I don’t know what it is about Norway, but the wealth of creativity flowing from its musicians is extraordinary. Hubro is a relatively new label which, they say, is “dedicated to releasing music from the vital Norwegian jazz and improvised music scene”.
You might think that this scene was already well catered to by existing imprints, but although the artists Hubro represent are a pretty diverse bunch, the albums they lovingly produce have a clear unifying aesthetic that’s quite distinct from those of the more established Rune Grammofon and Smalltown Supersound labels.
Splashgirl’s Pressure was one of the most perfectly realised albums I reviewed for the Jazz Mann (here) last year, and Huntsville’s For Flowers, Cars and Merry Wars (here) wasn’t too shabby either. The first of the following albums was released in November 2011. The others are set for release this month.
1982 (Nils Økland, Sigbjørn Apeland, Øyvind Skarbø) – Pintura
The instrumentation of 1982’s Pintura – harmonium, Wurlitzer, drums, Hardanger fiddle and violin – lends its sound a distinctly Nordic flavour. The album has an appealing folkiness with a raw edge and, on occasion, the ascetic feel of liturgy. The album was recorded in just one session, which presumably explains why it is brief – just over half an hour long – and also why it is so well rounded and perfectly pitched. The tracks, having no titles, are simply numbered.
On “3”, Nils Økland’s Hardanger fiddle, a key voice in recordings by the Christian Wallunrod Ensemble, here carries a melody which is resilient enough to survive a gentle buffeting by the other instruments but, tantalisingly, never quite flowers. The instruments are so closely miked that it’s as if you can hear the wind blowing through them. “4” is punchier, with the Wurlitzer now the lead voice and Øyvind Skarbø’s kit drumming more than usually regular, though the Hardanger undercuts them with an unsettling drone and the track fades too soon. The sparse violin, keyboard drone and cymbal wash of the ethereal “5” ebbs in and out of fullness.
The rich skein of harmonium, violin and creaking that comprises “6” is studded by grainy audio, voices that just might have been sampled from a film soundtrack. Caught between Sigbjørn Apeland’s Wurlitzer whorl and skittering percussion on the enjoyably peculiar “7” the violin seems understandably woozy, but soldiers on.
The final, eighth track, on which the Hardanger fiddle again takes the lead, achieves the finest equilibrium and pulls the whole album into focus. Its haunting minor refrain seeps into the memory.
Erland Dahlen – Rolling Bomber
You may have heard Dahlen on recordings by Nils Petter Molvaer or Eivind Aarset (another Hubro artist). This is his first solo album. To describe it as an album of drum solos would be wide of the mark, but certainly there’s much pleasure to be had in identifying the percussion he plays on each track (beginning with “Flower Power”: kit drums, kalimba, musical saw).
The album is titled for Dahlen’s Slingerland Rolling Bomber kit, which was apparently constructed during World War II, when all metal was appropriated by the arms industry, using rosewood for the mechanical parts. It’s a telling detail, bringing the standard drummer’s kit in line with the other assorted percussion paraphernalia that Dahlen deploys.
Take, for example, that saw on “Flower Power”. In Dahlen’s hands the saw isn’t some gimcrack gimmick; he really makes it sing, albeit with the weird reverberation of a theremin. Then there are the gongs that introduce “Funeral”, with its Harry Partch ambience, or the “bow on cakeform with strings” that produces an electric-guitar-like effect to accompany the drum machine regularity of “Piratman”. And yes, in the skittering duet with Dahlen on “Monkey”, which is punctuated by depth-charge bass hits and accompanied by woozy electronics, that’s a battery-power monkey drummer (the same one, perhaps, who toured with Islaja not so long ago?).
But you can’t listen to Rolling Bomber like this, as if it were a foley recording, for too long, because Dahlen drums up music which is by turns affecting, richly cinematic, and charged with motorik intensity.
Tore Brunborg/Kirsti Huke – Scent of Soil
Scent of Soil is a relatively straightforward prospect: a band co-led by saxophone player Tore Brunborg and singer Kirsti Huke.
Huke’s strong, melodic vocal carries the album, which is primarily song-based, albeit the rest of the band—Petter Vågan (electric and acoustic guitar, lap steel), Rune Nergaard (electric bass), and Gard Nilssen (drums, percussion, vibraphone)—get plenty of space to develop instrumental passages in many of the songs.
The lead track, “Breeze”, is a ballad feature for Huke with a haunting hook in the refrain that catches in the memory. A simple acoustic guitar accompaniment glosses over some interesting filigree in an instrumental break, where bass is blended with electronic manipulations.
The 80s AOR funk of “Ocean” is too rhythmically direct for my tastes, and Brunborg’s sax is rather anodyne here. The comparisons to Jan Garbarek that he tends to draw are rather superficial. “Ease” cops some of its dynamic from Coldplay. “Necklaces” is smokier, jazzier, with Huke singing words written by Emily Dickinson. (The text for “Breeze” is from Robert Frost; the remaining lyrics are Huke’s own.)
About halfway in, however, the album relaxes and unwinds a bit. The instrumental blend here is ‘jazzy’, in the manner of Joni Mitchell’s mid-70s albums circa Hejira. “Trøndervise” has some subtle Rhodes and searching saxophone, while “Floating” has a particularly memorable vocal hook and a driving rhythm which builds through a slow crescendo to a satisfyingly modulated climax. “Go Charm!”, meanwhile, is set to be a highlight of any live shows, with its breakdown at the mid point allowing some relatively unrestrained moments to intrude. It’s still essentially a vehicle for Hulke’s vocal, but the band stokes the embers of their backing to a crescendo that finally generates some real heat.
Bly de Blyant – Hindsight Bias + Cakewalk – Transfixed + sPacemoNkey – The Karman Line (Hubro Roundup 3/3).
Building Instrument (s/t) + Huntsville – Past Increasing Future Receding + Skadedyr – Kongekrabbe (Hubro Roundup 2/3).
1982 – A/B + Moskus – Mestertyven + Håkon Stene – Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal (Hubro Roundup 1/3).