Pianokammer, the first solo album from Norwegian composer/pianist Christian Wallumrød, has been a long time coming. The fact of its appearance on Hubro, rather than ECM, for whom Wallumrød has recorded four albums of ensemble chamber music with jazz, baroque and church music influences, is enough to suggests that it won’t be exactly what fans of those albums might expect. But neither is it a throwback to the electronic jazz music Wallumrød made with his late 90s trio Close Erase; it’s much more intimate and quirkily personal than that.
The album was recorded in three different locations on three different grand pianos. Hubro’s release notes describe it as “constructed in the studio to a greater degree than his earlier albums”, noting that Wallumrød “experiments with different recording techniques, overdubs, natural resonance and editing”, which suggests a less spontaneous approach than the results suggest.
The album’s six pieces describe an arc, with pieces that are variously experimental in nature interspersed with others that are loosely ‘jazzy’.
The opening “Fahrkunst” is a drone piece. Its sustained, shimmering resonances might be produced with an e-bow applied direct to the piano’s strings. But perhaps not: very small contact sounds suggest focused use of the sustain pedal. Either way, the effect is one of brooding, soft-swelling intensity.
“Second Fahrkunst” (track three) begins as a rain of key plinks, but Wallumrød soon reintroduces”Fahrkunst”‘s sustains, initially heard shimmering beneath a surface of droplet notes. They then take on a more ambient-electronic character. Wallumrød’s sporadic light touches on the piano’s harp are barely audible, but you can hear the piano being worked. The piece ends with muffled sounds of the pedal lyre shifting under pressure.
On both ‘Fahrkunst’ pieces, Wallumrød explores the extended potential of the piano in subtly experimental ways. “Hoksang” (track two) and “Boyd 70” (track four) are more direct and rhythmic. The former is ambulatory, with a relaxed, almost nonchalant feel. It’s a performance of unpretentious melodic simplicity, the effect of which is soothing and uplifting. “Boyd 1970” reprises the mood and feel at a slower, more languid tempo, like Keith Jarrett at his most insouciant, the pianist essaying variations at a jaunty meander.
The last two pieces break with the expected arc. Wallumrød begins “School of Ekofisk”, the album’s most experimental piece, with a fragment of glinting melody, the echoes of which seem to draw Wallumrød’s focus inward. A deeper bed of melody heightens the impact of tinkling preparations on high keys and the trinkle of ivory strikes, small sounds accumulating into a chittering rattle.
“Lassome” picks up again the songlike, melodious uplift of”Hoksang” and “Boyd 70”, only this time Wallumrød vaunts a gospelized rhythmic sway and insistence. He sounds the keys with emphases, but ends the album with a cross-fade, reintroducing the ‘Fahrkunst’ drone-swell, contriving, rather awkwardly, to bring the album full-circle.
Pianokammer hangs together well, despite its heterogeneity, but it doesn’t add up to much more than the sum of its variously appealing parts.
Christian Wallumrød piano.
Buy Pianokammer direct from Hubro.