Linus is the Belgian duo of guitarist Ruben Machtelinckx and reeds player Thomas Jillings.
Onland (2014), their self-released debut album, and so far their only duo recording, introduced a thoughtful, lucid synthesis of folk-tinged jazz minimalism. The follow-up, Linus+Skarbø/Leroux (Smeraldina-Rima, 2015) was a more enlivened and open-form collaboration with guitarist/banjo player Frederik Leroux and percussionist Øyvind Skarbø.
And now, Felt Like Old Folk continues Linus’ venture into fully improvised music, with two new guests: euphonium player Niels Van Heertum and Hardanger fiddle specialist Nils Økland, who plays with Skarbø in the trio 1982, and was in Belgium for concerts with a baroque orchestra immediately before this one day session. There was “no clear framework” for the music they’d make together. The album is mostly improvised, but ends with a composition by Machtelinckx.
The Hardanger fiddle and euphonium’s soft baritone initially combine to create a mournful, placid atmosphere with the air of transposed traditional music. Machtelinckx’s acoustic baritone guitar picks its way through with steel-string clarity. But the quartet break down this atmospheric opening with increasing recourse to incidental percussive sounds, keeping faith with the tempo and ambience they’ve created, but sending taps, snaps and creaking sounds into the mix. The fiddle suggests a path back to the former mood, but the guitar proposes instead a kernel of melody, on which the quartet settle in to an exchange of brief, honed variations and extrapolations, negotiating interrelationships with exquisite sensitivity.
That fist piece, 17:23 simply titled “A”, comprises roughly half the session. The much shorter “B” continues in the same vein, but takes a slow series of euphonium soundings as a sound-bed for plaintive, melodic saxophone, tight-clustered banjo pickings and Hardanger fiddle playing soaked in melancholia.
They gave “Old Folk” a proper and well chosen name. Although it’s an improvisation, it has the air of an old folk lament. Despite its achingly melancholic disposition Økland’s certainty sounds out loud and clear, and seems to rub off on his bandmates as all focus on a barely implicit melody. Someone signals a soft rhythm with barely-there foot taps. In a coda, the melody is reprised with a tad more certainty.
Machtelinckx’s composition “Felt” is founded on simple strummed guitar figures, supporting drones, and acutely sensitive Hardanger elaboration. The composer’s influence governs the layering of instrumentation, but imposes nothing other than simplicity on the settled group dynamic. The session works a mood, and the album captures its essence of deep feeling, and there the irresistible attraction lies.
A similar care and attention has gone into presentation. Both LP and CD editions are packaged in foldout, screen-printed felt card—each a different cut from a screen print by artist Ante Timmermans—all protected by PVC sleeves.
Also recommend: Machtelinckx’s quartet with Joachim Badenhorst (reeds), Nathan Wouters (bass), and guitarist Hilmar Jensson (AlasNoAxis, Bly de Blyant, Angelika Niescier); a group that expands the subtle jazz modernism of Linus’ debut into very different moods and textures. Their latest album, Flock (2014), encompasses John Surman-esque bass clarinet on the buoyant “Peterson”, cyclical banjo against deep, reverb’d chords on the harder-edged “McMurd”, and double bass and clarinet entwined on the melancholy, chamber Masada-like “Cumulus”, which unexpectedly unfurls in shimmers of electric guitar. It’s all rather beautiful.
Ruben Machtelinckx acoustic baritone guitar, banjo; Thomas Jillings tenor & C-melody saxophone, alto clarinet; Nils Økland Hardanger fiddle; Niels Van Heertum euphonium,flugelhorn.