The last time I reviewed Norwegian guitarist/composer Kim Myhr it was as a member of the trio Mural, and their exceedingly subtle, four hours long Rothko Chapel recording Tempo (SOFA, 2015). This new collaboration with Jenny Hval and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (TJO) is every bit as nuanced. Anyone translating ‘Orchestra’ into big band expectation will be wrongfooting themselves. This music combines fractured songs and low-key improvisation with the spaciousness of Morton Feldman’s ‘indeterminate’ music.
In the End His Voice will be the Sound of Paper (Hubro) is Myhr’s second collaboration with the TJO. This iteration of the mutable, ad-hoc ensemble is entirely acoustic, an 11-piece, including only four of the personnel who played on Christian Wallumrød’s Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses (Hubro), released earlier this year. However, most of the assembled players did appear on Myhr’s previous work with the TJO, Stems and Cages (MNJ, 2009). Mural’s Australian flautist/reeds player Jim Denley and Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies augment an otherwise all-Norwegian lineup.
But Myhr’s principal collaborator on this date was Norwegian singer/songwriter Jenny Hval, and it’s her voice and lyrics that the orchestration cleaves to. While Myhr, playing only acoustic guitar, pared his style to the essentials, Hval’s aim was to accentuate the emotional charge of the music.
Hval’s vocal tone, and her alternation of sung and spoken word, is instantly identifiable, but the pared-down acoustic setting highlights its fragility and emphasises the nuance in her phrasing. It’s a striking contrast to the playfully provocative theatricality she explored on Apocalypse, Girl (2015, Sacred Bones). The closest correlation is to her work with another guitarist, Håvard Volden, in the duo Nude on Sand.
The album title was apparently inspired by a conversation about Bob Dylan’s ever-changeable and ineluctably ageing voice. Hval said: “I wanted to combine something charming, in both the lyrics and the melody, …with this more abstract and fragmentary music (which) must have a kind of vulnerability at some level.”
On lead cut “Seed”, with its flutters of breath, guitar and harp strings, Hval’s introspective, part-whispered lyric barely imposes itself on silence, so the Harmonium’s first intake of air, at the start of “Something New” is almost startling. But we’re lulled again by its even ‘breathing’ as Hval sings, dreamily: “He opens all / doors and windows and listens to / the wood / and to the hinges”.
The ensemble is first heard in strength on “Me, You, Me, You”, breaking over rippling 12-string and feathered flutings while Hval’s soft and intimately close-mic’d vocal soars on the uplift, which soon ebbs into airy abstraction.
“The Beak” repeats the displacement trick as an orchestrated song, carried by piano and guitar, washes over terse tuba and percussion phrases. Hval sings her lyric once, and it’s gone; allusive imagery and lyric and melodic fragments stringing this suite of songs together, but no choruses as such. “Light is in the detail,” as Hval sings, to a slowly swelling, minimalist ecstasy of strummed and orchestrated guitar shimmer on “Mass”.
The music is open and improvisational in its detail, but as each piece develops it reveals design in retrospect. Hval’s voice is softly capricious, but the music often moulds itself to the contours of her phrasing, no matter how superficially tentative it seems at first. “Even The Vowels” is a great example, with Hval’s words that testify to the limits of articulation; also “Soft As Tongues”, where swirling guitar and harp mirror the lines “desire counting herself / spin her / spin her circle her.” Kari Rønnekleiv’s viola twines into that of the other instruments throughout, but blends particularly well with wispy brass and reed textures on “Soft as Tongues”.
Ultimately, Hval’s meanings are as allusive as Myhr’s settings, each sensitive to the other’s poetry, and the music has an evanescent quality. “Silence A Beat” seems to draws everything together, mood-wise, but the harmonium-based drone that swells to end in sync with Hval’s last word is followed by a coda of lyrical but tentative guitar, set against abstractly minimal percussion, prepared piano and brittle viola string snaps.
Kim Myhr 12-string guitar, voice; Jenny Hval voice; Christian Wallumrød piano, harmonium; Rhodri Davies harp; Kari Rønnekleiv viola; Eivind Lønning trumpet; Espen Reinertsen tenor saxophone; Jim Denley flutes, alto saxophone; Klaus Holm clarinet; Martin Taxt tuba; Michael Duch bass; Morten Olsen percussion; Tor Haugerud drums.