and the whole track flows from ecllectic couplings to a serene and powerful delivery of the original tune. Gustafsson holds Redman in high regard, saying, “Dewey is so deep and was a great composer as well. He deserves much more recognition, so I felt it was important to bring his legacy to people’s attention.”

In this album, it almost feels like a melding of people who should be in that place, that time and playing together. A strong connection between the musicians, an understanding and a hark back to the original free playing cohort makes this feel a comfortable place for Gustafsson in particular and this is felt in the relaxed yet boundary pushing manner of his playing which, more than ever continues to explore the length, breadth and depths of his instrument. Finding this sublime mix of fellow musicians has brought out the best in all of them and the vocalist is a revelation.

The album is tight, intense and shows a remarkable development of the musicians as an entity. Moster comments, “We all have varied and polarized tastes and quite inverted sides, Mats can play extremely subtle and articulated, but he can also be a storm. Sofia has an incredible soul and presence but also can generate these wild sounds" Of Jenberg, Gustafsson comments, " She is amazing and this is the most intense recording she has ever made, I really believe so'. The past year has been a roller coaster of emotions for some of the members of The End and the music reflects this, as well as the ever challenging , novel routes they choose to take to explore their music. An excellent recording. 


Colin Green said...

Marvellous review, Sammy.

RareNoiseRecords said...

Great review, thank you

Captain Hate said...

Excellent review. I'm listening to it now and the descriptions are spot on.