Eivind Aarset’s extensive work with artists such as Nils Petter Molvær, Jon Hassell and Arve Henriksen ensures that he’s often regarded as a spundscape artist and subtle sonic manipulator, rather than as a guitarist per se. The grittier and more eclectic recordings under his own name for Jazzland play to a different demographic. So this superb new album will be a revelation to many.
It encompasses ethereal textures as subtle as anything he’s so far recorded for ECM, but also blistering improvisational passages of avant rock, propulsive grooves, ambitious orchestrations and monumental blocks of drone strata, everything meticulously crafted but still sounding spontaneous and ‘live’.
The album features the closest thing Aarset has to a working group, his Sonic Codex Quartet, with additional musicians on selected cuts. The core Quartet features twinned drummer/percussionists Erland Dahlen and Wetle Holte, bassist Audun Erlien, and sampling specialist Jan Bang. Trombonist Jan Galega Brönnimann also plays on most if not all cuts. Dahlen and Holte both multi-task, Dahlen mostly on struck idiophones and Holte primarily on keyboards.
Holte, while a mainstay, alongside saxophonist Håkon Kornstad, of ‘nu-Jazz’ group Wibutee, was also key player on Aarset’s earlier Jazzland recordings Light Extracts (2001) and Connected (2004), while Bang was the guitarist’s chief collaborator on the superb Dream Logic (ECM 2012). Dahlen has an excellent brace of solo multi-instrumental albums on Hubro Hubro to his name, the most recent being last year’s excellent Blossom Bells. Erlien’s CV includes membership of both Nils Petter Molvær’s Khmer and Mathias Eick’s Quintet, another combo with two drummers.
The Quartet recorded its eponymous debut album for Jazzland in 2007, then expanded to a sextet, Sonic Codex Orchestra, for Live Extracts (Jazzland, 2010). They recorded I.E.‘s basic tracks live in the studio, with only additional guitar tracks and a brass section being overdubbed later.
It’s a long record: 71:36, comprised of just nine pieces.
Aarset’s multi-tracked guitar hot wires “Raske“, the album’s driving, polyrhythmic opening salvo. “Sakte” is more pacific, a pulsation of malleted skins, shimmering guitar disturbing misty atmospherics, and a ghostly interplay of plucks, strikes and organ shimmer, the range of instruments the group has at its command (see Personnel below) deployed with real sensitivity.
“Hidden/Feral” stays momentarily with low key atmospherics, introduces electric bass pulses and melodic guitar progressions, then changes gear, slipping into a tense and wired, Afro-centric groove that could’ve been inspired by Talking Heads circa Remain in Light, albeit with Aarset threading acidic, heavily fx’d guitar through the mix. “One and the Same” also starts off placid and pacific before trading acoustic for distorted electric textures and ratcheting up the tension, only then to return to something like the former mood.
Jan Bang’s samples are a rich part of the fabric on most cuts, adding layers of texture that no ‘conventional’ instrumentalist could never play. On three pieces, including “One and the Same“, his samples were prerecorded, on three others he’s live sampling. “Wanderlust” is one of those; the heart of the album, and the first of two twelve minute cuts. It’s a three-part suite: initially a limber, free-flowing workout with a live feel, fast cut to muscular, staccato post-rock with lacerative treated guitar, finally morphing to a lighter section, with acoustic and Fripp-esque guitar and a subtle brass arrangement played by The Norwegian Wind Ensemble’s horn section.
“They’ll be Asked Nothing” suggests a cut-up of Tortoise at their most blissed-out and ambient, circa TNT, though its subverted but briefly magisterial slow climax nods to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But any signifiers are vague; there’s really nothing derivative here.
At the end of the album, between a brief, gentle reprise of “One and the Same Again” and the numinous luminosity of the closing “Return to Her Home” sits the album’s most multi-layered piece, “Through clogged streets, passed rotten buildings……“, which features as additional textures the full brass section, contrabass clarinet, Michele Rabbia’s “discreet digital sounds” and, most prominently, Obake frontman Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari’s vocals and whistling.
In some respects this is actually the most straightforwardly rockist cut, leading as it does with thrumming bass lines, backbeats, soaring chain fx’d lead guitar and Fornasari’s vocal that morphs from caliginous growl to primitive hymnody, as the mood shifts in a dolorously atmospheric second act that wouldn’t sound out of place on a latter-day Ulver record, and Fornasari’s whistling guiding us into the stillness of a subtly textured fade to black.
I.E. is a superbly realised album that balances epic dynamics with subtle shades of expression and meticulous attention to detail. It deals in visceral intensity and sheer beauty rather than abstract exhibitionism, but I’m sure gearheads will revel in all its mechanics. Set alongside Dream Logic, it puts Aarset on my A list. Anything he touches now, I’m going to be interested.
Eivind Aarset electric & acoustic guitars, electronics; Erland Dahlen drums, percussion, dulcimer, acoustic guitar, glockenspiel, log drum, xylophone, tympani, spring box; Wetle Holte drums, percussion, electric & acoustic dulcimer, glockenspiel, tympani, Nord drum, Omnichord, Electribe, prepared piano; Audun Erlien bass, keyboards; Jan Bang live sampling or samples + Helge Sunde trombone; The Norwegian Wind Ensemble horn section (2 trumpets, trombone, tuba); Jan Galega Brönnimann contrabass clarinet; Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari vocals & whistling; Michele Rabbia “discreet digital sounds”.
Buy I.E. direct from Jazzland.