These two records, one loosely orchestral, the other solo, have much in common besides greyscale presentation and shared provenance and personnel. Both are mostly quiet, subtle and reductive exercises (albeit Wallumrød certainly throws us a substantial curve), which sit self-contained within the artist’s respective bodies of work.
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra / Christian Wallumrød – Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses
Pianist Christian Wallumrød follows his first solo album, the quirky and intimate Pianokammer (Hubro 2015) with the more communal but no less quirky “Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses”, a single piece in four parts commissioned for the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (TJO).
The orchestra convenes on an ad hoc basis, so Wallumrød got to select his own tentet. Some of the chosen are musicians he plays with in other ensembles, such as trumpet player Eivind Lønning (The Christian Wallumrød Ensemble), guitarist Ivar Grydeland (Dans les Arbres), and drummer Fredrik Wallumrød, his younger brother and partner in the self-explanatory Brutter duo; others will be familiar to Hubro devotees. Guitarist Lars Ove Fossheim, pianist Anja Lauvdal, and tubist Heida Karine Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck all play in the anarchistic big band Skadedyr, whose music couldn’t be further from the reductivist limpidity of “Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses” opening movement.
Wallumrød’s background is in jazz and church music, but also evinces an affinity with folk, baroque and contemporary music. Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses sits further outside these traditions. In particular, the incorporation of electronic textures their more extreme applications goes beyond anything played even by his old nu jazz trio Close Erase.
There’s a lightness and buoyancy to the solo piano variations that introduce “Part I”, brightness enough to offset for a while the low electronic drone that slowly creeps in, merging (I think) with gravidly bowed double bass and slowly leeching away that initial sense of delight, recasting it as shadowed introspection, flickering, on “Part 2”, through a sonic vapour of obscure provenance studded with faint gong tolls and perfectly surprising pedal steel harmonics.
Considering the instrumentation, you’d expect an orchestra with two drummers to make more noise, but they’re as still as a dawn mist at this point, all taps, rustles and airy, wind-like breath sounds, and Wallumrød’s repeating figure sounds increasingly doleful. There’s a hypnotic quality to the repetition, and a good deal of mystery in all the occluded activity behind the ear-pricking detail. Reference points maybe stretch to both Thomas Köner’s Novaya Zemlya and John Zorn’s Redbird, with Wallumrød’s piece the most poised and intricately worked of the three.
The segue to “Part 3” features a brittle interplay of shard metallics, and then it’s all change. The Orchestra’s two guitarists, Grydeland and Lars Ove Fossheim, get into a rather glutinous exchange of chain effects interplay – all glitchy trills, scrapes and bumps, accompanied by Fredrik Wallumrød’s increasingly irruptive processed drumming – and suddenly we’re in the realm of old-school Supersilent, a mile away from anything that’s gone before.
“Part 4” pushes the irruptive envelope further still, with unison horns playing a shadow fanfare to an increasingly staccato and percussive glitch grind. The music finally attains an orchestral feel, but it’s a lurching, verge-of-malfunction robot orchestra.
This is undoubtedly the strangest album Christian Walllumrød has recorded so far.
Ivar Grydeland – Stop Freeze Wait Eat
One of the Orchestra’s guitarists, Ivar Grydeland plays in improvisational bands such as Huntsville as well as alongside Walllumrød in the ‘folkier’, all-acoustic Dans les Arbres, but he also plays pure pop in Hanne Hukkelberg’s band and poppy post-rock with Finland, who made their debut on Hubro last year. Stop Freeze Wait Eat is something else again. Not quite a commission, it resulted from a PhD project in which Grydeland sought ways to play ensemble music as a solo performer.
He gets there by improvising over live samples with a 10-12 second delay, creating what he calls an ‘extended now’. He says: “I work in the same way that I imagine a visual artist works, taking a step back to reconsider before he returns to the canvas. I like that alternation between intuition and reflection.” His toolkit includes acoustic and electric guitars, pedal steel and banjo, preparations, bows, metal, a ‘Pocket Piano’ midi synth and a drum machine. The resultant album lasts just over half an hour, and, like Wallumrød’s, it’s best heard in one sitting.
Grydeland does nothing to disguise the hiatuses between loops in the long, aptly titled opening piece, “Stop Freeze Wait Sing” (incidentally evoking those in Wallumrød’s opening); instead allowing them to determine the languid pace, each hiatus acting as an interval/springboard for additional gestures and inputs: finger-lifts and fretboard chimes, a popping drum machine. After eight minutes he lets a single mesmerising loop pulse awhile before underpinning it with bass string drones, then disrupting it with subtle electronica: insectoid shimmer and harmonium drone. It’s thoughtful, meticulous, and thoroughly absorbing.
Two shorter pieces, titled “Lag, Accumulated” A and B, sound much like alternate takes on Oval’s recent experiments with guitar and glitch-looped electronica might if it could languidly unspooling in a sauna. Four more brief pieces then round out the set with closely-focused explorations of pulse and delay. Three further “Stop Freeze” variants occasionally evoke the interstices in longer studio tracks by Oren Ambarchi, then there’s the clearer, predominantly guitar-based “Eat After Me”. The whole thing’s over in little more than half an hour, which is perfect for music so absorbing and suspenseful that it seems to create its own time, and the lively banjo that picks its way out of the somnolently looping bass/drone of “Stop Freeze Wait Sleep” is a lovely closing touch.
On Untitled Arpeggios: Christian Wallumrød piano, synthesizers, drum machines; Ivar Grydeland guitars, pedal steel, synthesizer; Lars Ove Fossheim guitars; Anja Lauvdal piano, harpsichord, synthesizers; Espen Reinertsen tenor saxophone; Eivind Lønning trumpet; Heida Karine Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck tuba, electronics; Michael Francis Duch double bass; Fredrik Wallumrød drums, electronics; Siv Øyunn Kjenstad drums.
On Stop Freeze: Ivar Grydeland acoustic, 6- and 12-string electric guitars, banjo, electronics, drum scope, pocket piano, Roland Rhythm 77.
Christian Wallumrød – Pianokammer.
Christian Wallumrød Ensemble – Outstairs.
Huntsville – Pond + Labfield – Bucket of Songs.
Building Instrument + Huntsville – Past Increasing Future Receding + Skadedyr – Kongekrabbe.