Bly de Blyant is an international trio: Norwegian drummer Øyvind Skarbø, Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, and Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jensson. Quite a team.
ABC is their first album. It was studio-recorded in Skarbø’s home city of Bergen, with the three musicians playing together in the same room, without headphones as Skarbø recalls: “Shahzad had his corner, with a recently restored Hammond organ, an ancient Moog synth, and a beautiful Fender Precision bass from the early 70s. Hilmar had his usual rig with a guitar and an extremely ingenious, meticulously thought-out pedal system, and I had my drums with calfskin heads and only two mikes for the whole set. So everything was touched with a little bit of nostalgia.”
You can hear Skarbø on recordings for Hubro by 1982; Ismaily is a member of Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog; Jensson has been a member of Jim Black’s AlasNoAxis. If you’re familiar with them, the latter give a pretty good indication of Bly de Blyant’s avant-rock territory, but it’s 1982’s folk-tinged trioism that holds up an acoustic mirror to Bly de Blyants methods of procedure.
ABC contains many forms of expression. It’s a recombination and reduction of jazz, post-rock, funk and improv strategies. In the cover text Skarbø says: “As soon as (improvisation) becomes a genre, you lose all your freedom”, but this isn’t a band fighting shy of genre; rather, they embrace to subvert it, honing inspiration into concise, sometimes fragmentary miniatures.
The album sessions yielded fourteen pieces clocking in at 36’35 in total. The three shortest are less than a minute apiece: “Soft Zoo” is a wash of organ studded with bass/drum detonations, a mere prelude to the more fully realised, skewed math-rock dynamics of “Mordechai”; “Spiral Jetty” is a 0’14″Gordian Knot of bass-note guitar, percussion and glinting electric organ.
Skarbø contributes all but three of the tracks dedicated to individual composers. “Mordechai” is one of his: “27” is another, a brutalist, staccato, guitar trio grind; “Transidiomatic Destiny” distorts the same basic building blocks with suspended time.
Jensen’s contribution, “Shnily”, is relatively orthodox; a prelude to a brace of covers. What there is of Willie Dixon’s “Wand Dang Doodle”, light of heart and foot, sounds like an excerpt; but it’s all you’d need. A cover of Prince’s “Controversy” is as Arto Lindsay might have tackled it with his Aggregates trio: the intro is pure arthouse improv, but the whole is faithful to the future-funk wah-strut of the original, albeit with interstitial mutational breakdowns.
The latter half of the album has four group compositions: two parts of the weirdly suspenseful “Hutch Jesus”; the future rock positivity of “Rope”; the positively epic-in-context 5’40” exploration of pulse and dynamics that is “Curtis”, with Skarbø on Moog; and, finally, the languid, understated, and purely pleasurable “Snares”.